In-Depth

Job-Killing Decisions by Techies: What Not To Do 

From the expected (spilling company secrets) to the ridiculous (taking left over pizza), here's how some developers saw their jobs – and sometimes careers – come to the end.

The past year saw its share of high-profile bad tech decisions that resulted in the offenders being fired -- or, ahem, moving on "to pursue other career opportunities," as they say.

Take, for example:

  • Mark Papermaster, who exited Apple after the infamous iPhone antenna problem.
  • Robbie Bach, who "retired" from Microsoft at age 48 after notoriously poor performance of products under his watch, like Zune and Windows Mobile (many media outlets surmised there were also other factors in play concerning this decision).
  • A.J., fired by Apple after showing world-famous Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak in line for an iPad shortly before its launch.

But this is a development-oriented site, so we were curious about what mistakes might cause programmers to get fired. We found that you don't often see software developers being canned in these widely publicized cases. That's one good thing about being a coder: They usually fly under the radar, and don't attract a lot of attention for getting fired for bad decisions or writing bad code. In fact, some people claim programmers hardly ever get fired for poor performance.

So what does it take to get you fired if you're a developer? Some pretty bizarre stuff, it turns out. Read on to learn about some strange gaffes last year that got developers escorted to the exit after that fun meeting with the HR rep. Think of this list as a public service, providing you with career advice about what not to do.

Creep on Teens
David Barksdale was a site reliability engineer at Google when he was fired last July after it was discovered he had been accessing users' accounts to find personal information. According to reports, he snooped through one 15-year-old boy's Google Voice call logs to find out the name of the kid's girlfriend and then threatened to call her.

He also supposedly used his position at Google to access other personal information such as chat transcripts, e-mails and contact information. When one teen blocked Barksdale from the kid's buddy list, it was reported that he used the system to unblock himself. Google acknowledged it and "dismissed David Barksdale for breaking Google's strict internal privacy policies."

There was no apparent sexual aspect to the interactions with minors, and no legal repercussions were reported.

Keep Inappropriate Photos On Your Computer (Especially Photos of a Judge)
This tawdry, bizarre story is yet more proof that truth is sometimes stranger than fiction. A computer programmer at Great-West Life Assurance Co. claimed he was fired because of a file folder on his computer that included nude images of a judge. Apparently these photos were evidence for a civil case the programmer filed against his lawyer, who allegedly pressured the programmer to have inappropriate relations with the lawyer's wife, who was a Manitoba judge and subject of the photos… Or something like that. It's too complicated and weird to explain here, but you can read it about it yourself at CBC.

Tell the Media About Salary/Bonus Info at Google

Last fall, Google CEO Eric Schmidt distributed an internal memo announcing an upcoming 10 percent salary increase and holiday bonus for all employees. Business Insider published the "Confidential: Internal Only" memo, which had a heartfelt conclusion of, "Thank you for all that you do, and for making Google a place where magic happens."

Well, maybe "all that you do" was a poor wording choice. The company reportedly thanked the employee who leaked the memo just hours later by terminating his employment, according to CNN. That unlucky employee was identified by Gawker as Randy Wigginton, a programming legend working as a site reliability engineer at Google. Before his career with Google, he was one of the first employees at Apple.

Talk to the Media About Your Hobby
A Morgan Stanley software developer named Solomon Lederer was fired last fall after -- coincidence? -- being profiled by the Wall Street Journal for his hobby of trying to form a kind of offline social network among fellow commuters in the New York City subway system. He would reportedly verbally address the commuters with the idea "that we can do some kind of exchange, or networking, on the subway so that we can get more of what we want and possibly give more of what we can give," according to the WSJ Metropolis blog. He would then hand out flyers about his initiative "to make our commute more interesting and productive."

That very blog later reported that Lederer was fired by Morgan Stanley less than a week after the posting. The company denied that he was fired for talking to a reporter, but Lederer told the WSJ that shortly after the posting he was told by a company director that he "exhibited poor judgment" and was fired days later.

Going back in time, you can find more strange reasons for developers being fired:

There are plenty more stories out there, but now it's your turn. Do you have any good anecdotes about programmers being fired? Please share by commenting below or e-mail me.

About the Author

David Ramel is an editor and writer for 1105 Media.

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