Saturday, January 08, 2011

Is it ethical to "test" programmers by making them "travel"?

Is it ethically legitimate to make a “questionable” programmer travel, and watch his or her work on a business trip, before deciding whether to fire the person?

I actually saw that done once in the late 1990s. The programmer asked questions about link edit things he really should have known (and IBM S0C1’s).  (The subject matter was Vantage which, however it "rules the world", was not what I worked on.) Then, another manager from a consulting firm (the programmer was working for the parent company, but we did have “matrix management”), caught him playing Solitaire or Minesweeper on the PC. I always wondered why corporate IT departments allowed computer games to stay on PC workstations if game playing was forbidden. Just to set up stings to catch the lazy?

He got back on a Thursday night, and the following Tuesday, back home, the boss called him in at 1 PM and said, he could resign, or he could “take the firing” and get two weeks’ severance. He took the firing. But then fifteen months later, on another road trip, I heard that he had asked for references (again).  There had circulated a story that once, while rounding a corner among workplace cubicles, he overheard (in soap opera fashion) a verbal remark that put him in a very unfavorable light (with not-nice words).  That had set up a tense situation for the business trips.

Travel, of course, does sometimes burden an employee; it’s harder to play on the road and lose the home field advantage. I’ve traveled sporadically during my career. For Univac, I traveled from New Jersey to Eagan, MN for benchmarks (anybody know the facility on Pilot Knob Road near 494?), especially in 1974, when I was there for 11 weeks when I desperately wanted to get my personal life going back East. But several trips to Minneapolis (again) in early 1997 set up a corporate transfer that for me turned out perfectly (and was necessary for “ethical” reasons). So road trips have been important in my own past.

It’s clear that there IT environments where games (or puzzle solving, as at Google, where there are combinatorial topology problems on the job interview tests, at least according to a CNBC story) and fun is expected. Try Facebook.

But the IT job environments of the past were certainly conservative and stodgy. Remember EDS and its dress codes?

Picture:  downtown Charlotte, NC can be a treat at sunset.

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