16 Dec

The Year of C.E.O. Failures Explained – NYTimes.com

Last spring, I taught a class at the Columbia Business School called “What Makes a Hit a Hit—and a Flop a Flop.” I focused on consumer-tech success stories and disasters.

I distinctly remember the day I focused on products that were rushed to market when they were full of bugs — and the company knew it (can you say “BlackBerry Storm?”). I sagely told my class full of twentysomethings that I was proud to talk to them now, when they were young and impressionable — that I hoped I could instill some sense of Doing What’s Right before they became corrupted by the corporate world.

But it was too late.

To my astonishment, hands shot up all over the room. These budding chief executives wound up telling me, politely, that I was wrong. That there’s a solid business case for shipping half-finished software. “You get the revenue flowing,” one young lady told me. “You don’t want to let your investors down, right? You can always fix the software later.”

You can always fix the software later. Wow.

That’s right. Use your customers as beta testers. Don’t worry about burning them. Don’t worry about souring them on your company name forever. There will always be more customers where those came from, right?

That “ignore the customer” approach hasn’t worked out so well for Hewlett-Packard, Netflix and Cisco. All three suffered enormous public black eyes. All three looked like they had no idea what they were doing.

Maybe all of those M.B.A.’s pouring into the workplace know something we don’t. Maybe there’s actually a shrewd master plan that the common folk can’t even fathom.

But maybe, too, there’s a solid business case to be made for factoring public reaction and the customer’s interest into big business decisions. And maybe, just maybe, that idea will become other C.E.O.s’ 2011 New Year’s resolution.

via NYTimes.com – The Year of C.E.O. Failures Explained. I’m not certain if business school teach that only thing matters is the profit you can make or if it is the result of something else. However, business schools seem to create an environment that rewards not making happy customers, not doing the ethical thing, not doing the thing that protects the environment down the road. One of the ways in which Apple succeeds is by releasing products when they are fully finished and not half-baked.

10 Sep

Ars Technica – Sanctioned: P2P lawyer fined $10,000 for “staggering chutzpah”

A federal judge has fined Texas lawyer Evan Stone $10,000 for sending out subpoenas and then settlement letters to people accused of sharing a German porn film called Der Gute Onkel—all without the judge’s permission.

In September 2010, Stone brought suit on behalf of Mick Haig Productions against 670 accused file-swappers, and he asked permission to take early discovery. Judge David Godbey said no; instead, Godbey brought in the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Public Citizen to represent the interests of the Does, since none of them had yet been named and therefore had no counsel to speak for them. EFF and Public Citizen lawyers soon began hearing from people who said that Verizon had turned over their information to Stone, information generally obtainable only by subpoena.

The lawyers asked Judge Godbey to find out what was going on, and to sanction Stone if he had in fact issued subpoenas without the court’s permission. Turns out that he had—at least four times. Godbey ruled (PDF) yesterday that Stone "grossly abused his subpoena power," obtained subscriber names he was not entitled to learn, and then, "almost unbelievably, Stone used the information he received to contact an unknown number of potential Does, presumably in the form of demand letters and settlement offers."

This wasn’t even the first time Stone had run into subpoena problems. In a separate Texas lawsuit over anime, Stone sent a subpoena more than a month after the judge in that case withdrew permission to do so; even more shockingly, "Stone issued the subpoena on the same day that he voluntarily dismissed the underlying case," according to Godbey.

via Ars Technica – Sanctioned: P2P lawyer fined $10,000 for "staggering chutzpah". Seriously stupid and unethical moves by this lawyer.

10 Sep

paidContent – More Bad News For Groupon: Sales Team Files Class-Action Suit

Earlier this week came reports that the daily-deals site, suddenly unpopular with both users and investors, is considering shelving its long-expected IPO. Now comes more bad news—Groupon’s own employees have filed a class-action suit against the company.

In a filing in Chicago federal court this week, former salesperson Ranita Dailey confirmed she will be lead plaintiff on behalf of Groupon employees who seek to recoup overtime that the company allegedly failed to pay. The suit claims that Groupon violated federal and state labor law, and demands three years of back wages and punitive damages for hundreds of employees.

The lawsuit coincides with a rise in negative comments on sites like Glass Door by people claiming to be Groupon employees. They have posted comments like: “a boiler room”; “Immense pressure to hit unrealistic sales goals” and “Sales staff cries all the time.”

Groupon did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the class-action suit.

via paidContent – More Bad News For Groupon: Sales Team Files Class-Action Suit. Obviously can’t speak to validity of this lawsuit but it wouldn’t shock me. What a cruddy business.

18 Jun

The Faster Times – AOL Hell: An AOL Content Slave Speaks Out

You’d think it’d be fun, wouldn’t you? Writing about “The Simpsons” and such for money. It’s every slacker’s dream job. And I was making $35,000! I remember that I crossed a certain threshold, soon after I got my new job: I stopped buying “Sensor” brand razor blades, and upgraded to “Schick Quattro” brand razor blades. This was exciting. The “Quattro” had four blades instead of the measly two blades of the “Sensor,” plus a sideburn trimmer on the back, plus it vibrated to supposedly aid the shaving process. This was the big time.

Some people struggle to write for their whole lives, and only dream of ever getting paid for it. And here was I was, Mr. Big-Shot-Razor-Blade-Man, getting paid a real salary. I could sit at home and write in my pajamas while eating take-out food; and that’s what I did. I was so grateful.

But this was part of the problem. We — by which I mean me and my fellow employees — were all so grateful. Which allowed us to ignore — or willfully overlook — certain problems. Such as the fact that AOL editors forced us to work relentless hours. Or the fact that we were paid to lie, actually instructed to lie by our bosses.

via The Faster Times – AOL Hell: An AOL Content Slave Speaks Out. Highly depressing read, both into the writing practiced at AOL and what this business considers important (just generating stupid trivial trash to generate pageviews).

24 Jan

NYTimes.com – Bush White House Broke Elections Law, Report Says

The Bush White House, particularly before the 2006 midterm elections, routinely violated a federal law that prohibits use of federal tax dollars to pay for political activities by creating a “political boiler room” that coordinated Republican campaign activities nationwide, a report issued Monday by an independent federal agency concludes.

The report by the Office of Special Counsel finds that the Bush administration’s Office of Political Affairs — overseen by Karl Rove — served almost as an extension of the Republican National Committee, developing a “target list” of Congressional races, organizing dozens of briefings for political appointees to press them to work for party candidates, and sending cabinet officials out to help these campaigns.

via NYTimes.com – Bush White House Broke Elections Law, Report Says. Wonder if Karl Rove is going to get asked on Fox News how this happened and what happens if charges are actually filed against him or the person who made the decisions to do this?

06 Mar

Computer Science and it’s Ethics or Lack Thereof

Recently, I had a class project in which I had to track down a code of ethics for my career field, computer science. In the course of this research, something astonished me. First, that it was pretty much impossible to find a local company that had a code of ethics for their staff programmers and second that the widely recognized international standard of code of ethics for computer scientists was tremendously weak.

The first point, is hopefully something that was more based on the size of the companies that I was talking with. These were small one or two person shops, a code of ethics was decided to be more of a waste of time than would be worth deploying.  However the second is more alarming to me, for reasons that I will discuss here.

So what exactly are the international standard that I am looking, the ACM code of ethics. ACM is an organization that is devoted to “advance computing as a science and a profession.” The organization is basically the professional society for computer scientists. So a pretty good organization that would presumably have a strong code of ethics to maintain the integrity of the the profession.

4.2 Treat violations of this code as inconsistent with membership in the ACM.
Adherence of professionals to a code of ethics is largely a voluntary matter. However, if a member does not follow this code by engaging in gross misconduct, membership in ACM may be terminated.

This is the last section of the ACM’s code of ethics dealing with Compliance with the Code and the Code here falls way short. The problem with this code of ethics is that there is no way to really punish someone who has actually violated the Code. Unlike many other professional degrees, there is no disbarment or license to revoke. This relates to a different problem that I discussed earlier where there is no set license that programmers receive to say that they are acutally good programmers. They can receive a degree, and they can have certifications in a bunch of different areas, but that doesn’t acutally say anything towards your skills as a programmer.

I liken a certificate as simply saying that you knew enough to pass the test at the time, it doesn’t say anything about your current skill set. I used to have a Red Cross CPR certification several years back, yet in all honesty I wouldn’t have trusted myself to preform it as I was trained to. That isn’t to say that everyone is going to be this way, I know several other people who I am sure they would be able to preform CPR correctly and without hesitation. But there is the critical difference, the certificate said something that wasn’t necessarily always going to be true. Granted this is a problem with all sorts of areas, but at least a professional license says that a person isn’t just trained in this one technology or this one particular area of a field but is a knowledgeable about the entire career field. A bar exam doesn’t just cover the particular field of law a lawyer is practicing for instance a patent lawyer takes the same bar exam a real estate lawyer does.

This is creating a real problem in the computer science field in different aspects. The one though that I see as the most important and that I want to talk about is the outside view of computer scientists. This has roots in a problem of messages sent through the media, which generally only portrays programmers as hackers and people who can take over any system within five minutes or sometime during the commercial break. Which granted it makes for good drama and plenty of other fields have bad portrayals of their particular field, crooked cops, unethical lawyers, and bad doctors. However how many crooked cops do you see in comparison to good cops? Now compare that same ratio to hackers and just plain programmers? Or rather just try to think of a plain programmer who just does their job, beyond a certain Bond girl, I can’t think of any and even that is a bit of a strech.

However this myth that all programmers are bent on taking over the world and with technology becoming ever more important in our everyday life, there is a fear that I have seen being expressed by more and more people. The fear of unethical programmers potentially developing a malicious program that say sucks off those fraction of a penny in interest to controlling the world’s energy. Bruce Schneier, a renowned expert in security, has a valuable theory here, that the preceived security and acutal security are both very important. That is, it doesn’t matter how safe you actually are if you don’t feel safe on the same basis if you feel safe and you aren’t that is also a bad thing. This is what I feel creates the problem in the average person’s eyes the precived security and actual security are vastly different in terms of technology.

The reality is that there really is no system that is designed to hold programmers accountable for their actions beyond the criminal system. Which there are inherent problems with the justice system, simply in light of the fact that technology changes so fast and well the political system is not exactly known for it’s speed. Granted at the same time there is a lot to be said for a system that is designed with flexibility in mind, technology given it’s pace of innovation needs a flexible system overlooking it. I don’t know if any professional organization could adequately confer a license on computer scientists that wouldn’t be out of date within 6 months, especially with the current state of evolution on the web.

I think this is a very tricky area but a question of confidence needs to be answered, for both the profession and for society as a whole to not have a sense of fear towards technology and computer scientists.