In two recent articles, “Three steps to making an ethical decision” and “Ethical consulting: The Lone Ranger provides guiding principles,” TechRepublic contributor Edwin Smith explored consultants’ ethics and ways to ensure principled decisions. We asked our members if they’d witnessed any unethical behavior among their counterparts, and many responded with tales of questionable practices and comments on the state of morals in today’s IT community. Here are their good, bad, and ugly comments.
Dirty laundry list of unethical activities
M&M wrote to say that she had the “misfortune to work for a person who used his IT staff in ways I never thought about before.” M&M included a laundry list of unethical activities her former employer requested of his staff, including:
- Registering call letters of local TV stations as domain names in an effort to get Web design jobs from the station owners “because we already own the domain name.”
- Snaking a Web site and relocating it, changing the design credits, then billing the owner.
- Using a glitch in Network Solutions' domain record system to change the e-mail address of a contact handle, then changing the domain record.
- Keeping copies of orders placed on a client's site and building a mailing list to “share” with a business associate, without permission, as part of a monetary deal.
- Keeping records of credit card numbers that were accessible on the Web via a browser-based administrative system without disclosing this to the people who shop on the site.
- Keeping student versions of big-dollar, high-end desktop publishing and layout programs for business use.
Software piracy spreads like a cancer
IT HOPEFUL explained that as an IS coordinator for a cancer center, he was asked to turn a blind eye to certain activities. After providing the staff with a presentation and documentation about network security, Internet access at the home and office, and software licensing, he set to work on the “cleanup of nuclear waste in every aspect of the network.” He soon found that he was in for the most unpleasant ride of his life.
“Management would not enforce the rules for certain individuals—which should have been my first clue to being set up for failure,” he wrote. “My ethical standards and values in the IT profession for 17 years led me to lose my job after being firm with one individual against illegal downloading and loading of single-license software to multiple computers.”
IT HOPEFUL said he is now unemployed, but is “willing to be poor” before working in another such environment. “I have regained my personal self-esteem in knowing I did no wrong by my dedication to a cause,” he wrote. “In reality, my dedication was to human welfare and their care.”
Good ethics are necessary for good business
John M. Kolosci, a senior network analyst, wrote to say that he believes consultants are ethical out of necessity these days.
“With all the competition and the insight of clients to get at least two or three quotes, you have to be ethical,” he wrote. “Otherwise, someone will call you out and that would hurt business. I don't personally know anyone who has done anything unethical, and I know many consultants. I'd like to believe those people are few and far between.”
Another member, SOL, echoed Kolosci’s comments.
“Generally, the low-budget consultants I have been exposed to showed a desire to be ethical,” SOL wrote, “but as soon as it became inconvenient, their convictions gave way to gratification. The truly ethical consultants who stood by their values and broke their backs—or were ready to—also know their worth and charge accordingly. They were true to themselves and true to their clients. They also had too much to lose by being caught at something naughty, like taking undue privileges or exerting a power play. Their very valuable contract is at stake, as well as their reputation.”
Teaching up-and-comers: Unethical role models
GEORGE recalled an experience she had taking a master’s-level course at a local university taught by two consultants.
“Unfortunately for the students,” she wrote, “their ‘education’ turned into a class about unnecessary, overextended professional development that could have been taught within eight hours—not two months. There were no office hours and no guidance to work on the project. Some of the material on the syllabus was not even taught or discussed. Their attitude was, ‘If you need assistance, you are not doing college-level work.’ The grades were given out based on a bell curve, so it really didn't matter if you did exceptional work. They would knock it down anyway.”
Sabotaged employment efforts
SAM wrote in to say that she believes “99.5 percent of contractors have the highest ethics.” Nevertheless, she reported that she’s had some difficulty finding work due to sketchy moves by some consulting firms.
“I worked for one that placed five contractors on the same job, and then refused to move any of them out when they wanted to leave,” SAM wrote. “Even when the end of the contract was reached, this company would not even attempt to place those people somewhere else. When each of the contractors went out to find other jobs, the consulting company sabotaged their efforts to find employment by having ‘gentlemen's agreements’ with most of the companies in my small town.
“I interviewed with one company for four hours and then was told I had to get permission from the consulting company before they would continue to talk to me,” SAM continued. “Even other consulting companies could not touch me because of the agreements with the company I worked for. They could never place me anywhere because the company I worked for had such an exclusive agreement.
“I know that computer personnel are to be considered intellectual property by companies—and that a lot of companies have lists of essential personnel that they ‘can't afford’ to lose,” SAM concluded. “The problem is that if a person has decided to leave a company…it's best to let them leave. Forcing someone to stay in a job is not ethical.”