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Programmer ethics

By Choppit ·
Some time ago my employer comsissioned a VB programmer to develop an application for us. During the development I started to take an interest in VB myself and over the next 18 months developed my skills to the point where I could maintain the application myself. Since then I have been trying in vain to obtain the source code to bring the development in house. Several phone calls and tens of emails have been exchanged to this effect and the programmer has agreed, both verbally and in writing, to send me the source code. Despite this I have received nothing, with the programmer adamant that it must have been 'lost in the post' (this has happened 3 times!). I have also requested that the source be emailed to me, which he refuses to do. I have CC'ed to his Managing Director to which he again agreed to comply, but still nothing. I suspect that either poor ethics are at play here, or the source code has been lost. What do you guys think?

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There is another possibility here that you may

by HAL 9000 Moderator In reply to Programmer ethics

Not have considered.

The company responsible for developing the code is unwilling to allow their Intellectual Property out of house. While the original programmer may be willing because it is only a bit of VB code and hence fairly uncomplicated there could be others higher up the food chain where he/she works who are unwilling to let this leave the business. After all while your company may have paid for the project you would have to look at the original agreement as to who actually owns the code and the application.

Maybe with a bit of chopping and changing it could be a very profitable product to the company involved or maybe they are just unwilling to let it go either way you should be directing your requests to the company rather than the person responsible for developing the code as they are more than likely being over ruled at every opportunity.

Or maybe there is some one in your place of employment who doesn't want you to have this information. I can understand the programmer not wanting to e-mail the source code particularly as there have been from his prospective at least three cases of him/her sending and you not receiving so he/she most likely wants to know as well what is going on.

Can you be totally sure that there is not some one within your own company who is unwilling for you to have the source code?


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Extremely unlikely

by Choppit In reply to There is another possibil ...

Thanks for your post. I'm absolutely certain that there can be no-one in my organisation preventing release of this, we're a small organisation (32 employees)and I report directly to the board. I can't rule out that the code may be used elsewhere, but I feel it's unlikely due to its nature. The agreement signed has no mention of ownership of source code, or application.

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Need to handle at a higher level

by DC_GUY In reply to Extremely unlikely

The transfer of source code must be done carefully in order for both sides to avoid legal problems. Your manager, or possibly even his manager, should be handling this endeavor, and your legal department or counsel should be advising. The same thing should be happening at the other end.

There may very well be language in the original contract that reserves the rights to the source code to the other company, as has been suggested. Your attorney(s) should review the contract to see if that is the case.

Usually contracts are worded specifically so that the source code belongs to one party or the other. This is way too important to leave out of the agreement.

Once you determine who legally owns the code, you can proceed properly from there.

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Interesting situation

by Elder Griffon In reply to Programmer ethics

I've never encountered a situation like this before, even though I've worked with a few programmers. I think it's intriguing and strange, much as I'm sure you do. Here's how I would envision handling it, personally.

If the person has agreed to send you the source code and refuses to follow through, then they are:
a. Lying about their willingness to do it,
b. Unable to do it, or
c. Really, really incompetent

The real problem is determining exactly which of these is the case. Once you know that, how to handle it is much easier. If I could reach the physical location of the programmer, I would tell him I'm coming over and to have a copy of the source code ready for me to pick up. I would do this mainly to see what the reaction is. If the person still refuses to follow through on the request when I'm personally doing most of the work, then I'd surmise that either a or b is the case.

In any case, I'd try to deal with the person by asking specific, probing questions ("Do you agree that it is reasonable for me to expect that I would have had the source code already?" "Were you serious in saying that you would send it to me?" "Will you commit to helping me get it to the best of your ability?" "Can you think of a way of ensuring that it gets to me without fail?") and avoid any kind of accusation or expression of frustration. The latter are tools the person can use to change the subject and deflect attention from the main issue. The person has already shown a great willingness to do just that.

The refusal to send by e-mail and the missing mail would suggest to me that this is a smokescreen (although that may not be the case). My first suspicion would be that the programmer has lost part or all of the source code and is frantically trying to rewrite it. But remember that any number of things may be going on. If your words and actions indicate that you would rather concentrate on the problem rather than find blame, I suspect that the programmer may become more cooperative, at least to the extent of letting you know what the actual problem really is.

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