Are Rogue Programmers Running Rampant in IT?

A reader describes a situation in which an unscrupulous programmer tampers with other programmers'code. Let us know what you think about it!

Orin Thomas

March 27, 2005

3 Min Read
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     I recently received a letter from a reader who describes a problem that I was unaware of. Here's what the reader has to say:

     "I enjoy programming and the variety of challenges produced on a daily basis. I can handle the workloads, the lack of design specs, the lack of QA, the scope creep of projects, the tight deadlines, juggling 10 to 15 assignments simultaneously, troubleshooting production problems, etc. However, the thing that I can't handle is the new culture of programmers that plays to lose.
     "This person knows all the ins and outs of the company, departments, systems, networks, etc. However, the person sabotages the system on purpose. You may ask why would someone who wants to keep their job would break the system when the ramifications of getting caught are huge. Well, if you look closer you'll see.
     "As in the reality show 'Survivor,' everyone is out for themselves yet give the appearance of being a team player. So programmer A screws with  coworker B's code by changing settings on a server, by going into B's source code and making surgically precise changes, by deleting files on the server, etc. Over a long period of time, B is spinning his wheels in confusion trying to figure out how the easy mistakes can be happening and explaining to the boss why he screws up every week. During this time, A finds more clever ways to tinker with the system and looks great and keeps his/her job while B is out the door. I've been in this department the longest and I've watched when the problems started occurring and I've seen three to four talented programmers leave or been asked to leave.
     "The irony is that B is a better programmer and has more loyalty to the company, yet A sits back with a sly grin each Friday as the direct deposit hits the account.
     "The sad thing is that there is nothing that can be done about it. Without proof, there is no case. You can't restrict access to servers, networks, programs, source code, etc., because A is considered to be a trusted employee and needs rights to do/not do his job. The IT world has developed these pirates who roam the networks plundering as they go and reaping the benefits.
     "I majored in anthropology and worked my way up through banking and learned programming on my own 8 years ago. I enjoy programming and the perks that come with it, but in the end, the frustration level at my inability to catch these saboteurs will cause me to find work in another field or another company. Or maybe this person will eventually shoot himself in the foot and get caught--and perhaps the good guys will win for a change. I know I'd like to vote this person off the island!"

     What advice would you give this person? Have you witnessed any of the problems the reader describes, or is this just an isolated case? Submit a comment and let us know what you think.


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