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Helping your former company

by Anonymous Monk
on Jan 28, 2006 at 05:37 UTC ( #526135=perlmeditation: print w/ replies, xml ) Need Help??

Dear Monks,

I'm a regular Perl Monk but I'm posting anonymously. Recently I left a startup I was working for to move to a large software company. The startup was paying me less than I needed to live on, and over several months before I left I was faced with a family crisis that required my full time. During my other hours I kept doing work for the startup, at reduced pay. So when the large software company gave me an offer and I was almost broke, it was an easy decision.

My boss the CTO had left a month before me due to differences with the CEO. So when I left there were no more server side resources. Everyone asked me, so if something goes bad we can call you right? I responded yes, and I intended to help them since I was leaving at a bad time.

So something broke, and I got an email requesting help. I responded saying sure no problem, but can you please give me written authorization to logon to the server? I've read lots of stories about people getting burned just like this, and I thought protecting myself was a wise move. I didn't hear back until a week later with a response that the issue was resolved.

Today I got home and received an email saying something broke again (turns out the drive filled up from backups) and they were having problems starting some services. I wrote back suggesting possible solutions, and mentioned that I would be happy to help if authorization was given to me to logon. Now I don't distrust my former coworkers, but I've been threatened with a law suit once before when I left a startup because I wouldn't come into the office to help out, and my friend who is a professional sysadmin reiterated several times that I should never ever login to someone elses server without written permission.

I feel like I made the right decisions, but also know people are probably saying "This guy is just trying to screw us. Why doesn't he just help us out?". What would you do in this situation? Where do you draw the line between upholding professional ethics, your own safety, and helping people out?

Considered: radiantmatrix: Off-topic
Unconsidered: g0n - enough keep votes (8/7/1)

Comment on Helping your former company
Re: Helping your former company
by chas (Priest) on Jan 28, 2006 at 05:53 UTC
    Your request for written authorization to logon seems eminently reasonable to me; I think it would only need to be given once. If I were in your situation, I guess I would just assume that if I didn't get the authorization, they must not want my help enough to bother, and I wouldn't let it bother me.
Re: Helping your former company
by davido (Archbishop) on Jan 28, 2006 at 06:21 UTC

    Written authorization takes ten seconds to write, and 60 seconds to fax to you. It may take a little longer to get someone to agree to grant it. If they're unable to obtain it for you, stay out of their system; they apparently don't need your input badly enough to offer you assurance that you won't be sued for providing this help.

    If it looks like this question is going to come up again, why not proactively talk to the decision-maker to offer your services as an outside consultant. You could pre-arrange any paperwork that would make both parties feel more comfortable with the agreement. Everything would be out on the table ahead of time. You would still want per-incident authorization, but if the decision-maker preapproved your arrangement, per-incient authorization could be pushed down to a person of lower level, where the big boss wouldn't have to be awakened at 3:00am every time you are needed.

    If, upon attempting to pre-arrange such an agreement, you find that you meet with resistance, you'll know ahead of time that you're definitely not authorized to access the system, and so will those people who keep asking you for help. On the other hand, if the decision-maker approves of the idea, once again, you and your contact within the company will know ahead of time that your involvement has been blessed.


    Dave

Re: Helping your former company
by spiritway (Vicar) on Jan 28, 2006 at 08:34 UTC

    Look, you're willing to help these folks out, and you're not asking them to pay excessive money for it. All you're asking for is a simple document that would protect you from liability in case of questions in the future. Not only is that reasonable, it would be risky to do the work without it. Imagine how it could look - former employee, possibly a disgruntled employee, trying to break into the system.

    What you're asking for is a small matter, one that would protect you while not costing the company anything more than a few moments of typing. If they're not willing to be bothered with it, then perhaps they don't really need your services so desperately.

Re: Helping your former company
by xdg (Monsignor) on Jan 28, 2006 at 17:12 UTC
    Recently I left a startup I was working for to move to a large software company.

    In addition to the good advice others have already given, let me also encourage you to check the terms of your current employment for potential conflicts. Some employment agreements stipulate that any code you produce -- even on your own time -- is intellectual property that belongs to the company. You also want to avoid getting into legal trouble with your current employer in helping out the old one.

    -xdg

    Code written by xdg and posted on PerlMonks is public domain. It is provided as is with no warranties, express or implied, of any kind. Posted code may not have been tested. Use of posted code is at your own risk.

      How could they claim code you do on your own time? Thats ridiculous. Could they then claim any art or music you produce at home while working for them? While it might be in the contract I doubt it would stand up in court. I suppose if your salaried AND the code in question directly related to your employment then they might have a case, but it seems any company with that clause should probably be steered clear of.


      ___________
      Eric Hodges
Re: Helping your former company
by perrin (Chancellor) on Jan 28, 2006 at 18:19 UTC
    If the problem is too difficult to resolve with a short phone call or a couple of e-mails, they should hire you as a consultant, with a contract that says so, and pay you for your time. Anwering questions is one thing, but it sounds like they are going beyond that now.
Re: Helping your former company
by brian_d_foy (Abbot) on Jan 28, 2006 at 20:05 UTC

    I've been in this situation a couple of times (unfortunately). I'll gladly help my friends in the company by talking to them, but I won't help the company proper without being a paid consultant with reasonable fees and a contract. Once I'm not an employee, I don't have to do anything and I don't let them make me feel bad about that.

    You don't owe the company anything. You used to work there and now you don't. They didn't pay you enough or treat you well enough for you to stay, and now you're gone. That's too bad for them. They screwed themselves. You're not helping out because you don't work there anymore.

    Maybe they'll try to intimidate you by making you feel guilty, but just stick to your message: "I don't work for you anymore". It's as simple as that. Don't argue about old times, don't debate who said what, who did what, or anything else. You don't work there anymore and you don't owe them a thing. The more you say, the more chance you have of making the situation unfriendly.

    Don't worry about the lawsuits. If they don't have enough money to pay a sysadmin, they won't have enough money to even hire a lawyer to send you the initial letter. People threaten all sorts of things, but they usually forget about it when a real attorney tells them how stupid they are and how much it would cost to actually even get the attorney to think about it.

    --
    brian d foy <brian@stonehenge.com>
    Subscribe to The Perl Review
Re: Helping your former company
by dws (Chancellor) on Jan 29, 2006 at 03:44 UTC

    ... but I've been threatened with a law suit once before when I left a startup because I wouldn't come into the office to help out, ...

    Unless there was something legally enforceable in your contract/employment agreement that requires your services after you've severed a business relationship, that threat was bluster. Threatening to sue someone is easy.

    ... and my friend who is a professional sysadmin reiterated several times that I should never ever login to someone elses server without written permission.

    Your friend gave you very good advice.

    ... but also know people are probably saying "This guy is just trying to screw us. Why doesn't he just help us out?".

    You know this? Or are you just imagining it? Making sure that you're in the clear legally is hardly screwing someone. If it was that important to them, they'd have gotten you something in writing the first time you asked.

Re: Helping your former company
by talexb (Canon) on Jan 29, 2006 at 04:33 UTC

    Two important points have been covered here, one by you (getting appropriate authorization before logging on to the servers) and one by the respondents (make sure your current employers are OK with you giving out this kind of advice). It would be bad news if your old and new employers were competitiors, for example.

    It's common to feel guilty after leaving a company -- or even hang on somewhere because of the same guilt. but it's important to hold that decision up to the harsh light of Common Business Sense.

    You have to decide if it makes financial sense to stay where you are, or whether it makes more sense to leave. Temper that with the judgement you have to make about not leaving a company the first time someone waves more money in your face, of course. You also have to balance how your current employer is treating you against how prospective future employers might treat you, and gauge how the quality of work at each place compares.

    I've been in the situation where I was working extremely hard and generally being ignored by my boss and the other managers. The clue by four that finally made me think was when I resolved a technical problem on a very tight deadline, saved the organization from some major egg on the face (along with furious customers) and worked through the night until 1pm the following afternoon to recover .. and no one thanked me.

    On the other hand, I'm under a lot of pressure at my current job, but I'm having a lot of fun doing what I'm doing, I'm getting supprt and appreciation from my co-workers and lots of flexibilty. Sometimes it's the small things that make all the difference in that kind of situation.

    Finally, toss your thoughts around with someone. It may be that even hearing yourself describing the situation will be enough for you to come to a decision -- then your sibling/best friend can sit there and drink beer and eat chicken wings while you talk about the situation and make your next decision.

    Alex / talexb / Toronto

    "Groklaw is the open-source mentality applied to legal research" ~ Linus Torvalds

      I've been in the situation where I was working extremely hard and generally being ignored by my boss and the other managers. The clue by four that finally made me think was when I resolved a technical problem on a very tight deadline, saved the organization from some major egg on the face (along with furious customers) and worked through the night until 1pm the following afternoon to recover .. and no one thanked me.

      Im a Unix admin who regularly helps out the Windows folks via the odd script, or more (usually involving Perl) often on mission critical projects. I enjoy sitting back and watching them all pat themselves on their backs when they finish :)

      Ted
      --
      "That which we persist in doing becomes easier, not that the task itself has become easier, but that our ability to perform it has improved."
        --Ralph Waldo Emerson

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