Y Combinator: the worst developers stories

Sep 5, 2018
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A post on an American developers forum raised a few eyebrows. It asked users to name the less ethical project they had worked on. Some of the answers are chilling to read…
 
The responsibility of developers and the ethics of coding are very current issues. Can a coder refuse to work on a project if it seems borderline unlawful? Amid these valid questions, our colleagues at Numerama spotted a topic on HackerNews/ Y Combinator.
 

Sell a failing database to later charge heavily its optimization!

 
Developers or coders were asked which was the less ethical thing they had done at work. Sure, answers can’t be checked because they mostly can’t be traced due to nicknames. But they are mostly documented and precise which leads to thinking they are true.
 
One developer explains how his company was deliberately installing a product and a database with no index. Within a few months, the database was becoming very sluggish. A consultant was sent to install an index, thanks to a script, and the product was once again reactive. These interventions, due to a deliberate flaw, were charged at a high price. Of course, correcting the flaw before installing the product was quite possible but not done.
 
Another developer tells how, at the end of a large industrial project, a quality engineer came to check of all was well. But the project was flawed and they lacked time to correct the problems. The team then decided to sabotage some visible aspects of the project (take out a knob, break a pipe…) so the engineer would detect them… and not concentrate on the real flaws.
 

Cons on a micro-bidding website

 
More conventional cons occurred on a bidding website. The questionable modus operandi was to offer the user a chance to bid one cent to buy consoles, televisions or cars. Each bid cost 50 cents. If a user held the highest bid for 60 seconds, he would get the prize.
 
This way, an object sold $500 had drained 50,000 times 50 cents, thus becoming quickly profitable. But that was only the visible and legal part of the website. Web users had, in fact, no chance of winning the object below a certain price. The developer explained: “Problem: I coded bots to bid automatically until the company had reached a certain threshold. I quit after that”.
 

Lies about toxic substances, covering up illegal activities for the company…

 
Another answer, even more disturbing: a developer had to promote the use of highly dangerous products. He cheated to make them more profitable. “I worked for a company which had the Agro-chemist Dow as a client. Dow had asked for an app to promote extremely toxic products. Things that were so toxic that crops growing on the manure from animals eating treated grass couldn’t be eaten. We also lied on calculations showing how much a farmer could save with these products”.
 
Another developer admits having used his skills to erase the history of code upgrades of his company. The aim was to cover up illegal activities prior to its acquisition. One also developed a software, over 15 years ago, to bulk buy sure-to-sell-out concert tickets. And then sell them back at a higher price…
 
This anthology of bad practices shows how developers can be confronted with moral problems. And how addressing them ethically can be difficult, especially early in the career…