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Let's Reconsider That
All Your Eyes Are Belong To Us
by Michael Feathers
March 7, 2005
Summary
Where work and life meet, we have a lot of choices.

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In the news recently, there has been a flurry of reports of people losing their jobs for conduct outside their work. A Michigan healthcare company decided to fire workers who won’t quit smoking, a beer distributor fired a man for appearing in a photograph holding a competitor’s brand of beer, and a man was fired recently for blogging candid opinions about his workplace. His firing was just one of a recent series of firings related to blogging. The interesting paradox, in his case, was that the business model of the company involved building social networks that promote self-expression among peers.

Superficially, these events appear to be an ominous turn in our culture, but in fairness, they are nothing new. People have been ‘let go’ for conduct outside for work for ages. Most work in the U.S. is termed "at will." Employers and employees are seen as equals in the employment relationship and either can terminate employment at any time. Beyond that, it is easy to forget that business thrives on reputation and perception. What we might feel encroached upon for not being able to say as employees, we might never consider saying if we owned a company or were responsible for one, just because of the way that communication can be misunderstood and misinterpreted.

My own hope is that employers learn from bad press, in the worst cases, and move on, and that we, as a society, become a little more tolerant so that employers don’t feel the need to react. It’s nice when work and off-time can be separate enough so that people don’t have to, say, be on-guard about what brand of beer they are seen with. But, that said, I am in favor letting people select the terms of their employment. I know many people who would not like to travel as much as I do, but it works for me. Doubtless, there are people who don't mind restricting parts of their off-job conduct as part of their terms of employment.

Which brings us to the original thought behind this blog (yes, there was one).

A few years ago, I learned something interesting at a conference. There are some software companies out there that forbid their developers from looking at open source software. I was kind of shocked when I heard about it. I'd heard of “clean room” product development where you find people who've never seen a competitor’s product and lock them away to create something similar in the hopes that that will hold any IP claims at bay, but I hadn't heard about this sort of thing being a permanent condition of employment.

How would you feel if a potential employer told you that you couldn’t look at open source in your own time? Would you take that job, or not? Could you do it permanently? Would you do it temporarily?

Note: The title 'All Your Eyes Are Belong To Us' is a bad pun on the phrase 'All Your Base Are Belong To Us'. If you haven't encountered that phrase before, its background is pretty funny; it's worth googling.

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About the Blogger

Michael has been active in the XP community for the past five years, balancing his time between working with, training, and coaching various teams around the world. Prior to joining Object Mentor, Michael designed a proprietary programming language and wrote a compiler for it, he also designed a large multi-platform class library and a framework for instrumentation control. When he isn't engaged with a team, he spends most of this time investigating ways of altering design over time in codebases.

This weblog entry is Copyright © 2005 Michael Feathers. All rights reserved.

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