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Ethics In Computer Consulting 246

Brendan asks: "As a consultant running a small company I regularly deal with many different companies and many other consultants. I just witnessed a company be blatantly ripped-off for many thousands of dollars for a product that was totally unsuitable to their requirements. The consultant who recommended and will implement this system stands to make a substantial amount of money on the deal. This begs the question: What About Ethics?" This is a question that we should think about every so often. In this day and age of dot-coms and IPOs, we all should really think about why we are in this business. Sure, there is good money to be made, but in the end, we are all about providing a service, whether that service is constructing a Web site, running a network or administrating a Web discussion board. And while you are providing that service, don't you want to feel proud about the job you are doing?

"This is not an uncommon occurrence. Other consultancy firms seem to regularly help customers make decisions that are in the best interest of the consultancy and not of the client. If a sales person manages to convince a company that their product is the latest and greatest and it turns out to be useless software that crashes regularly then that is the sign of either a good salesman or a bad manager. Caveat Emptor.

Consultants are are supposed to provide a service, not sell a product. I know that the consultant is the product and there may be other products that the consultant uses that are beneficial to the client but that are not what the consultants purpose. The consultant (and this includes contractors) is hired by the company on the assumption that they will perform their duties to the benefit of the company as would any other staff member.

Is it ethically correct for me as a consultant to knowingly make decisions for the company that will increase the length or value of my contract even though I know it is not in their best interests? Obviously the answer is no.

I would hate to think that I am the exception to the rule but people in consulting with ethics appear to be few and far between. Where is the code of ethics for computing consultants and contractors? I have my own skeleton code of ethics but feel that it is time to put together a real one that could be used by consultants and contractors around the world. We are supposedly professionals and other professionals such as doctors and lawyers have one. Why not us?"

In a related question, E TiE asks: "What are good books for computer ethics and history?" Would anyone out there like to pass him a few ISBNs?

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Ethics in Computer Consulting

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 03, 2001 @03:01PM (#458480)

    Dear RMS,

    I sent you two mails back in Autumn and you still haven't replied, I guess there was a problem with the mail server ... sometimes I type email addresses sloppy when I jot 'em...but anyways, how's it been going man? How's your Emacs going? I read about your PDP-11. I'm sorry man. My friend had a 486 that died when his modem got struck by lightning - the bitch blew up the NIC and then the motherboard, man. I know you probably hear this every day, but I'm your biggest fan. I ever got the latest GCC and the .au file of you singing the hacker song - man that shit was Phat. I got a room full of print-outs of your source code, man. That shit is Phat. Anyways, I hope you get this man, please mail me back, just to chat

    Truly yours,

    Your biggest Fan,

    This is Steve.

    Dear RMS,

    I wrote you an email a while back and you still haven't replied or chatted to me on IRC - I ain't mad, I just think it's fucked up that you don't answer fans. You could have at least chatted to my hacker friend from Australia man - you're his idol man, he's only 6 years old, he likes you even more than I do - he waited for you on a MUD for 6 hours on 33.6 connection, man. You know, my dog gets jealous when I talk about you 24/7 ....she even gets put off her Science Diet dog food when I talk about you so much, man....but she don't know you like I know you, RMS....noone does. So email me back man - I'll be the biggest fan you'll ever lose,

    Sincerely yours,

    This is Steve

    PS - We should be together, too!

    Dear RMS,

    I know you got my last two emails!! I wrote the addresses perfect and the mails didn't bounce!! So this is the WAV file I'm uploading to your FTP server!!!! I'm doing 90 on the highway....hear that in the background? That's my laptop man! I'm driving fast and the HDD is getting scratched...but that's OK...I can buy another really messed up RMS...we could have been together....but now we won't....I hope you have bad dreams about it and wake up and scream about it!! Oh shit, how am I supposed to FTP this damn file, I left my cellular phone at home! Ahhhhh...I'm falling off the bridge, man....

    Dear Steve,

    I got your emails, sorry, I was too busy pondering the latest GPL to reply. It is very important that you release everything that you think about under the new GPL thinking license. It will be beneficial to society if you do, and it will ruin society if you don't, Steve. Remember, it's not about the technical quality, only about the social implications, Steve. What's all this about us being together? That's the kind of stuff that only a BSD license user would say. That's the kind of stuff that'll make me not want us to meet. I saw a really terrible thing on the newsgroups the other day....a guy was driving along ...drunk on the freeway....using a laptop full of commercial Windows(tm) software....and he went off the side of a bridge...come to think of, it was you! Damn. See what I mean by the implications of commercial software on society??


  • I am selling services and together with these I am also selling hardware and software. I am trying to find the best solution for the clients. In the long term this is the best way for everybody involved.
  • This is one of those cases that shows how good business ethics are good business profits. Of course you should do the right thing for your customer. If not, they will one way or another find out they've been had. No repeat business. No repeat business, no good references. No references no new business. Taken to extremes, the company will generate bad refernces.

    Do what's best for the customer. It actually pays!


  • I used to be somewhat similar to you. Questioning the ethics of those around me. It seemed unebelivable. However, after doing the same for several years, you begin to realize. The customers are stupid. If you weren't there, they'd be doing something even worse with their money and time. Your only responsibility as a consultant is to make them just happy enough that they want you to come back, and hopefully keep them from going out of business so they can purchase your services in the future. If they're not smart enough to check up on your work, they really do deserve what they get. That's what being a BOFH is all about.
  • Basically, consultants tell company CEOs and CFOs what to do with the company. They don't actually do these things, and they're not tied to the company financially, so they couldn't care less if the plan goes bust. And so some consultants get cocky, and decide to make a company take a dive in what it thinks is a smart move.

    Want to see evidence of this? Here's all the evidence you need [].

  • When you go on to other consulting projects and they ask for references, the guy who didn't screw his client over will be the one more likely to get the job. Word of mouth does work. Ask Microsoft.
    63,000 bugs in the code, 63,000 bugs,
    ya get 1 whacked with a service pack,
  • I can't imagine a consultant lastling very long in the business if he continually rips off a customer. There are only so many businesses out there and after a while you need repeat business. If you continually rip off your clients they will never ask for you and spread the word. Soon You will find yourself with no clients and then out of business. But if you do keep your ethics you will find that repeat business will make up the majority of your clients.
  • by mduell ( 72367 ) on Saturday February 03, 2001 @03:08PM (#458487)
    My dad owns his own business (practice, actually) and he recently hired a comptuer consultant. From day one I knew that this guy wasnt any good. He replaced the server UPS with a model 3 times as big, even though the old one was more than adequate. Also, when my dads 1 year old tape drive died, rather than RMAing it (it had a 2 year warranty), he suggested that my dad should buy a new one (even though my dad had several hundred dollars worth of tapes for the old one). It too the consultant 3 weeks (no backups in the mean time, not a good idea) to find the drive to replace it with. When I inquired as to what was taking so long, he said that IDE tape drives with capacities larger than 4GB (the server HDD is 6GB, but only 2.5GB is used) were "rare and hard to find". Finally he put in an OnStream Echo30, which has 5 times the capacity that my dad needs, and now my dad has to buy all new tapes to replace the ones he purchased a year ago! All in all, its been no fun, and when my dad had the consultant come to our house to install some software, I promptly logged out and said, "Give me the disks, Ill install it myself" due to a previous instance with the consultant installing spyware!

    Mark Duell in southern California, looking for a good comptuer consultant

    Mark Duell
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I'd write up a "case-study" for the local paper or business organ, and use this example, thinly veiled, to point out what people should look for in a consultant. Good PR for your business, and you can make sure it gets distributed to the sucker company.
  • Are there any chances that unscrupulous consultants are opening themselves up for lawsuits? It seems to me that if someone could prove that a consulting firm ripped his company off by selling it a product that is far more expensive product than it needed, especially if the firm had an interest in the fact that the particular product was sold, it would be liable for some kind of conflict of interest suit. Any ideas?
  • "I just witnessed a company be blatantly ripped-off for many thousands of dollars for a product that was totally unsuitable to their requirements."

    If it was that obvious, I think someone would have latched onto it. This is carrying coals to Newcastle. Yes ethics are important. Ask any lawyer who is reviewing that consulting contract you are about to sign...
  • by Anonymous Coward
    If company runs Windows, suggest they migrate to Linux.
    If company runs Linux, suggest they migrate to BSD.
    If company runs BSD, suggest they migrate to Windows.
  • How long? Oh, the last thirty years at least...

    I believe PT Barnum had something to say about suckers, although I think Moore's law is a better approximation to the actual curve.
  • The same things that make us geeks, also can make alot of us generally bad people. How many of you have joked about a user's problem rather than help. Sure some times they deserve it, but in my job (help desk) I have seen way to many people give the easy solution rather than the right one. This can branch to just lazyness, sure sell them the Microsoft solution and all will be well, cash the check and move on.


  • by Local Loop ( 55555 ) on Saturday February 03, 2001 @03:14PM (#458494)

    I get almost all of my new business from referrals. Being honest with my clients pays off directly in the form of new business

    Besides, happy clients will utilize my services over and over.

    That said, I have faced the temptation to do things not in the clients best interest - usually they'll ask for something they read about in a magazine and I'll have to explain why it isn't right for them. Of course, I now get called to help evaluate new technologies, so even this leads to new business

    Treat your clients right and you'll never want for business again. Screw them and you'll always be struggling.


  • Consider AOL and its 27,000,000 customers. Of all those customers, about 17,000,000 are disillusioned and have seen the light of a decent ISP. The remaining 10,000,000 are as dumb as squirrels, romping from chatroom to chatroom.

    If AOL were a consulting group, they'd all be out on the streets begging for quarters.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 03, 2001 @03:15PM (#458496)
    I'm not aware of any ethical guidelines for computing - it's mainly a case of individual corporations embracing ethical guidelines. Every engineering society that I know of has a set of ethical guidelines, however. Here's [] the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of BC's code of ethics and here's [] the IEEE code of ethics. (#s 2 and 7 would apply in this case if you were using these guidelines, #s 3,4,7, and 9 would apply from the APEG code) As far as your case go, the particulars are very important to determining whether you are ethically bound to speaking out.
  • someone please mod this up as funny! i loved it!

    oh wait, was it serious?
  • by IntelliTubbie ( 29947 ) on Saturday February 03, 2001 @03:16PM (#458499)
    I don't think this necessarily needs to be a profits vs. ethics dichotomy. Obviously a consultant that looks to squeeze every last dime out of its customers will make more money in the short term, but its customers will suffer in the long term as a result. Especially now that the dot-com bubble has burst and investors are demanding real profits, a successful company needs to trim the fat -- whether that means laying off extraneous employees or firing an exploitative consulting firm. Companies that employ these swindlers won't be able to compete with those who get honest consulting advice. Ultimately, they'll fold, taking the reputations of the "unethical" consulting firms with them. So you can be ethical and make $$$, too.

  • Unfortunately, time and time again I run across people that lack the passion and pride I think a tech person should have.

    A lot of the people I meet in my professional life are just in it for the money. To me, it's sad and sickening to see the 'art of ware' -- programming -- being corrupted and twisted in such an ugly way. I say this because usually the developers I know that are simply doing it for the money are the lousiest developers. Often I have to clean up after them -- not only is their style ugly, but a lot of the time they don't bother to actually solve the problem correctly. They miss the point or don't care to cover all the extreme contingencies.

    It's like they write this glossy code which obviously took little tought, minimal effort, and seems to do the job at least for a little while.

    If you are one of the developers out there who really hates programming, and really couldn't give a rat's ass about the art -- I ask you to consider either changing your attitude or getting out of the profession. People like you are the reason why the rest of us have to suffer out there!

    I suffer BEFORE I get a job.. because half the time the people hiring me have been so BURNED by boastful, greedy, lying developers that they have to be very skeptical. After I manage to convince the person that's hiring me that I am actually competent, I then have to usually pick up after the greedy jerk of a developer that came before me. I have to take his ugly, beastly, hulking, diseased code and hopefully turn it into something halfway decent. Usually these people write the most spaghetti-like, poorly documentated, obfuscated, uncommented, ugly code.. It sickens me!

  • Look at Swiss banks, they held the money stored by victems of the holocaust, look at any case where money is involved and you will see a lack of ethics. Drug dealers will kill one another just as soon as looking. In economics there is very little on ethics, it is a cold law of suppily and demand. People are numbers in economics(and by extension politics), workers in the 1870-1930 were disregarded in issues of safty. Even slavery is alike, no ethics for profit. If greed is involved very few people will act ethically.

    If people can connect to one another even the smallest of voices will grow loud.
  • Consultants are the least of our worries. What has always concerned me are the ethics of "time and materials" outsourcing. For those new to the gag it goes like this: Acme ask Megasoft to write them some bespoke code. Megasoft say "Sure thing, we haven't specified the project correctly yet, but I estimate it will cost seven million dollars". Acme, strangely enough, shit themselves at which point Megasoft suggest that they proceed in a more cautious manner and that Acme pay their developers per hour plus the kit needed to do it.

    And it seems like a good idea.

    Suckered! Now, at what point is there any onus on Megasoft to manage this project correctly? Why, exactly, should they hire developers who are any good when the crap ones take so much longer? The only dilemma Megasoft have is whether or not to hire some testers, who would be chargeable, but run the risk of preventing the project from going hugely over budget....

    Yeah, I have a problem with this whole situation.

  • by iElucidate ( 67873 ) on Saturday February 03, 2001 @03:17PM (#458503) Homepage
    In this day and age of dot-coms and IPOs, we all should really think about why we are in this business. Sure, there is good money to be made...
    I'm thinking maybe Cliff put this story in the queue a year ago and Slash just decided to start displaying it now? I mean, it's funny that we talk about quality in our work on a commercial web site that seems to lack any idea of what editing is. It's weird we talk about .com (mil/bil)lionaires in an age when most of the stupid .coms have dies off. Its weird that we forget about caveat emptor - buyer beware. Its stupid that we expect car mechanics to be liers and cheats, but we expect computer mechanics to be truthful and pure. Okay, I'll stop the flaming now.

    I have seen good consultants, I have seen bad consultants. I have seen good and bad people in all walks of life. Unlike many other jobs out there, computer programming and computer science is one where ethics are treated with importance during the learning process. I know that every computer science class I have taken has talked at one time or another about the ethics of managing systems, of writing programs, of handling information. I know there are plenty of college ethics classes available at most colleges that teach computer-related fields. The information and discussion is out there, and I would hope that any computer anything worth his or her salt would have taken a few of them.

    Perhaps we need a certifying organization like many other industries out there? Not Microsoft-certified, not being called a Realtor (tm), and certainly nothing like TRUSTe, but maybe some kind of board that would allow people to be certified members in good standing, and then based on complaints about them and recommendations and positive comments made, they could keep or lose their membership. It would be an online system, of course, with a small fee, and then potential employers would be able to check feedback profiles.

    Just an idea, it would probably take a lot more thought to work out all the details.

  • by ndfa ( 71139 ) on Saturday February 03, 2001 @03:18PM (#458504)
    consultant --> Techie Hooker
    consulting firm --> the Pimp!

    its a comparison that i keep hearing... and hey its funny, so dont start a flame. Hell when i was in college i was pimped out many a times to do troubleshooting (low class techie hooker;)

    what do you ppl. think ? ? ?

  • Sure, there is good money to be made, but in the end, we are all about providing a service, whether that service is constructing a Web site, running a network or administrating a Web discussion board. And while you are providing that service, don't you want to feel proud about the job you are doing?

    Hoo boy, that sure sounds nice, but would you please like to join the rest of us in reality? Don't get me wrong, I want an ethical world with ethical businesses just as much as the next guy. Perhaps even more so.

    But if the last decade has shown us anything about the human race, it's that we can be damn creative and inventive when it comes to technology, but we still tend to push aside things like ethics, morality, and general kindness in the persuit of our own wealth or power. In other words, I don't see anything changing. But I will continue to fight the good fight as long as it exists or until I perish, whichever comes first.

    However, I can think of at least one particular solution to the problem of ethics in computer consulting... a meta-consulting organization of some type analogous to the Better Business Beareau. (Which technically covers consultants anyway.) It merely needs to be a place of authority that businesses can go to and check up on a consultant they are considering to see if complaints have been logged in the past.

    Of course, this simple idea would need a lot of work to become useful due to the possibility of abuse. If some consultants are being big enough shysters to go ahead and let a company spend needless millions, is it a far stretch to go logging fictious complains against your competitors? What about those who might be in cahoots with whoever runs the organization? And it need not be limited to computer consultants either. Mayhaps ISPs? PC Service centers? Freelance programmers?

    The reason I put a bit of thought into this post is because I might aspire to be a consultant one day (I think I know my kit fairly well) and I don't want to see myself just sitting next to the telephone waiting for it to ring because No One Trusts A Consultant(tm).
  • by Anonymous Coward
    IEEE/ACM has ethics guidelines... []

    Also, "After the Gold Rush" by Steve McConnell is pretty good.
  • by s390 ( 33540 ) on Saturday February 03, 2001 @03:28PM (#458513) Homepage
    Rather, performing consulting work ethically is essential to your survival and long-term success.

    The rationale of all your consulting work is to help your clients succeed: "Help your customer succeed, and you will share in their success!" is one of my email heading tags.

    You don't help your clients well by falling into conflict-of-interest situations, overcharging for your services, or failing to solve their problems in the most efficient ways.

    Individual consultants (and even large consulting firms) that forget or overlook this basic business truth eventually see their jobs dwindle, customer base diminish, etc.

    When you see ethical lapses, report them (either within your firm, or directly to your client if you're independent). Your views will be valued, even if your firm or client takes no immediate action, simply because you were honest with them.

    Then again, there are a lot of grey areas and your assessments should be based upon objective facts, rather than personal preferences. Be careful - don't accuse lightly.

    This is an important topic. I'll be interested to see what others have to say about it. However, as a person who "resigned" from a Big-5 firm because I refused to lie to a big client, I've lived this. (And yes, I have a good job with a better firm now, partly because I observed consulting ethics.)
  • But if you do keep your ethics you will find that repeat business will make up the majority of your clients.

    Agreed 100%. Good ethics is also the best advertising around. Do an excellent job at a fair price and your client's friends and associates will start calling you.

  • I was getting horror stories from some folks in South Florida (No suprise there, I guess) about consultants. One bunch of folks had a guy who ran a REALLY crapulous network for them; file transfers were based on luck more than anything else. Another fellow had a consultant in who couldn't even replace a freaking floppy drive.

    There's a lot of money in this industry and it's attracted a lot of utter morons. Let the buyer beware.

  • by HerringFlavoredFowl ( 170182 ) on Saturday February 03, 2001 @03:34PM (#458521)
    Case study in point, I work for a small company

    They decided is was high time to get a real network connection (fractional T1 512KB data, 512Kb voice). They where worried about script kiddies and the likes so they said we have to have a firewall of some sort. Smart move, the provider recommended this consulting firm out of Salem NH.

    They quote, I say it's not gonna work, our programming coop agrees. We get 4 different quotes from 4 different vendors, all cost less and I like the technologies (netscreen, sonic wall, 24/7 monitoring services, Cisco's ect...).

    I get over ruled, because this other company was recommended by our ISP...

    They wipe out our MRP system for the month of December, Keep us from shipping product for the better part of the month. Finally they get the system installed, wipe out email for one of our two subnets, still not resolved, keep pointing fingers at everyone as to why things aren't working, first the ISP, then the Bay Network stacks that connect the two networks, then our computers, ect. They go way over budget, a firewall that was supposed to cost $10,000 has now cost us $30,000. And to top it off the proxy server blue screens every 24 to 36 hours...

    Solution I blow up at the one of the VP's so bad on friday that he closes his door and we get into a shouting match. I doubt I will get a favorable review this year, but we are heaving that Windows 2000 Server Proxy server running otis proxy software into the dumpster and reconfiguring the Cisco 2611 it was behind to properly route data from the two subnets to the outside world and act as a firewall. Then placing Zone Alarm on the individual user machines as a second layer Firewall.

    Who will reconfigure the Cisco, probally the same consultants...

    You can't win, I've had plenty of computer consultants leave really bad tastes in my mouth.

  • This, in my "big company" experience, is (sadly) more often true than not. It's the reason that I stick with smaller companies. I worked for a fairly large company that ran call centers. My boss, the CIO, more than once hired a consultant to "evaluate our options" even though he had the recommendations written and ranked from his in-house staff. This frustrated me to no end and one day I asked him about it. He told me in no uncertain terms the only reason he did it was to cover his ass and provide ammo in his fights with other departments.....
  • I'm sure I'm not the only one, but I *do* help the all customers, even the stupid ones! I try to be polite, find the problem and for some even explain what they did wrong. You would be surprised how often they are grateful. Of course you need that little thing called "patience".
    Now, for the kidding: yes, I do laugh with their stupidity, but mostly in the form of anecdotes in presence of my peers. Tales mostly start as "Oh, I knew this user who did this hilarious thing, etc...."
  • Code of Ethics []

    There are diciplinary action for breaches to.

  • " I know there are plenty of college ethics classes available at most colleges that teach computer-related fields. The information and discussion is out there, and I would hope that any computer anything worth his or her salt would have taken a few of them."

    Ok. I totally agree that what goes on out there everyday in the consulting field is complete BS, but I doubt making everybody take a few classes would be that much help.
    The guys at the consulting firm in question know they're pulling crap and don't care about the ethics. No amount of ethics teaching can change someone who doesn't have ethics.

    I would say a better solution would be good old capitalism (I can hear jonkatz rolling in his grave).
    If you see a company getting horrible service just offer them a better one. If you can point out the flaws with the other company's recomendations than they should, if they have any common sense, go with you instead. Not only do you save a company a lot of money and trouble, you make money!

  • In my view, the largest corruption problem is the fact that we are, in effect, self-policing. As Boolean as our world is, there is still a great deal of subjective comparison that is made.

    Look at Slashdot, anyone who is a regular reader here is aware of the amazing amount of divergent opinions present on any number of topics by our community.

    How many times have you been in, or overheard, a conversation with contemporaries and heard things like "That guy didn't know what the hell he was doing..." or "I guess that is how Company XYZ does it but we do it right etc...". I am sure I will be taken to task for the generalization but we are a very cannabalistic bunch and we all have a very distinct idea of what is good Kung-Fu and what is paper MCSE stuff. We also don't mind sharing our opinions. This story is a good example. I don't know the details of the situation but who am I to judge that the submitter isn't the real idiot who wouldn't know a good plan if it bit him. No offense, I am sure that isn't the case but I am sure not going to take him at face value. People who don't know jack about computers (read most of the population) will certainly listen to him though, right or wrong.

    Anyone who has been in a computer store and listened to a salesman talk about another computer store's products or staff knows exactly what I mean. It's no wonder people don't trust us. We all tell them not to trust the next guy. Unfortunately, he is sayng the same thing and he sounds just as smart and knowledable as you.

  • Sure, you can tread the straight and narrow. But what if you could make in two screw-the-customer projects what you make in twenty honest contracts? Let's be honest company will be put out of business by an exorbitant consulting fee...if the company's finances are that bad, they have other problems. It's rather like taking a casino's one person loses, and you win...big. If you acquire a reputation, there are always greener pastures where people haven't heard of you.

    I might not necessarily advocate this point of view, but there are certainly those out there that do.

  • I'd blame bad management myself, at least in part. There's low quality workmanship in every profession, and the managers are the ones who aren't checking up.

    When we bring in consultants around here they usually don't come straight out of the phone book. Instead, we ask around, asking people and friends in other businesses of their opinions about consultants.

    If a consultant did a bad job or made bad reccommendations, word gets around and we won't hire them. Reputation is everything to some businesses, and they'll pay for reputation through the nose.

    If you want to build up a reliable, well paying customer base, don't worry so much about what others are doing. Just do a good job, don't rip people off, maybe and see if you can get some of your customers to reccommend you - especially in writing that you can flash around in front of other customers.

  • The ACM (Association of Computing Machinery) has a set of computer/IT ethics.
  • First a disclaimer, not knowing the ins and outs, I can only make a couple of assumptions:
    1 - you do not know the intimate details and may not understand what the client has asked for. If they asked for wizbang1 because they read about it AND it is the only solution they will accept, than wizbang1 is what they get.

    I have seen this on several occasions with J2EE. Clients want J2EE products even though they cannot describe what it is or why they want it. EJBs same thing. Gotta be EJBs...only way to go. You can talk until you are blue, but someone has put the seed in them and this dog won't hunt.

    This is no more unethical than denying people Porsches because they can use a Chevy to get from work and home. Once you told them, and told them, in the end it is their money. Now if you fail to tell them, then we get into #2.

    2 - you do know the intimate details and can speak to the specific issue at hand. At that point, if the money has not been spent, speak up. [If it has been spent remain silent for life] You would be surprised at who people will listen to when they are about to spend big money. Remember to be specific and LISTEN. Most poor consultants cover themselves with generalizations and ambiguous explanations about "the future". You will need to make your points better than they have with alternative solutions. If you tell them Jim's ideas suck, without an alternative you have not done them or yourself any favors.

    In the end, if they decide to go with the other options anyway, remember to be a good sport, try to make the chosen solution work, and never go for the "I told you so"

    We do not need an ethical standard for consultants and computer development. We just need to have the ethics of a human that does the best job they can, under the circumstances presented, without hurting their fellow human beings. It is really the basic "do unto others..." doctrine. Consultant or convenience store clerk, it is the same.
  • The main problem I see is the fight between "being what is commonly said for being ethical" and the unethical "customers from hell" that we all sometimes deal with.

    The problem is that the common rules for ethics are flawed. There are weaknesses in the common rules for ethics because while they promote various virtues, they also promote weakness in the face of unethical behavior by others.

    This is a problem, and opens a can of worms.

    After all, we have all known customers from hell, and have tried various ways to deal with them. The failure to deal with them to make them "happy" justifies the screw-over. This is part of the road to hell.

    Of course, there are also the pointy haired boss types, etc. who look just for the fast buck. The various monsters of the business world, the vampires, the zombies, the ghouls.

    So what is needed is something of a code or principles of common sense that that allow us the freedom to be ethical and also allow ourselves to protect ourselves.

    I am sure that if I were to offer something, there would be many cynical critics who would say how trite or contrived.

    So let's see what the community has to say first.

  • by archmedes5 ( 106202 ) on Saturday February 03, 2001 @04:07PM (#458545) Homepage
    Ben Shumin Said:
    The customers are stupid. If you weren't there, they'd be doing something even worse with their money and time.
    Wow, thats a rather elitist view of things. Keep in mind, that as a consultant, you're providing a service to someone who either doesn't have the time, or knowhow to set up their networks and computers. Bilking customers, especially when it's widespread, tends to put the whole industry in a bad light. (Whats your opinion of car mechanics in general, do they all derserve it?)
    Your only responsibility as a consultant is to make them just happy enough that they want you to come back, and hopefully keep them from going out of business so they can purchase your services in the future.
    Which you can't do by bilking your client. If you recommend something they don't need and they buy it, they end up wasting money. Do it too much and going out of business is exactly whats going to happen to them, (and maybe you) So being honest and ethical can be profitable too.
    If they're not smart enough to check up on your work, they really do deserve what they get.
    And if they are, you're screwed, unless of course you really do have their interests in mind. (Thats what they're paying you for right?)

    Of course that doesn't mean you can't recommend higher quality products, that fit within what they're trying to do, which may incidentially cost more (but fail less, thus costing less on the long run), but keep in mind that you're working for *them*, they've hired you to work for them. People who tend to screw over their employers, often find them selves without a job.

  • But whatever you do, don't ever tell the company itself that it got screwed. You will never be forgiven for being right.
  • It is sad that this kind of "whatever" mentality is prevelant even among the non-teenage highschool dropout group.

    This is bad news not only for the industry, but for the whole country.

    To see responsible professional attitude, just look at Germany. Their engineering is the envy of the world.

    To see Mr. Schumin's attitude in widespread use, visit Russia. The world's most expensive dump; all because the prevailing mentality there is "screw your neighbour if you can get away with it."

    Over and out.

  • by goingware ( 85213 ) on Saturday February 03, 2001 @04:30PM (#458553) Homepage
    As a consultant, I get a lot of calls from headhunters and contract employment brokers.

    But as a result of many horror stories from my own experience and that of my friends, I decided to stop dealing with them and I explain why publicly in Important Note to Recruiters and Contract Agencies [].

    To make it easier for other consultants to not have to deal with recruiters, I wrote Market Yourself - Tips for High-Tech Consultants [].

    To directly address the question, though, I think ethics are of the highest importance in the work of a consultant, and are probably the most important guide for you to follow, more important than writing good code. You at least have the hope of debugging bad code.

    The question goes both ways though, clients are occassionally unethical and many clients who wouldn't think of screwing you if you were a full-time employee would be happy to short you for weeks of pay earned as a consultant.

    You have to protect yourself, start early by finding a good attorney before taking on work - certainly before trouble starts - and have your attorney review all your contracts before you sign them.

    Also trust in your feelings and don't do business with someone you feel is not ethical. It's just not worth the heartache.

    Michael D. Crawford
    GoingWare Inc

  • Check out the ACM and the IEEE and the AITP these are all professional org. that relate to the computer industry.. they all have a code of ethics.. In fact the ACM and IEEE did a joint code of ethics for Software engieers. I think they are at It's not that we need a code of ethics.. it's that we need more people following the code of ethics that are there..
  • Selecting good suppliers is a part of business. Restauranteurs that select unreliable dairy suppliers go out of business. Companys that select bad computer consultants are in a world of hurt too. It doesn't mean that the consultant isn't wrong -- they were wrong to provide bad service, but the person who hired them is also at fault. I've hired some bad auto mechanics in my day and they were wrong to scam me, and I was wrong to retain their services. Now I check with friends more knowledgeable about auto-repair than I before giving money to a mechanic.

    Yesterday I spent a few hours at a local not-for-profit group helping them to evaluate a consultant they're considering retaining. The group understood they didn't have the skill set to hire a consultant and they went out side their organization for help in doing so.
  • You asked for a good ethics book. can learn from good and bad examples. ;-)
  • There's a distinct difference between charging "Exorbitant" fees and screwing your client over by telling them to purchase something that they don't want or need. Best example is the story (Urban Legend?) of the consultant who got called in to fix some constantly crashing servers. Took him 5 minutes, and he charged a grand to do it. When asked for an itemized bill, it said:

    Fix Crashing Servers: $5
    Knowing How to Fix Crashing Servers: $995

    Supposedly, the company paid. Why? Each crash cost them an hour of productivity. Say it happened three times a week and affected 50 employees being paid $30,000 a year. That comes out to roughly $14.00 an hour each. Multiplied by 3 times a week and 50 users. Total cost per week to keep the problem, $2100.00. What you or I call exorbitant is pocketchange to a company facing a productivity loss on the order of $2100 per week.

    This is totally different than, say, someone who needs remote access to all of their locations for routine maintenance and occasional file transfers, yet the consultant - rather than going with Frame Relay or possibly even DSL - tells the company that the only way to handle that is to go via T-3 to each major site, and load-balanced T-1 pairs to the minor ones. Each site's total traffic at peak times won't exceed say 400kbit/sec, but this consultant just sold them on 45Mbit/sec worth of bandwidth. It's unethical, it's wrong, and he's costing the company tens of thousands of dollars each MONTH that they don't need to be paying, just so he can get a bigger check.

    It's not the fees that consultants charge, it's those of us who sell someone something that they legitimately do not need and will cost them MUCH more than just the consultant's inflated fee. I call it inflated by the way, because if they're doing such things, it's to get the bigger payout.

  • One question that I don't really know the answer to: Is Russia like that because of that attitude, or did the attitude arise because of Russia's poor economic state?
  • This is definitely true in the case of government. I used to work in an IT dept for the state of CA and the management that made all the purchasing decisions had no idea how to monitor the develoment process of tech projects. We were a Solaris shop yet consultants pushed NT-based software. When the consultants couldn't produce their deliverables on schedule, they demanded more money to get back on schedule. Management would go along with this - unbelievable.

    What was even more frustrating, was that I would tell the management, get rid of these guys and hire some independent contractors who are NOT pimping crappy 3rd party software that we don't need. I can recall 2 specifc projects where it took management a year of battling with the consultant and not getting anything that worked, before they would actually get rid of them.

    I will say that there was one vendor who was fantastic and an absolute pleasure to work with: giavaneers [], based in Santa Cruz. When one consultant group couldn't deliver and was going to have the project taken away from them for their incompetence (at my insistence), they sub-contracted to giavaneers, who quite literally, saved the day. I highly recommend them.

    - tokengeekgrrl
    "The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions

  • How 'bout a web site where people can post anonymously along the lines of "Company A paid consultant B ridiculously large amount of money C to perform simple and/or unnecessary job/service/ D or to give them totally inappropriate and/or inaccurate advice E", with all the specifics inserted.

    Maybe call it or

    Get some very good lawyers to write the "All opinions belong solely to the posters and dissenting views are welcome" staements, trade it out with them for advertising.

    If the company mentioned wants to, they can post "No we didn't pay anywhere near that kind of money for a Linux firewall.", or "Yes, we paid that much but we got X,Y, and Z for it as well.", or the consultants can post rebuttals, and readers can browse with their BS meters carefully calibrated and decide for themselves where the truth lies

    If the site catches on, smart companies will go there to find out which consultants to avoid as they would the plague, as well as which companies to avoid joining in any sort of partnership or synergy or whatever they're calling it this week.

  • [voice of Foghorn Leghorn]: "Ethics, I say, ethics? Why, ethics got no place in business, boy!"
  • by gdyanky ( 205597 ) on Saturday February 03, 2001 @05:11PM (#458569)
    I am a computer consultant for a small firm who regulary partners with the big guys. Often Anderson, Deloitte, E&Y will subcontract to us. Time after time I see these companies bringing people into the project with little and no experience. These companies expect their consultants to learn of the job, while billing several hunderd dollars an hour. To me this is one of the bigger problems in the world of consulting. On top of that it seems like companies use the big 5 merely because of thier size. Why is this? What will it take for company management to realize that bigger is not always better? My experience has shown me that the better consultants go off on their own. Bottom line: Just like politicians the companies that are the most powerful, are usually the most unethical
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 03, 2001 @05:18PM (#458571)
    That type of crap really p*sses me off. I use to work for a consulting company, and I am familar with these situations. I can't tell you how many times I tried to get them to clean up their act. Now I work on my own!

    Here's a couple of tips when dealing with consultants:

    1. Get the Project Plan in writing and go over it with a fine comb. Make sure its feastive, and do some investigation (i.e. Does this product work as stated? Is this product near End of Life? Scan DejaNews or Google to see if anyone has major complains about using this product.)

    2. Ask the Consultant company if they have done this type of work before, and when they say "yes" ask for references. If no ask them why they feel they are qualified to implement this project and ask for references (get atleast two) from recent clients.

    3. Make them liable for any downtime or problems (have it included in the proposal). Also include a checklist of project objectives that must be completed and signed by then consultant firm before you pay them. This will provide your business with at least some protection, if they screw up.

    4. Ask to meet or phone interview the engineer(s) who will be assigned to this project. As the engineer, specific questions about the project and product that he will be installing. If you don't feel confident with the engineer don't sign. If you feel comfortable with the engineer make sure he will be doing the installation by getting that consultant company to specify the engineer in the proposal. Most Consultant firms use bait and switch tatics, where you discuss the project with a real sharp engineer, but something else shows up to do the install.

    5. Add a project completion date and project objectives with dates assigned. You don't want to end having to wait six months for a project to be completed if you need it done in one month!

    Give this list to your boss before bringing on the next batch of consultants!
  • Basicaly, if a person sold cars like the way we sell software, they would be in prison. If you sold Real Estate in the same way software is sold, you would also go to prison. Selling software (and associated services) is so much just selling ideas about software. This makes for huge opportunities for fakers, liars, charlatans, con men and unethical people of all sorts.

    When it comes to professional standards to work by, I think IEEE has a pretty good set of standards. Even if you are not a member, I think that they provide good guidelines in the area of technology.

    my $.02
  • The difference between a bad consultant and a stupid consultant can be small to none sometimes. Insufficiant knowledge can have the same effect as malicious exploitation. In other professions, change is slow enough that standards about training can be made in a rational manner. There is no such luxury of time in computers.

    This, along with a relatively low understanding of computers in the general populace, makes people think that it's a good idea to hire 16 year old neighbor kid to design their network based on the fact that he/she is a "whiz"(knows slightly more that you).

    Not only are there no standards for education but even among knowledgeable people there is disagreement over many things. What do you do with a proprietaty system that works for the client? What if the company that supports the system is having financial trouble? At what point do you transfer the client to a new system? What if the choice you have between different systems is a bad choice or writing your own? Is it wrong to move a client to a system that only you know about?

    The same as you don't expect contractors to build your house OK without any supervision someone hiring a consultant should not blindly expect that everything will be done perfectly without any of your own interference. Get the consultant to make promisies on paper and give them deadlines. This way you can take legal action if they prove to be incompetent or devious.
  • Thats really not a nice way to talk about MicroSoft. They are just trying to get by...
  • by goingware ( 85213 ) on Saturday February 03, 2001 @05:29PM (#458577) Homepage
    A common question I have to deal with in my consulting practice is whether to deliver what the client specifically asks for or what I think is right to deliver.

    This touches on matters both of ethics and of engineering judgement.

    You say, I should just write it to spec, but in practice I often don't have that detailed of a spec. In my work I write software on contract (rather than install systems or set up networks), usually for software publishers and sometimes for websites.

    I frequently do ports or complete rewrites to a new OS, and it is common for my spec to consist of nothing more than a working Windows version of a program and a request to make it work "just like it" on the Mac.

    The problem is things are done differently on the Mac than on Windows, both internally in the code we write and what the user expects. I feel it is important to give a client a product that will make their Mac users happy, even when the client is a Windows user/developer, and either doesn't understand the Mac or doesn't agree with it.

    A more serious question is when the client is asking for shoddy work. I make it clear to my clients that I do high quality work, and they shouldn't come to me if they want crappy, cheap software. But sometimes that's exactly what they want, in part because they want to cut development costs and also because they believe (I feel mistakenly) that they will reduce their time to market by sacrificing sound engineering principles.

    One thing I have started to do is to redesign my website to emphasize my ideals of quality work, as opposed to the spam I get that advertised offshore software development for $25/hour or less. Yes, this likely scares off some potential clients but they're probably the ones that would give me a pain in the backside anyway.

    I do try to involve the client in the decisions. The problem is that they are often not technically competent to help me make the judgement, and their arguments make this resoundingly clear. So very often I just go off and do what I think is in my client's best interests even if I know they disagree with it.

    Michael D. Crawford
    GoingWare Inc

  • Once upon a time there was a shepherd tending his sheep at the edge of a country road. A brand new Jeep Grand Cherokee screeches to a halt next to him. The driver, a young man dressed in a Brioni suit, Cerrutti shoes, Ray-Ban glasses, and Jovial Swiss wrist watch, gets out and asks the shepherd: "If I guess how many sheep you have, will you give me one of them?" The shepherd looks at the young man, then looks at the sprawling field of sheep and says: "Okay." The young man parks the SUV, connects his notebook and wireless modem, enters a NASA site, scans the ground using his GPS, opens a database and 60 Excel tables filled with algorithms, then prints a 150 page report on his high tech mini printer. He then turns to the shepherd and says: "You have exactly 1,586 sheep here." The shepherd answers: "That's correct, you can have your sheep." The young man takes one of the animals and puts it in the back of his vehicle. The shepherd looks at him and asks: "Now, if I guess your profession, will you pay me back in kind?" The young man answers: "Sure." The shepherd says: "You are a consultant." "Exactly! How did you know," asks the young man? Very simple, answers the shepherd. "First, you came here without being called. Second, you charged me a fee to tell me something I already knew. Third, you do not understand anything about my business and I'd really like to have my dog back."
  • If you think this bad, check out this [] letter to Iambe. Our industry has its rotten spots alright.
    Remove the rocks to send email
  • I wish this was the case; things would be nicely cut n' dry. But the fear of being sued has scared msot companies into not even providing *any* references, and perish the very thought of providing a *bad* reference.

    I suppose that news about the bad consulting practices could spread via observation of meta-data (i.e., noticing that a particular company now avoids a particular consultant like the plague and doesn't want to talk about it), but how many companies honestly put that sort of effort into background checks?
  • Do you know what "second sound" means in thermodynamics? If you have liquid helium cooled to superfluidity, then it will be the same temperature throughout always. You can change the temperature in one local area, but rather than raising conveciton currents, the temperature will come to equilibrium throughout the body of the liquid at the speed of this second sound.

    The Internet is like that - in that information spreads effectively instantaneously throughout its body, and it helps a great deal with ethical problems with business (as well as failures in things like customer service) and is discussed extensively by The Cluetrain Manifesto [].

    To make the most effective use of the Cluetrain, we must be willing to speak out in public fora on the Internet, and the book version of the Cluetrain quotes a profound speech made a hundred years ago that urges us to Make a Bonfire of Your Reputations [] - that is, when you have something important to say, say it, and don't let fear of others' scorn stop you.

    Michael D. Crawford
    GoingWare Inc

  • by llywrch ( 9023 ) on Saturday February 03, 2001 @05:48PM (#458587) Homepage Journal
    > The customers are stupid. If you weren't there, they'd be doing something even worse
    > with their money and time.


    Let's cut thru all of the crap & ask a few simple questions:

    1) Do you want to a job that you can point to in the future with pride?
    2) Do you care that you did the right thing, & gave your customers what they needed, & not some placebo buzzword that they thought they wanted?

    I've been in the computer business for about five years. Not long enough to be an expert, but I think I know a few things. And it pains me to know that the average person trusts a used car salesman more than a software salesman. (And this is not a slam against Microsoft: CA & Oracle make MS look like the old buddy you'd trust your girlfriend with if you were out of the country for 3 years.)

    Or to put it another way: I've dealt with a few plumbers -- guys who might have a high school education & make a living from the knowledge gained from two weeks of experience -- & without an exception they show more social skills & more trustibility than the average computer geek.

    In a nutshell, the whole computer industry stinks. People are making millions thru ripping off the end user. Yes, part of the reason is due to cluelessness on behalf of the customer. But instead of selling them patent medicines & nostrums, shouldn't we make an effort to educate them & make them better consumers?

    Or is UCITA our moral compass?

    BTW, you're not the same Ben Schumin who is responsible for are you? The maturity is simular.


  • Who the hell moderated this as funny?

    I wasn't aware of this link, but the ethics guidelines there looks good to me. You may also want to check out ACM Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct []

  • The REAL problem here is that the people who hire consultants tend not to even consider these issues. I have seen far too many consultants be allowed to make very large business decisions unhindered by management that brings them in.

    These are usually the same companies that bitchslap employees who ask for an increase in their server space quota, or for a faster PC.

  • Word of mouth does work. Ask Microsoft.

    The same Microsoft who for 20 years has turned out inferior software, who is reviled by a large percentage of the IT community, yet still is the most succesful software company in the world?
  • I just find it sad that somebody had the time to write that.
  • by squiggleslash ( 241428 ) on Saturday February 03, 2001 @06:35PM (#458602) Homepage Journal
    A father calls over his son to talk to him. "Son," he says, "I'm getting old, and when I pass on, my estate, including my business, will be yours. Before I go, I want to make sure you have a grounding in business ethics."

    His son nods. "Yes Dad, I'll do my best to live up to your standards."

    "Son", his father continues, "Suppose a customer comes in. She buys $5 worth of goods, says 'I only have a fifty' and hands over the money. So you give her change, and she leaves the store."

    "You then notice that she didn't give you a fifty, but a one hundred dollar bill. But you look up and she's already walking down the road. Now here's the ethics question:"

    "Yes Dad?"

    "The question is: Do you tell your business partner?"

  • by Morgaine ( 4316 ) on Saturday February 03, 2001 @06:42PM (#458603)
    The question of ethics does sound reasonable on the face of it, but in reality it has only the slightest relevance in the current technical, political and economic climate.

    The western world runs on deals and power and money and technology, not on ethics. Ethics is given lip service occasionally, but only in the context of "if one doesn't stay roughly in the ethical/PC ballpark known and loved by Joe Six-pack then markets or politicians may suffer and that would be bad". That's the only real relevance of "ethics" in our third of the globe, ie. the relevance is minimal, and I'm sure that for many even mentioning the word ethics in such a barely ethical context is a travesty.

    Consultants merely play their part in this scheme of things. Some may recommend GPL'd software for the Navy and some may recommend Microsoft, but don't look for reasons based on ethics for their decisions. The driving force may be power, money, freedom, technological competence or lack thereof, and personal or institutional politics of many different types, but not ethics. And for that matter the recommendations won't be objective either, regardless of the side of the fence on which one sits.

    Whether that's good or bad is a totally different question, and not necessarily one with an obvious or simple answer. But for better or for worse, that's how our world works today.
  • I had something like this happen to the company I now work for. A publicly held consulting company took on a project they knew they had no chance of finishing (they saw it as a chance for their people to learn new technologies at the expense of the client, but claimed their people were already experts in said technologies. They also wanted to get into the web space, which they had zero knowledge of). After several million dollars and series of increasingly impressive massive failures to do ANYTHING correctly, they admitted that they'd put a bunch of inexperienced people on the job, and that the really talented people (who had gotten them the contract) had quit months ago. They acknowledged that they figured my company would be out of business before due date so they wouldn't have to actually deliver anything. They also admitted to billing some $1.5 million in work that was never done. And they didn't think any of this was a big deal. This is why I will never work for a consulting company again, I have NEVER worked with a consultant who was even vaguely competent or honest.
  • I can see why.

    Most of the consultants I have met probably wouldn't even know what the ACM is. Do you really think they've read these documents?
  • Well, the consultant may have sucked. But regarding the tapestreamer, he may not have been entirely wrong. I have RMA-ed several tapestreamers. Unless it was a DOA, it usually meant "factory service", which often would take several months. Unless you can afford to be without backup, you might as well buy a new one.

    You never, never buy a backup solution smaller than the servers storage space. So it would actually be unethical of the consultant to do so.

    He may, or may not have told a white lie about large IDE-tapestreamers, but believe me, IDE-streamers are too "cheap" to rely on, regarding servers. When you have experienced the mythical "Write-only" tapestreamer, after a server crash, one becomes very carefull in selecting backup solutions. And I don't care that some people have anecdotes about IDE-streamers that worked for them.
    And why was he looking for an IDE-streamer the first place? Was it a costumer demand for a specific interface, in perhaps a hope of saving some money? In that case, one should not use a consultant in the first place: Why pay money for experience, that you don't use. It sounds like you could have easely installed that IDE-streamer yourself.

    Regarding the consultant installing spyware; I can hardly believe he installed a real piece of spyware. More likely it was one of those pesky pieces of free "spywares" (see previuos /. articles). It is so unlikely that the consultant could have benefittet from that. And maybe the specific app, was a costumer demand?

    Perhaps this consultant was to meek and "hungry", to tell what he meant. Perhaps a more BOFH style consultant would have been what was needed:

    "This *?!½ piece of *!?* IDE streamer was a bad idea in the first place...So you want to RMA it? Well, expect at least 2 month without without backup, then. And actually, you really don't want back, remember how it (expectetly) broke down within the first year? No, just dump it, take your losses and get something that works....You _insist_ on getting similar cr*p, -again? Well, I won't do that, but call me sometime in the near future, when that too, has broken down." (sound of a BOFH leaving in his Mercedes SLE)

    Regards (no personal flaming intented)
    Peter H.S.
  • by goingware ( 85213 ) on Saturday February 03, 2001 @07:44PM (#458612) Homepage
    Janet Ruh's Consultant's Resource Page [] has a lot of good stuff on it (and I haven't mentioned it on my own page yet), including a resume post that clients may search and get contact information from without a fee, a periodic salary and rate survey, and several books, some of which are available for inexpensive download in PDF or Palm Pilot format.

    I found her PDF on how to Market Your Consulting Services [] very helpful in my own practice - and she's got a lot of tips that I don't mention on my own marketing tips page above (while I have some she doesn't mention).

    I've also found that Janet has been quite helpful and responsive in answering the occasional questions I've emailed to her.

    In general, I prefer the resume sites which do not require a fee for the end client to search and get meaningful contact information from. Some of these require a small but very reasonable fee from the consultant, some are supported by advertising.

    You'll probably find as I do that the sites that require the client to pay a few are frequented mostly by headhunters, and they also often don't allow search engines to index them, so your clients won't find you.

    Other sites I recommend are The Software Contractor's Guild [] and [] - know any others?

    Finally, read [computer.c....moderated] - but be sure to read the moderated newsgroup, the unmoderated one has gone all to hell.

    Michael D. Crawford
    GoingWare Inc

  • Nope, but that doesn't mean that it is not a good idea to point them out to them. And given the average slashdot user intelligence, I bet some of them are working as consultants as well.
  • by EngrBohn ( 5364 ) on Saturday February 03, 2001 @08:20PM (#458619)
    There is a set of established code of ethics for computer professionals, at least for those who are members of IEEE or ACM.

    IEEE Code of Ethics []
    ACM Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct []
    ACM/IEEE Computer Society Software Engineering Code of Ethics and Professional Practice []

  • I really detest these kinds of motherfuckers that prey on their customers. Typically, in a short-sighted attempt to gain revenue, many consultants fail to provide documentation, put time-bombs in code, or otherwise create a false need for their client to depend on them. This is a blatant attempt to extort future revenue from the clients, or should I say, their "mark". When I encounter one of these types, I usually ask the client to obtain certain answers in writing from the other consultants to help reveal their activity.

    But here is my jewel... I live to solve problems. I get out of bed every day, excited at the thought of the new problems that I might encounter today. I do not thrive living in reruns of the same old shit I solved yesterday. My attitude toward my work is that my clients need to be able to use it without me being around to help them. I am happy to hand over well-documented, reusable solutions.

    Not only does this attitude guarantee more interesting problems for me to solve, it creates a trusting relationship with my clients, they crave my services for the new places we go, and they provide the best word-of-mouth advertising I could ask for.

    This strategy has worked for me for going on 12 years now, before the 'net became the Internet, and during the industry slump about 7 years ago, when many programmers considered themselves lucky to have a $35K/year job in California. I got to live a higher standard during those times, although not a millionaire today. And I am not concerned one bit about the thousands of dot-com'ers facing layoffs right now moving in on my turf.

  • Good consultants have good ethics, and are rewarded for it.

    When I did consulting, I tried to make the best recommendation for the client.

    I was asked "wasn't I worried I'd be putting myself out of a job?"

    and I said "that's my goal. that way, the next time you need a recommendation or new solution, you'll remember how good the solution I brought last time worked, and you'll call me."

    The only reason bad consultants are able to continually rip-off companies is, they make a bad solution and the company figures they already have the investment in the solution and want to get the same consultant to fix it. This is a slippery slope to losing cash quickly.

    A host is a host from coast to coast, but no one uses a host that's close
  • May I ask the obvious question:
    Why didn't your dad get you to do the work from the start?

    It sounds like you're on top of what your dad's needs are enough to make solid recommendations with his, not your, needs in mind.

    A host is a host from coast to coast, but no one uses a host that's close
  • At one job, I had the choice of choosing linux or M$.

    I knew I was leaving the country, but could be reached for advice on maintaining whichever solution I recommended.

    I wasn't about to recommend a solution that they couldn't get service on easily.

    In the end, I got them Dell Hardware, with the option of going linux in the future, but preinstalled with M$. Why? I didn't trust the Dell people who would be providing the Linux service, after questioning them personally. (This was in another country, outside of the US. I have since moved back.)

    Yes, I was conflicted about recommending an M$ solution, but I had to take the clients' needs into account. Which box could I have turned on and forgotten behind a hardware firewall, and know that it works, and it if doesn't, know that MSCE's are a dime a dozen?

    A host is a host from coast to coast, but no one uses a host that's close
  • This topic has nothing to do with ethics in consulting. There are "rotten apples" in every industry. It has nothing to do with the industries themselves. Just 'cause a postal worker shoots a lot of people doesn't make the important question "what should we do to make sure postal workers don't shoot people".
  • Perhaps we need a certifying organization like many other industries out there?

    NO NO NO NO! I think this would be a very very bad idea, both for customers and for computer geek consultant types in general. Why you ask? I'll tell you.

    At first glance such an organization seems like a good idea, and a good way to ensure that customers can tell they are getting ethical, professional service because their consultant is Slashdot Uber-Geek Certified (tm) And at first it would probably work that way, as a professional organization that only gives it's seal of approval to honest, professional consultants (who also happen to be dues paying members). But it's all too easy for an org like that to morph into something like the AMA or the Bar Assocation. For those of you that don't know, the AMA has (a long time ago) successfully lobbied to make it illegal for non-members to practice medicine, the Bar assoc has done the same thing to legal services.

    Well in the interests in ensuring that customers get the highest possible quality of service they have also made the barriers to entry in either field incredibily high, making the services very scarce and therefor very expensive.

    In the computer industry right now any smart kid who knows his/her way around a PC can break into the consultanting business in a small way to earn extra cash, and use the simple jobs (help me setup my new PC on the 'net, or hey build me a system kinda jobs) as learning experiances and move into more complex forms of support, and use the money to help get a CS degree etc... Now imagine the Slashdot Uber-Geek certification board has lobbied to make it illegal for non-members to practice the craft. And the membership reqs are very high, very pricey and you also have to go to a certified school, and earn an 8 year degree, in order to qualify. Sure the average quality of consultant would probably go up, but so would the price, and you can be the overall quality (and level) of consultanting service in the industry would go down, because no one could afford to use certified consultants etc...

    Now I'm not saying that this would happen as a matter of course, but it's all to easy for benign professional organizations to twist into a political force and start looking out for their (current) members pocket books more than their customers needs or the professional ethics they claim to cherish.

  • ...what can be adequately ascribed to stupidity.

    I've been a consultant in the greater Philadelphia area for nearly ten years now, working both for larger firms and now for my own firm. If there's one thing that I've managed to figure out, it's that there sure are a hell of a lot of amateurs out there calling themselves consultants.

    The demand for talented consultants (and software developers in general) has exceeded supply since the mid-90s; as a result, there are a lot of not-so-talented consultants on the market. Because demand is so strong, many of them can succeed indefinitely without really being particularly talented in either a business or a technical sense. My most recent employer is a prime example: supposedly a full-services consulting firm, 110 people, $16 million in revenue a year, and they had to call me when their Internet connection went down due to a DNS screwup by their provider.

    Also, our clients (in general) are trusting us to make the right decision and poorly equipped to evaluate our decisions early, so it's not immediately apparent when they're being hosed by their consultant. Most clients will attempt to evaluate the quality of a consultant up front by comparing past experience and skills to their needs, but for most non-technical clients the process degenerates into "does this person have technology X on their resume" rather than "is this person able to solve my problem for me." Even when a system starts to have problems, many clients will chalk it up to the inevitable suckitude of computers or software.

    I wholeheartedly agree with those who have already mentioned that your reputation catches up to you, that referrals and repeat business are your lifeblood in this industry, and that doing the ethical thing is also the smart thing from a business perspective.

    It's absolutely true that there are some consultants out there who are more interested in placing more bodies or extending their own contracts than in solving their clients' problems. Many consultants know how to use only a single tool, and they'll apply that tool relentlessly to any problem, regardless of whether it actually solves the problem.

    In general, though, I see more of this behavior coming out of incompetence than out of malice. Many consultants aren't even aware of their limitations, and won't walk away from an assignment for which they're ill-suited even when it's obvious that failure is the only possible outcome.

    I always recommend that clients find a consultant they can trust, one that will say "no" to work for which he/she is unsuited, one who will carefully describe all the options available to the client and help the client make the decision, and one who is not afraid to have another consultant look at his/her work. If your consultant just makes decisions for you without involving you in the process, if your consultant can't digest the technical elements of the decision down to terms you understand in the context of your business, or if your consultant turns white when you suggest a code review or a quality audit, fire that consultant immediately and find another. Software is tough enough - you don't need someone who is incompetent developing it for you.

    (And if you're a client having a hard time identifying whether a consultant is right for you, send e-mail at the address listed and I'll be happy to help.)
  • I follow my better judgement so that at the end of the day I can be proud of myself and my work. I like to go to bed happy, and get up looking forward to my day.

    As virtually everyone does, myself included. But if you think that people (including yourself) do as they do because ethics directs their lives then you haven't done any deep introspection. Dive below the easy answers and you'll find that what really controls what "good" people do (good by your very own standard) is their personal need to do what they consider effective and to be seen to do it well. Ethics overlaps with this only minimally.

    Like yourself, I'm a developer, and I strive to develop high quality, well engineered, scalable, extensible and maintainable code that performs useful functions, does so efficiently, and also satisfies the business needs of those that are paying for it. I take pride in a job well done, well done by my personal standards which have developed gradually over the years. I bet it's the same for you, because I know it's the same for many other developers who I come across. But the relationship between this and real ethics is minimal, probably as little as the fact that one had a reasonably ethical upbringing and has continued in roughly the same ballpark ever since. Well, that's not ethics at work, it's sheer commonsense and getting on with your neighbour and even political correctness of sorts, an inherently local "getting on" within the communities that one inhabits. It makes the world go 'round, fairly effectively though definitely not fairly, whereas ethical codes have a dangerous propensity to lead to coercion and strife, probably owing to their goal of universalism in a world where values are definitely not universal.

    No, ethics is a motherhood-and-apple-pie word that in reality is not very helpful except as a distant backdrop to the real world. That doesn't mean that the real world is wholly unethical, it just means that ethics falls very short of being a grand unified theory.
  • If you know somebody's behaving like scum, register the complaint to them.

    If clients know two words of Latin, like "caveat emptor," they actually call the bureau to check on complaints about a vendor before they issue a contract.

    If you're ethical, you get repeat business. If you're not you get complained about. (If you're not and you're sloppy, you get a call from the police.) That's how it works.
  • The Issue of Ethics and It is a hairy one, has been for years.

    When I was at University we had to write an essay about ethics in IT and why the was no defined code of ethics in the IT field.

    Well, Why isn't there?

    In my eyes it is because the IT field (unlike most professions) is a mish mash of so many existing fields such as Commerce, Retail, Engineering etc... Most fields have a code of Ethics attatched because the Public can see the effects of them.

    Engineering, well, that bridge was built be engineers, I want to have faith that it won't fall down while I am on it.
    Doctors, if I'm sick I want to be cured and not have my health put at risk.
    Accounting, I am putting my Business/finances in the hands of these people, if they muck it up I could have nothing.

    It is very easy for the general Public to see the effect of these fields on thier life, but IT is a different beast entirely. It's not that people don't understand the effects of computers on their life, but the people who provide computers to them, well, ummm, if something goes wrong, that just happens (Windows anyone???)

    IT needs two things

    One - The public to be educated (But that's not happening for a long time, but with children getting in to computers at an early age it will eventually happen)

    Two - Accountability. If you buy a car and it breaks down, you take it back and get it fixed. If you by a computer and it crashes, you take it back, have it looked at, told to buy program "X" that will ensure that the OS will run smoothly, but Program "X" won't work with Program "Y" so you need Prgram "Z" to ensure that they can co-exist. there is, unfortunatly, no accountability in Computing

    it is easier for the public to believe that there are no ethics in IT, then when things go bad (and they often do, to varying degrees) it's just to be expected, it saves a lot of questions to which the answers are un-understandable to the general Public


  • I have worked with many Consulting Firms. Here is the problems I see: 1. Consluting firms have no idea what their doing usually. 2. Consulting firms have no idea what a "real" Information Security program is. 3. If they do know what a real information security program is they dont want to implement it for their clients due to the fact that it will reduce the need for said consultants. Unless of course Said consulting firms have management contracts with their clients, meaning the clients can not manage their own systems by contract. Then the firms will lock down the systems tighter than a drum to avoid needless maintainence due to user error or otherwise. 4. Consluting Firms Prey on users ignorance, and usually like to see users "mucking" with their systems to promote more business. i.e. users hosing their systems. see line 3 5. Consluting firms are in it for the money, not the ethics or client relations. 6. When was the last time you seen a consulting firm hand control of managed systems With "PROPER" documentation to their clients? nuff said
  • hey, I think that's great that you as a consultant feel justified gambling on breaking components in someone else's system (except when there's a chance you'll have to pay a lot of money to fix it). The thing about ESD is that damage is rarely traceable to one source, as it usually shows up as random errors over time. I agree with you that ESD precautions are over-hyped, but the thing is that you never know when you've damaged something.

    By the way, my consultant friend was not in contact with the chassis, just touching things randomly. But I think you missed the main point: the VGA cable was loose! he touched every card in the machine when all he needed to do was plug in the monitor.

  • What I think is weird is the fact that everyone is freaking out about the dotcom shakeout. Everyone goes around like the sky is falling. Altogether it has only been about 200 dotcom companies that have failed. Nearly all of them had rather lame business plans. Selling hair gel for cats, and things that had no value.

    Most of the dotcoms are STILL here. Just the flaky ones are gone.

  • Moving to a frac T is a signifigant jump in complexity. Perhaps they should have (gasp) HIRED someone full time to maintain it? Would be lots lots cheaper in the long run.

    Do you mean a full-time on-staff employee? What would they do all day? Install a router and/or firewall properly, and you're pretty much done except for the occasional downtime, at which point you call your provider. I've never heard of a company with a single frac- or full-T having a full-time maintainer. They'd have a heck of a lot of free time on their hands!

    Too bad most companies have a vision only slightly longer than the end of their eyelashes.

    At least some criticism of management comes from not understanding the financial realities of running a profitable business. This seems to be an example of that.

  • I would recommend the book The Existential Pleasures of Engineering by Samuel C. Florman (ISBN 0-312-14104-1).

    I actually picked it up after Katz made reference to it, but don't let that scare you off :-) It covers ethics in a larger social context then your question, but I think there's a lot of parallels between the small issues and the large issues. The fractal nature of the world, I suppose.

    The title says "engineering", but it's really about technological advancement in general. And unlike most critiques of technology, it's not by a reactionary with fantasies of hunting and gathering their way to social harmony.

  • by catseye_95051 ( 102231 ) on Sunday February 04, 2001 @03:53PM (#458692)
    almost 20 years ago I worked for awhiel asa rep for a magnificient word processor. At the time the "standard" was wordstar.

    I still remeber the consultnat/sofwtare dealer I called on and showed hoi m the product, and how I could teach anyone to run it in a hour. His comment?

    "Why on earth shoudl I sell soemthing easy to use when I get paid $60.00 an hour to teach my customers WordStar???"

  • Hypothetical situation:
    The General Manager is computer illiterate and doesn't get on with the IT Manager, who's job requires that he inadvertanly highlight the GM's lack of computer knowledge on a regular basis. The GM consults an IT consultant about the feasibility of getting rid of the IT Manager. For the consultant this will obviously mean more work, while equally obviously this means a reduced quality of support for the company's staff. The GM rarely uses a computer so will not be disadvantaged at all.
    As a consultant, you can have ethics or you can eat. Which one are you going to pick?


  • Lots of people that do what I do don't bother to persue their Professional Engineer status once they've graduated - there are good arguements against it, and some might argue that it doesn't get you very much for a lot of hassle - reviews of logbooks, meetings with P.Eng's to discuss your work, annual dues, etc. I graduated from an electrical engineering program, and proceeded to register with the provincial engineering board here (PE status in the US isn't as recognized, I don't think, as P.Eng up here).

    At any rate, the reason that I did this was so that people can look at my business card someday, see the P.Eng, and know that they have a good change of dealing with someone reputable, who won't screw them over, and will do what they said that they would - in short, someone who is accountable for their work.

    Right now, the computer consulting industry is a free for all. I can see that changing in the near future, or more likely, after the next big recession happens and people start to look -a lot- more carefully at where their computer IT dollars are going.

    I do know that personally, I'm hoping that the industry does become more regulated, because I've seen some real messes that didn't have to happen out there. Regardless of my opinion however, I think higher standards and certifications will be demanded as the industry matures. I also suspect that the professional engineering associations - who are empowered by law to regulate a lot of fields - will play a much bigger and more proactive role in the future.

  • As a consultant, you can have ethics or you can eat. Which one are you going to pick?

    I'd find someplace else to work. A GM who's willing to screw a fellow employee like that isn't going to think twice about screwing you over at some point in the future.

    Oh yeah, on the way out I'd probably tell the IT Manager & the GM's bosses (the owners) what the GM was trying to do.

  • Oh yeah, on the way out I'd probably tell the IT Manager & the GM's bosses (the owners) what the GM was trying to do.

    And open yourself up to liability?

    I think, sadly, the wisest thing to do is to quitely decline the job. Or, take the job, and then work to improve the GM-ITM relationship somehow...

    A big chunk of a consultant's job is non-technical. I think successful consultants are the ones that make the customers feel happy and secure with the delievered results, even if it's not necessarily the cutting edge or the most optimal solution.

  • Computer Associates

    Anyone who has had anthing to do with these scumbags will know exactly what I'm talking about. They screwed one UK company for over £1 millions in software costs alone, and 18 months down the line had still not delivered anything tangible. They constantly had at least 2 'consultants' on site, none of which knew anything about the software they were looking after.

    Charles Wang makes Bill Gates look like a saint!

  • Perhaps we need a certifying organization like many other industries out there?

    Sure we do, just like Mechanical Engineers [] have. It's no coincidence than where software actually matters, it's written by PEs.

  • Never supply a bad reference; when asked, simply reply "I feel unable to provide a reference for Consultant X".

    That makes it pretty clear that something's badly wrong, and yet is completely unactionable.
  • And open yourself up to liability?

    You mean for libel/slander(never quite remember which is which :)-type stuff? I guess that's a decision on how righteous & confrontational you feel, and how much stress do you think you can handle. :)

    Certainly, for your own reputation, if you can come up with a smooth way of getting the GM & IT guys to work together, then they'll like you a lot and probably give you lots of repeat business (or referrals).

    In the long term, I still wouldn't trust the GM as far as I could throw him (and I'm not that strong :) - if he was willing to stab someone in the back once, he'll be willing to do it again in the future, even if he's playing nice with you right now. The company would be better off w/o somone like him running the show.

    I guess if you're clever enough, you could figure out a "smooth" way of getting rid of the GM w/o causing bad feelings w/the rest of the company - I suspect that kind of manipulation is probably beyond the resources of most consultants, esp. in the limited context of whatever job they were hired for.

  • > Depends. Microsoft's behaviour is an excellent example of just such tactics - educated the consumers to buy Windows. And look
    > what it did for them. They set the example everyone followed.

    You haven't dealt with CA or Oracle personally, have you?

    At my prior place of ork, Computer Associates (CA) screwed the PHBs there so badly at their prior place of ork that they swore they would never buy another CA product. When we were evaluating software for a proposed purchase, the CA salesman had to get nicey-nicey with those PHBs in order to guarrantee that their product would stand half a chance at getting approved for purchase.

    And Oracle seems to take a perverse delight in charging their users for every shred of possible useful information. Add to this the fact that an Oracle database is probably *The* most difficult piece of software to install, & the fact their own instructions lie about how to install it, & Microsoft looks honest in comparison.

    Okay, maybe I exagerated the bit about the girlfriend. Would it be better if I said, ``Dealing with CA or Orcale is like having a gun put to the base of your skull, told to drop yoru shorts & getting sodomized, where as dealing with Microsoft, the thug remembers to add `please', & uses a condom & lots of K-Y jelly"?

    ]knowing I'm taking it in the karma for this[

Never worry about theory as long as the machinery does what it's supposed to do. -- R. A. Heinlein