Bad reputation. Lawyers have it, used-car salesmen have it, priests and clerics have it. And now computer programmers? That's what I thought when I read about the two programmers working for Bernard Madoff's Ponzi investment firm being arrested and charged with fraud.
It seems that their skills were put to good use by fabricating reports and statements for clients and the SEC, making them look legitimate. According to the story, they both knew that they were engaged in shady work, and they both had complained about it. But in return for a mediocre bonus from the company they'd stopped complaining and had silently continued manipulating the numbers and generating phantom reports.
As a programmer myself this story gave me a pause. What would I have done? I'm not the blackmailing type, but would I have just drawn a salary and turned a blind eye? Would I have raised my concerns, not to extort, but out of moral obligation or at least out of concern for my own complicity and the possible punishment? Or would I have left the company without leaking a word, just to save my own skin?
Businesses ask many things of their employees. Some are blatant violations of ethics, but some others fall into gray areas. I wonder if these two programmers could have avoided the hot water if they had kept their mouths shut and just did what they were asked. The fact that they raised concerns only to bury them after payoffs has certainly been a factor in what they're facing now.
At any rate, I have a good feeling that if Madoff's scheme hadn't turned into a high profile case that it is today, these programmers would have never been implicated. There's just too much public fury and too few targets to go after. I mean how many programmers at Enron have suffered the same fate? As far as I know, none.