Managerial oversight gone awry

Spying on employees, treating customers unethically: A novice techie gets a lesson in management red flags

In the early part of this decade, I was more or less still starting my IT career, making a name for myself. I was 19 and worked at a small local ISP/Service Center/Hosting/Whatever company. I was exhilarated about having a job and honing my skills.

The owner was notorious for being a heavy micro-manager. I never really understood why; it was just his personality I guess. For instance, you had to fill out forms every day to note how you spent every minute of the previous day, even bathroom breaks. One time I even got yelled at for not updating my Outlook calendar to show I was downstairs working in the lab; my boss claimed he "had no idea where I was!!" even though he had security/spy cameras in every room and the monitors were in his office. And aside from how he treated his employees, I soon learned that he also treated his customers unethically.

[ Do you have an IT tale when something went right, a war story, or a lesson learned? Submit it to InfoWorld's Off the Record. If we publish your story, we'll send you a $50 American Express gift card. | Think you know the Web? Take InfoWorld's quiz and find out ]

We had an elderly woman sign up to our dial-up service. She got online fine but had one complaint: She paid monthly identity theft insurance to a company, and the e-mails from the company were not coming through. Assuming it was just a legitimate e-mail and that it was probably just something set up incorrectly on her end, I was dispatched out there. I checked over her Outlook Express configuration and everything looked fine. I then noticed she had Norton Internet Security and figured that it was blocking the e-mails incorrectly, as this is a common occurrence. I disabled it and left, thinking I'd fixed the problem.

The next morning we got a call from her saying she was still getting nothing (apparently there was a daily newsletter from this company). So I thought about it and did some quick research on this company. From comments, reviews, and warnings about this site that supposedly just sold identity theft insurance, I found that they were an Internet scam. I then checked every spam blacklist that we used at the time. Sure enough, their domain appeared in every one of them. I thought, "Wow, I just cracked this case."

I approached my boss with this information. Expecting to get my first pat on the back since starting to work there a month prior, he said, "Well, just add that domain to our whitelist so she can get her mail." I couldn't believe it. I said, "But sir, not only is the company a spammer but they are taking money from this woman every month, she just doesn't know any better. It's someone taking advantage of an elderly woman -- we have to tell her!" He disagreed and said he didn't want to get in the middle of it. I don't know why, I didn't ask. He was the kind of person that is always right just because they are in charge. In retrospect, if I knew I was going to quit I would have told that woman everything. I hated the fact that someone was taking advantage of her. I was just scared of losing my job.

I was hired initially under a probationary period, which received a lower wage. Eventually, my probationary period expired. My boss let me know that he was extending it because he wanted more time to evaluate me (aka, I am going to keep you around on the cheap for awhile longer). I was fed up and promptly turned in my resignation. I came in a few weeks later to pick up may last paycheck and he told me he had to hire two people to replace me. I walked out of there with a smile about that at least.

Even being young and naive I was still able to spot the red flags all over that place. It has been something I have taken with me as my career has progressed. Having a bad manager early on made me really appreciate good management instead of taking it for granted.