Cheaters never prosper, the saying goes, and you have to wonder how some people think they can get away with their shady shenanigans. Other times, you get to watch as a cheater gets served.
The boss came through my door one day with a request: "The new guy is kind of stuck, so could you help him with the database? He isn't making progress fast enough. Get to it ASAP, and let me know how it goes."
My first thought: "Can't someone else do it?" But I was the resident expert on the database, so no surprise I was tapped.
I opened my mouth to ask questions, and the boss immediately took a stack of papers from behind his back and dropped them on my desk: project plan, contract, timeline, everything I might ask for. I thanked the boss, and he walked out.
Quite the CV
The new guy, "Egor," had a dazzling resume: a doctorate in physics, along with a Masters in engineering, and three years of work in the field. He came to us in January, and it was now early March. The project was due out in June.
Egor was the subject matter expert. His task on this type of contract would be to either write a simulation that generated data or transform data sets provided by our client into something our AI software could digest. In the materials, I saw that we had the data in-house, but in some weird format I had never heard of. I figured that Egor had never heard of it, either, and that's why he was stuck.
I went to see him. He spoke Russian better than English. He knew little of SQL and nothing of ETL (Extract, Transform, Load) methods. Although he might've been an expert in his specialty, I couldn't tell. He said he had some training in Fortran, as I expected of anyone with his credentials, so I set him up with a Fortran compiler.
I looked at a sample of the data with a hex editor and wrote a guide to how to read it into standard flat files. From there, I could import the data into our database. It would be up to him to interpret the data, convert units of measure, convert time values, and develop key values. Egor seemed enthused and I heard nothing from him for a couple of days.
Come Monday he was in my office, having made no progress. He seemed to understand what was in the data but was unable to write a Fortran program -- how embarrassing.
Our other staffer with a doctorate in physics, "Russ," was fluent in Fortran but very busy on another contract. The boss did not want him distracted, but I got permission to have Russ look at the data and what little code Egor had written. Russ likened the effort to the work of a novice programmer and whispered questions about what was going on. I told him I didn't know but would soon find out.
Using a copy of the data, I wrote a Visual Basic program to transform the data into flat files. I made a way to input conversion parameters on the screen. The output files could be pulled up in Excel. Once Egor had determined the correct conversion parameters, we could convert the data, if I spent another few hours on the VB program.
A week later, we had the data. At this point, I stepped out and another team member stepped in to help him. "Charlie" managed all of the transformation code for us. He did the heavy lifting on statistical processing.
Closing in on the con
A few days later, Charlie came to see me about Egor. He had questions: What was my impression of Egor? What had I done for him?
We compared notes. Egor couldn't program in Fortran, didn't understand file structures, and had never worked with statistical transformations. He had no experience with Microsoft Access and very little with Excel. His resume and CV claimed skills in Office.
Apparently, Egor had a plan: Get other employees to do the work, while he took the credit.
But at our company, that wasn't possible. Egor had to actually know what he was doing -- at least as an expert on the subject matter of the study for our client -- and he had to make the presentation to the client in June.
Charlie and I went to the boss. We explained our concerns while trying to remain open-minded. But the boss had suspicions of his own and that week had called a couple of Egor's references. He cursed, saying he should have done that before, but trusted too much and checked too little. It was too late now, though.
The boss already knew what he wanted to do.
Good-bye and good riddance
In late May, the programming work was as done as it was going to be. Egor was writing the report, but whining every day about every imaginable hindrance. Now his complaints were about shortcomings of Microsoft Office.
Egor began complaining of mistreatment. Slights, real and imagined, became the topic of gossip and time-wasting interviews with management.
The boss moved him to a desk in a hall, away from everyone else. Employees were instructed not to speak with him except on necessity. The office scuttlebutt was that Egor would be fired after the presentation in June.
The boss took over writing the presentation -- but didn't tell Egor. He simply gathered what he could and, using input from other members of the team, put a report together. Egor's version would be unacceptable to the client, the boss said, so it had to be done this way. I contributed the charts and graphs. Team members were instructed to humor him, but waste no more time on him.
Some of us took bets on when he would know he was fired. Before the presentation? Immediately after? Not until he got back to the office?
In June, the boss drove to the client, with Egor in the passenger seat. It took three hours, lunch, the presentation, then a long drive back.
After they left the building, our systems administrator took Egor's computer. Then the office manager collected all his pens and pencils and boxed up his personal items. His chair went to a member of our programming staff. His empty desk was removed from the hall and put in storage. The boss had ordered him erased, as it were, from the company. No evidence remained that he had ever been there.
The boss arrived at the office that afternoon, alone. He had taken Egor to his apartment and told him never to come back.
A month later, Egor was on the phone with me, asking that I act as a reference for him. Charlie came into my office later that day to say that he, too, had heard from Egor. We soon learned that we should not feel special, as Egor had called everyone in the company he had so much as spoken with and made the same request -- except the boss. I think he knew better than to try that channel.