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Ask HN: Ever had a “are we the baddies” moment?
57 points by meesterdude on Aug 23, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 57 comments

Engineer at a large manufacturer late 90's. After a week of rumors. All hands meeting. Parent company VP on the stage with "Great News for our Location!" Full enthusiastic pitch. Message: We bought a smaller company in a small town in the North East, they were profitable, good product, but we can do better. Will be laying off 200 of the 210 employees. Moving half of their products to our plant, the other half to the Mexico plant. Later we learned the work coming to our plant would be done by new workers as the current workers wages were to high.

I decided to quit whilst standing there listening to him. As he spoke, he was thrilled, and was telling us how thrilled we should all be for what great news this was to the company. Distinctly remember thinking, oh! these guys are evil.

I don't see what the company did wrong here. I don't get the obsession with jobs: if you get fired, just find another one. I like to think of employees as service providers (think restaurants) and employers as their clients. Client has no obligation to buy services from only one provider. You wouldn't consider a person choosing to go to a cheaper restaurant "evil", would you?

>I don't get the obsession with jobs: if you get fired, just find another one.

What don't you understand about it? The part where people need money to buy food and shelter or the part where not everyone is a tech worker that can have multiple, better job offers in a week or so.

Some parts of the country have very few jobs for anyone in any field, and the jobs that exist pay so shitty that its very difficult to move to a place with better prospect (which in most cases will have the added drawback of removing you from any kind of support system you might have had with family+friends).

You can adopt the modern, warped version of libertarian philosophy that says "its not my problem", but most people don't like living in a world where people lose their houses so a rich guy can make a few million dollars extra.

There are times where its necessary to lay people off. Hell, this might have been one of them. But even if it was, the guy didn't have to be such a douchebag about it.

It depends on your worldview.

If you value community, society and loyalty, then what they did is bad.

If you value profits?/money?/greed?, then perhaps you are right.

Many would feel that reducing the world to no more than the efficacy of fiscal transactions and it all becomes worth pretty much nothing. There is so much more to life.

I do value profit and you should too. That's what motivates entrepreneurs to create new products and make economies thrive.

Speaking of profits/money/greed, would you also despise a person who cancels their Spotify subscription? Because it's the same situation in reverse – someone stops paying for somebody else's services. Would you blame such person for being greedy? Would you moralise them that there is much more to life than the money they'll save?

> I don't get the obsession with jobs: if you get fired, just find another one.

I felt the same way until I became very ill and rely on my job for healthcare and remaining alive. Millions of Americans are in similar situations where being out of work for any amount of time is financially ruinous.

That's why many countries have welfare programs and labour laws helping disadvantaged (for instance, disabled) members of society find employment. Shouldn't you instead blame government for not passing even stricter laws?

On an hourly basis, a full time job pays 2-4 times less than a contract job.

What full time jobs give is a sense of security, a community, a sense of belonging. It's not simply a trade of time for money, it's where people build friendships and identity.

It's also quite disrespectful to treat people as disposable. They built up the company, not the boss. To fire 95% of a company, the ones who got them there, that's... cruel.

I agree that full time jobs provide more security than contracts, but only to the extent the law requires. For instance, depending on the country you must be given a few weeks notice before being fired and a severance package. You agree to these terms upon being hired and shouldn't feel entitled to anything more.

I believe it would be more cruel to the rest of us if an employer was required to keep unnecessary employees just so that they can benefit from sense of security and community. It would be terribly inefficient and hurt the economy.

And it's unfair to discredit the success of employer only because employees did the majority of the jobs. The key here is that managers do the most important jobs and take more risks.

I did joke once that a full time job is, in essence, a really warped insurance package. You still get paid if the business does poorly, and some cash if it fails entirely. But the insurance premium is that you get paid much less than the value you contribute.

Depends on the details. Restaurant is cheaper because…? The need to take the cheapest is because…?

My dad was really tight with money, to the extent that after he died my mum couldn’t remember him taking her out for even a birthday meal. He was not poor.

If the social norms for a business environment make most labour casual service provision, I’m OK with attitudes like yours. On the other hand, if social norms say “jobs are for life” and blame those who lose their jobs for that loss, then I find it… selfish.

(I wouldn’t say “evil”, but that’s because of too long in philosophy lessons; it is where I imagine a neural net classifier would be bouncing around a lot).

I was looking for a job after I shut down the data centers I had been operating (old company got acquired, load shifted to data centers at new company). I had experience running big distributed databases. There was a job posting that was almost a perfect match. Running a huge database of the people and circumstances around illegal migration into the US. Whatever I may or may not believe about immigration and lawful or unlawful migration I couldn’t stomach building an efficient system for hunting down down people who come here looking for work. I figured I should never build something if I don’t want to be on the receiving end of it. But I guess the “are we the baddies?” moment cake when I realized that someone else went and build it and in a democracy I have to take some responsibility for that anyway.

1. Asian country, enterprise project. Pitched a deal to someone middle management. They didn't like it. All kinds of bullshit reasoning. Boss made some changes, pitched again, and the deal succeeded. Boss later told me that the system we proposed is too efficient. If it's too efficient, staff can't ask for bribes to speed it up. In America, I guess they would just upsell it as a "fast lane".

2. Worked on a million+ dollar project. Very small team. Found out it was something undermining democracy. Not illegal, but let's say it violates privacy. Killer moment was talking to someone on the project who was brought in to destroy all evidence in case we failed.

3. Talked to a "consultant" who was giving us information on a certain project. He stopped contacting us after a while, saying that his iPhone broke. Told my boss. Boss said, "You're so naive. He wants an iPhone as a bribe."

"Are We The Baddies" is an epicly hilarious Mitchell and Webb comedy skit, for those who missed the reference. Can be found on YouTube. It's been what, a few years at least, and I still think about "Business Secrets of the Pharaohs" constantly ;)

And no, I don't think I've ever had such a crisis of conscious. So thanks OP for reminding me that on balance I've at least attempted to be a decent human being ;)

In tech we create problems that nobody ever had, then solve them, then take privacy as payment.


Yeah. When I realized the animal agriculture industry is institutionalized animal abuse/torture/exploitation (this is extensively documented and can be learned about using something called the internet).

Go vegan, be cruelty-free. For the animals, for the planet, for yourself.

I live in an agricultural area, have worked on industrial farms and hatcheries installing and maintaining computers and machinery, and keep livestock in my backyard.

The videos you see are extremely one-sided and manipulative. You cannot do anything right by these people. I am personally against, for instance, debeaking, and the production of foie gras is horrible on a Holocaust level. But for example I saw one recently that criticized the use of nipple drinkers that guarantee clean water for the birds instead of letting them drink water from the ground that's contaminated by feces. Another campaign I was exposed to this year misrepresented a cattle crush as a device that actually crushes cows, instead of its actual purpose to immobilize an animal while it receives medical treatment. There are a lot of good points to be made about cruelty in industrialized farming, but they ruin it with these shock videos and ridiculous assertions.

These tactics and misrepresentative propaganda, while they may be effective at fundraising from young and gullible city people, have caused states to pass laws making it a crime to film undercover at farms, and I believe that this is a setback for the animal rights movement, on top of some of the proponents' general dishonesty.

Vegetable farming is not a great thing for the environment either, and sometimes "organic" production does more harm.

Battery cages bother me and eggs produced differently are ridiculously priced (a dozen normal eggs costs $1.10 at my walmart today, recently the price has been below $0.30.) So I started my own flock. Today I have nine happy birds and am not supporting the battery cage operation, which incidentally was the subject of a salmonella-related recall this year. I hope to be bringing home some turkeys from the farm fest in the next county in a couple weeks.

I think it’s important too to seperate out the views of actual normal (ie not insane) people from those who make the most noise and produce the kind of propaganda pieces you’re talking about.

I guess from my point of view, whether or not some people are over the top crazies about one topic or another doesn’t really affect the underlying issues.

Personally, I do my best to take a measured and reasonable approach: im vegetarian (not vegan) and I just focus on doing what makes me feel that I am doing at least something to combat the well-documented and scientifically supported ill-effects of large scale agribusiness.

I think too often individuals fall into the trap of “all or nothing”. Am I concerned about climate change? Yes. Do I still drive a car? Yes. Does that make me a hypocrite? No.

It’s possible to do what you can with what you have to make a small impact in your own life. And for many, that’s about all we can ask for.

No matter how well you treat them, it is still inescapable that many are bred and raised only to be slaughtered for food while they're still young and healthy. For some reason many people do not consider this to be cruel, but there are those who do and can't rationally support this industry.

> Vegetable farming is not a great thing for the environment either, and sometimes "organic" production does more harm.

Could you explain these points more?

Fertilizer run off from organic farms contains just as many nitrates as metal^h^h^h^h^h^h non-organic farms. Those are the pollutants that cause the biggest problems in water ways and generally encourage algal blooms that kill other plants and animals.

Switching to plant based agriculture would require even more fertilizer to be used as the land area needed limits super effective crop rotation.

Other problems are plants are much less tolerant of different environments than live stock, so you have to more aggressively farm the limited area. Many of the ideal areas for growing plants also lack nutrients or even water (CA is essentially a desert but grows most of the worlds cereals because the weather, soil are excellent for growing, even if you have to pump the water in from elsewhere...)

Of course this ignores harmful effects of livestock, and is just meant to illustrate “not livestock” does not mean “good”.

Metal farms! Thanks for that one.

Just wanted to add some supplemental material.

A few write-ups with accompanying audio transcripts/podcasts from science writer Brian Dunning of Skeptoid.

- Organic vs. Conventional Agriculture: https://skeptoid.com/episodes/4166

- Organic Food Myths: https://skeptoid.com/episodes/4019

- Environmental Working Group and the Dirty Dozen: https://skeptoid.com/episodes/4623

Bibliographic references and further reading at the end of each if interested.

It depends a lot on the crops and the actual production methods, but from talking to my neighbors at the post office, in organics, sometimes more land is consumed (since production per unit area can be lower) and soil erosion is higher (you cannot no-till without herbicides.) I am not very well versed in this but simply wanted to point out that our assumptions may not be correct.

As for traditional production, herbicides, pesticides, and genetic contamination are big issues.

You have 9 chickens? Do they lay a lot of eggs? are they purely for egg laying?

Yes I have five Rhode Island Reds and four Dominiques. They are all hens. They reached adulthood this year, each bird lays an egg every 1-2 days.

So far we have only been doing the eggs but expect them to stop laying when they reach 3-4 years old. This is my first flock so I don't really know yet. I am not sure if I have the guts to prepare a bird for meat.

A while back I got to see my uncle prepare three chickens and a goose for thanksgiving dinner and it seemed like a rather straightforward process. Basically, after cutting the head off, the bird is dipped into boiling/scalding water briefly and then the feathers are plucked. I don't recall what they did with the innards, I may have stepped out for that part.

It's pretty easy if you use a traffic cone as a "killing cone" to stabilize the head you're cutting. Since they're so old you might as well remove only the digestive tract and boil the whole bodies into broth, cause the meat will be inedible.

If you have kids, they're typically not as grossed out as adults and it's a really good biology lesson

It's either you or the raccoons.

I’m totally fine eating meat, but readily admit that I could never actually butcher an animal (and I don’t think that’s inconsistent). Anyway, how long do hens live? Could you let them wander around as pets?

I have a hen that has lived at least 6 years. At least where I live, the issue is them being killed off, not dying naturally. Also, if you have a large enough yard, they can walk around freely, just remember that they will take a dump anywhere they like, and I don't believe there is any way to stop that.

My father used to keep one (as a pet), she lived 13 years which is I believe rather exceptional, the average being around 8 year (range 6-10 years).

> the production of foie gras is horrible on a Holocaust level

I don't care how horrible it is, it's too good to pass up.

And by vegan , buy local organic grass fed beef in the winter !


A harvester does some pretty cruel damage to ground animals when producing most grains too. Also it's possible to get meat in the same way animals do - in the wild, from creatures who've been free their whole lives.

A few months into my stint at Google, my manager's manager arranged for a group tour of their datacenter in The Dalles. Walking around this temple of technology, thinking about all the people whose data these machines were managing, I had a horrible, stomach-turning feeling of wrongness slowly come over me. If this is the solution, I thought, we must be asking the wrong questions: the whole point of personal computing was to give people control over their own data, to eliminate the need for a technological priesthood like this one. What am I doing here? I can't be part of this. - And soon I wasn't.

Interesting. What was your next move after Google?

Joined a friend's startup; didn't work out. Went back to dev tools (Coverity); didn't work out. Joined a friend's startup; just got acquired, seems to be working out well so far (http://vertex.ai).

Worked for an "innovation" consultancy that had one of the largest food companies in the world as a client and it asked that we build an animated interactive iPad app for doctors in the third world to be able to push their baby formula.

After randomly googling turns out thousands of African babies had previously died in the 70's/80's after formula was pushed instead of breast milk as mother's mixed polluted water with formula when their body would have protected the baby with breast-feeding.

UN passes laws preventing marketing in certain ways (ie. saying formula is better than breastmilk) so I decide to read the laws. Turns out big company's content they're sending us to include in the app (that only appears when clicked on in a certain way by a doctor) definitely contravenes those UN laws.

I speak to the boss (whose mother was from Africa) who says "every company is evil so what can you do" after I say that it's not just morally bad but also the negative PR to our own company could be catastrophic.

It was at that point I decided to make myself unavailable for further work.

Yes. I was behind the second screen application for the Sean Hannity show. I did not write any content, but my work helped to spread all that misinformation.


I realized that I was having increasing concerns that a previous employer was on the gray side of US ethics, but more importantly was on the black side of my personal ethics. The feeling that I was actively enabling (and successfully making more efficient) something I personally considered wrong to do contributed additional anxiety and stress I didn't need to what was often already a high anxiety/stress workplace.

An anxiety attack over snowy weather lead to a lot of soul searching over all of my anxieties/stress with the job, and directly lead me to very actively seeking work elsewhere.

I don't entirely regret my time working there, as I worked with some good people, and made some useful connections, but I'm very glad for my self-care/mental health that I left just in time before I broke down in less "silly" ways than yelling about mistakes in snow plowing, and I do sometimes wonder if I should have left earlier than even that.

I have, on more than one occasion, resigned saying "I don't do this kind of work". Nothing more and nothing less, mostly because I'm usually deep enough to see what's happening at the implementation level I rarely get in that (unethical or distasteful) situation without knowing.

Worked Hardware support for huge EU supplier. Client returned expensive(Intel manufactured) piece of defective gear, I diagnose(dead) and send it up the chain, comes back with "it might of fell off the back of a truck, oops" !?! we are official Intel Partner and everything WTF ?!? Sales dude and regional manager come down to see the note with their own eyes, make a call to HQ, log into accounting, check clients turnover and merrily pronounce out loud "will cost more he makes us in a year, fuck him". I am being ordered to lie about Intel laboratory detecting user caused damage and refusing RMA. I told client both versions, no more bonus for the remainder of a year, whole upper floor (sales) treated me like a traitor.

I had a couple of experiences like that when I worked at one company.

The first was while writing an application that would automate away internal and vendor provided positions. I never did get over the feeling that the work was destroying lives, but read on for why it didn’t matter.

A few years later, we were purchased by a much larger competitor who promptly laid off everyone except the IT department. One of their acts was to decommission the application and outsource the work to manual labor.

While working for the larger company, a behemoth in the industry, and having watched several companies purchased and dismantled, and working on projects that ingested the remnants of those companies, I had the realization that in fact, storm troopers DO have benefits. They are paid, they get vacation, health insurance, and maybe even retirement benefits And it explains why the hallways on the Death Star were so full of people.

I stayed long enough to learn the lesson above and then left to engage in entrepreneurial ventures since, ultimately, no matter how well you do your job, or because of how well you do your job, someone can come in and buy your company and leave you floating in space like so much debris.

Yeah. I work with digitalization. At least they are just closing the positions instead of firing them. (Europe way)

Some would argue that it is a good thing even. But the amount of real jobs in the economy overall is just getting smaller. It isn't the company's fault though, as it has to do that in order to stay operationally viable.

I do not feel so bad, most of the people here in this thread have very terrible stories. I feel kind of blessed.

I was working for one of the biggest community portals for the given country. After certain non trivial event, I was asked to implement shadow banning and the possibility for editors to alter the number of likes for user comments. Gave some bullshit technical reason in order to avoid doing what I felt was unethical, although I believe it ended up being implemented once I left.

A close call for some of my colleagues >> they were asked by a group within one of their clients to add some data into a system which would have likely run up against a law. They said no, and I'm sure that they sleep better at night now than they would have otherwise.

When they refused to even give metrocards to our unpaid interns who worked hard (fashion industry).

When the boss tried to sleazily get one of our clothing models to go out with him (he was married with kids).

When they always tried to not pay out on contracts if they could get away with it.

I didn't stay there long.

No, but I did have a "how in the hell did I end up in advertising?" moment.

Worked for a prison services company. Enough said.

This is a throwaway account.

Tl;dr You are only a "baddie" if you know that your occupational role is complacently illegal, harmful to the consumer, and you choose to not doing anything about it (to quit or report, for instance). Otherwise, it is just a personal moral dilemma, with the ethical bar set by you, the individual employee.

Businesses often operate against the personal desires and ethics of their employees, but I have found this can be necessary for the success of the business. And it is fully in the right of that business to operate successfully, no matter how morally selfish it may seem.

1. I worked for a company that had a great consumer product that fulfilled a clever need. They mistreated employees and contractors alike, had a lot of turnover, but delivered the end product with great success and glowing consumer reviews. The company in this sense was the bad actor, but only toward those it relied upon to function. It replaced people that were unwilling to participate, and management never blinked an eye.

(Known equivalent: Amazon shipping centers. You love your 2-day prime shipping, and you won't boycott even considering the conditions of those that get you your plastic melon ballers. Amazon is doing fine). I eventually quit my position, told friends not to apply, and still watch the company succeed to this day.

2. I worked for a company that had great ideals, strong and morally devout leadership, and fulfilled a meaningful purpose. They accepted a government contract to which I was assigned that caused great moral turmoil among the other SV tech institutions it had contracted. The end product was effective, but also morally gray, in that the intended purpose protected American soldiers on the ground, but the eventual uses were undeniably dystopian. Employees revolted, but their objections were mostly bark and no bite.

(Known equivalent: Google and their recent attempts at government contracting. Google is doing fine, though not with government contracts. Likely, Google made a mistake in bowing to the complaints, considering the upset employees were focused mostly on "government" and not on the "advertising-surveillance" that funds their current paychecks. However, the success of Google is dependent on their ability to attract technical talent, which could have been impacted if they continued after the public backlash). The business may have succumbed to employees concerned about a certain aspect of their company, but likely maintained their "ethical" conscience, leading to a successful future through retention of talent.

3. I worked for a company that tricked consumers into investing in inferiority, but marketed itself in a way that investors, employees, and end users alike had no idea that they were participating in what was certainly a scam.

(Think Theranos, and their ability to promise a revolutionary product while delivering smoke. This is the most egregious case of being a "baddie," but it is likely that many employees truly believed the promises and their hard work would amount to something great). I left this company feeling the most like a "baddie," but mostly feeling embarrassed I had been tricked into drinking the kool-aid. While it was my most pronounced "baddie" moment, I can justify that once I learned I was the "baddie," I immediately responded with a letter of resignation.

The ultimate learnings for me, as an individual, from a perspective that others may not agree with, is that a business carries the ultimate right to operate for its own benefit. It does not have to consider the implications of "baddie" business so long as the practices and strategies lead to financial success. If the business succeeds, consumers are benefitting and proving those practices to be the means to the end.

The people creating the product should always have the right to not participate if the business practices confront their own moral stances, even if that means resignation (termination is also justified if an employee refuses to participate in an effort that would lead to financial success). Participating does not make someone a "baddie" as long as they do not sacrifice their moral threshold.

Many of my friends and colleagues have disagreed with me, deemed me a "baddie," and made excellent arguments for why this business-first attitude is detrimental. But I firmly believe that many of the technologies that are used globally are a result of companies looking past individualism, and building something that brings gains for that business.

At the end of the day, if a business succeeds, then it is benefitting someone somewhere, regardless of my personal opinions. I will always say no if I say something I cannot stomach, but I speak out knowing that my role in the company is expendable, and I am owed nothing beyond the paycheck I receive for my contributions.

"Baddie" is subjective. There is very little regulation around moral business practices (also subjective), and the boundary (again, subjective) is being pushed every day. I am passionate about this topic because I have questioned my work roles many times, and I feel that (besides obvious and necessary legal regulations) the morals of the individual and the ethics of the business should always have the right to remain free.

>>At the end of the day, if a business succeeds, then it is benefitting someone somewhere, regardless of my personal opinions. I will always say no if I say something I cannot stomach, but I speak out knowing that my role in the company is expendable, and I am owed nothing beyond the paycheck I receive for my contributions.

I don’t know how to say this un-offensively, so I’ll just say I think this is a morally bankrupt position that can be used to justify all kinds of fraud and crime because there was at least one benefactor. I think to make a utilitarian justification you need to take into account the negative impact on others too.

I don’t think you are morally bankrupt though, it sounds like you have another framework for determining what you personally will work on.

You make a great point. I hear this one a lot from those I admire deeply. Two counterpoints to discuss:

1. I am convinced that fraud and crime are directly related to exploitation, and are the result of decisions and actions of people in a position of control. Those in control know they are committing these bad acts, and continue to do so, making them "baddies." As someone who was never in a position of managing control, but who eventually gained insight and perspective into the underlying business practices, when I recognized the fraud and crime, I made the decision to quit and report to the legal governing bodies. My opinion is that it was in the right of the company (and management) to "go for gold," but they went too far, broke the law, and were appropriately punished. I don't believe I was bankrupt in that I severed my relationship immediately upon my discovery of their true nature.

2. This may be semantics, but my point on companies relying on "benefactors" was actually more of a capitalism argument, in that a company can succeed regardless of treatment of employees or practices of skirting the generally-applicable moral ideals, so long as the end user is benefitting and continues to patronize the business.

I do appreciate your feedback because I am always doubting myself on certain projects as to the setting of my threshold for revolt: is it when I feel someone, somewhere is being exploited, or when I know that the business practices are actively and knowingly conducted against the current law?

People can continue to use businesses that harm them if they have no leverage or have compromised judgment. Pay day loan operations with extortive interest rates, opioid manufacturers, casinos. All have some legitimate customers that derive real benefit, but likely more that are harmed.

In a nutshell, I think it is good business if the business and the customers both benefit.

Historically, several cultures revered honey bees as examples to follow. The bees got fed by providing a service to the flowers. They are not predators. The pollinate plants and create nectar for themselves. They don't eat the plant per se.

This was a revolutionary mental model, one we don't emphasize enough. Trade can be a civilizing force, but is often viewed as an evil force. Many people see capitalism as pure evil, as a means to exploit people in pursuit of the almighty dollar.

Basically, I'm talking about business that genuinely adds more value to the world rather than business that enriches some at the expense of others. There are two ways to profit: one is to find ways to improve your own bottom line by reducing someone else's welfare. The other is dealmaking where all involved parties are better off for having come together.

It's a high bar to meet. I don't think it is unattainable.



Religious flamewar will get you banned here. Please don't do this on HN again.


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