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Ask HN: How do you get a job as a software engineer if you've been cancelled?
119 points by cancelled 9 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 83 comments
I don't want to go too much in to things, as it makes me sick to re-hash it and type things up again. Long story short, I was "cancelled". Someone who has hated me for years convincingly mis-attributed decade old chat posts that contain vulgar, unsavory things to me, and convinced my last employer that it was me. Defamation would be one thing, but it has spread beyond it to social media and now my name is forever ruined. I admit, the evidence is convincing to the onlooker. This took place about 6 months ago and I am unable to get a new job since. (They never say the reason for not moving forward, but I know why) Until this, I had no problem switching jobs. Am I going to have to do odd jobs forever, or is there any hope of me returning as as the skilled software engineer I know I am? Would appreciate any and all help.

Talk to a lawyer before assuming you can’t sue. Police won’t do anything for you but in any common law country a lawyer can. You can sue the platforms hosting the images (it’s a hard fight but people have won it before) and you can serve subpoenas forcing platforms who are hosting the images to say who uploaded them (e.g. their IP address). If your income has been high before there’ll be a lot of money on the line and you won’t have trouble finding a lawyer to do it on contingency (you don’t pay anything unless you win).

Another option is to bury your name in search results. Create online personas for a bunch of other people with your name. Write a bunch of blog articles using your name. Get all the bad press on page 3+ of Google results.

You could apply for a job with a government - they often have rules preventing them from considering certain information in their hiring processes.

You could also just apply to companies which espouse the values the defamer said you articulated. Depending on your race/gender/any other factors this could land you somewhere you’ll be treated poorly, but a job is a job and someone on one extreme or the other of the political spectrum won’t care how horrible a thing you supposedly said. Of course, that means committing to this option, as the employer will taint your resume and limit future opportunities.

Google has a "right to be forgotten" process: https://support.google.com/legal/answer/10769224?hl=en

I have used it before and Google responded and removed the links to the offending chat forum. If it doesn't show up in Google it's unlikely any employer will find it.

Also, I'd contact the social media companies directly too. At minimum, you could ask for your name to be removed. Doxxing is usually not allowed on their services. Took much more time and persistence than Google, but I was able to get the chat forum to remove names. Best response if you contact their legal dept., not their customer support. You can find legal contact in Terms of Service, Privacy Statement, financial statements, press releases etc.

Along these lines, unless you have good sense that the accusation and discussion about it are both indelible and preserved in sources that are insurmountably-well-ranked, consider whether you can stomach living the life of a content-producer for a while. Blog, youtube, or tweet. Restrict the comments/replies.

It's a chance to simultaneously show/model your real values, and dilute the influence of the accusation.

Also: don't curdle.

This sounds similar to a situation I know of that occurred a few years ago and the person in question got terminated for a particular cause, but they were the kind of person who decides if what they were saying was a joke depending on if you laugh or agree and has been very careful around their manager.

The language you are using makes me think you might be getting pinged from hiring processes because you are very angry/anxious about this whole situation and probably not putting your best foot forward.

That combined with the anxiety of the world being on fire may be making things worse in all sorts of ways, both for you and the teams you are interviewing with.

No damage that is solely reputational is permanent, so it seems you are stuck catastrophising. That can put people in survival mode and I know when I’m at work I want to be in a creative mode environment so you may not be coming across as a cultural fit.

I don’t think you’ve come to terms with the situation and I’d recommend you talk to a therapist before resuming your job search.

I think you may be right, and maybe I am psyching myself out. I've always been a very good interviewer/interviewee (even helping others out with a job search!) This has all been so much, I don't even feel like the same person I was before.

Upload your resume to dice.com. You will get about 40 spam calls per day. Take one of those jobs - they are all around 100k/year. Definitely enough to get by in any major city.

Let me just say these guys do not care who they hire. Many of my colleagues had zero technical competence, and once we became friends, they told me they paid someone to attend their interview. Many never even went to college, but paid agencies to fake their transcripts.

Moreover, once I had a colleague who was fired for not doing any work for 6+ months. This individual then reported half the office to the US Gov for visa violations, copied us on those emails, and then threatened to sue everyone for discrimination. Us employees were naturally shocked by this, so we googled this persons name. The first result was a previous lawsuit where the individual did the exact same thing at a past company -- we were floored. Our employer did not do even the slightest due diligence on this person or really anyone else frankly.

You mentioned defamation. According to which country you live in there should be a way to sue around that and at least get a record that you have been a victim of cyber bullying, not necessarily the person you appear to be.

I strongly encourage you to do so if you can. I really hate people having such practice and thinking they can get away with it.

Otherwise/in the meantime the contracting idea works. Could be through a platform - i.e Upwork or Toptal - and/or behind a company name, etc. I'd also look into foreign opportunities.

This all sucks and I don't know what happened but look forward, some people don't want to give meaning to these things and would give you a chance. Good luck and take care!

Thank you <3 I did go the police route as i mentioned in a previous comment, to no avail, but to be honest, I have less than a thousand dollars to my name at the time. I suspect the person that did this to me is not in the United States.

Thank you all for your insight. I think a few next steps are clear to me.

1. Seek some therapy/mental help. Something I've been lacking and psyched myself out in to thinking I don't deserve it. 2. See if there are any legal avenues/help I can get on contingency, (I am pretty broke at the moment) 3. Maybe just own the situation and try to exude confidence, as hard as that can be. 4. Worst comes to worst, change my name and just try to do contracting work for awhile.

This has been the worst ordeal of my life, and as helpful as this post has been, has just given me more anxiety about the situation at hand. But it's always the darkest before the dawn I suppose. I'm going to shut my laptop and try to meditate for a little bit.

Sounds like a terrible situation. Keep in mind most lawyers will give you a no-charge consultation. Even if they don't take the case, you might get some useful advice.

You will make it through this. Life is long. In a few years this trouble will be a distant memory. Right now, take care of yourself. Meditation is a great idea. Also, go for long walks. I like listening to audio books while taking walks. I recommend the Culture series, Rainbow's End, and the Ringworld series. Spend time with people who care about you. I hope you will have peace.

Can't you just address this up front if its that big of a problem? Or put up a little blog or something for people to find?

im also real curious what this is about? Apply to my company, i have no idea what your talking about or who you are haha

To onlookers it appears that I spent years a decade ago going on racist and sexist tirades. I would love just to own it and be honest, but the way things were set against me, it just looks like I'm making excuses for myself. The whole situation is FUBAR. Even the police weren't able to help

> To onlookers it appears that I spent years a decade ago going on racist and sexist tirades

You’re hinting that it appears that way, but wasn’t actually that way. So what’s your side of the story? Why is your history not what it seems?

I don’t know your details, but if there’s any truth to the accusations, then it might be worth considering owning it. Something like: A long time ago, I made a big mistake by ________, but I’ve learned from it and am committed to ________. Sure, some people won’t forgive you, but some might.

Again, I don’t know the details, but someone denying something is sometimes harder to believe than someone that owns it. But, if it’s all gaslighting is it too difficult to explain how it’s been “all set up against you”?

Some more details might be helpful if you’d like specific advice.

PR departments don't care about your story. If you are an untouchable because of a radioactive online presence that's an unnecessary reputational risk to the company for associating with you. Welcome to the new world order social credit system.

He presented his side in OP.

He didn't make the posts. Someone convinced other people that the comments came from an account he controlled.

Kind of, but then there’s this:

> I admit, the evidence is convincing to the onlooker.

That’s what I’m confused about. Why is the evidence so convincing? Why wouldn’t a simple rejection suffice?

“I didn’t write those things and was appalled when I read it for the first time not long ago.”

I feel like there are some key missing details to the story.

I almost guarantee that he had something to do with those racist/sexist comments. I find it unlikely that someone else would be controlling an account under his name publicly for YEARS without his knowledge.

Even if he himself didn't post the comments, he must have known that it was going on at the time and probably knows the person who did do it.

"I didn't do it - it was someone else under my name" is the equivalent of "the dog ate my homework". I definitely agree with you - there are key missing detail - conveniently so.

He presented the equivalent of "I did not have sexual relations with that woman"

This never works. The mob is a fickle beast and wants blood, always and forever, and will never forgive even the most repentant sinner.

If you are ever accused of something, rightly or wrongly, never accede and never give in.

> I would love just to own it and be honest, but the way things were set against me, it just looks like I'm making excuses for myself.

It sounds like it worth a try to just own it though? from skimming the posts here if your truly considering changing your name, it doesn't seem like it would make things that much worse for you.

maybe some mental health/therapy stuff if you can get it. sounds traumatic, working with someone might help get things straightened out, less stress etc?

There aren’t any names of people that have been canceled that are so infamous that every company will know who they are. I don’t think this post is true or at least not all of it is accurate.

You should invest money into fighting this legally.

If you are the victim of cyber bullying then I would suggest contacting the platform that is housing the libelous posts. I think there are ways on every platform to remove libelous posts. You probably should hire a lawyer to handle this for you that specializes in cyber bullying.

If you were fired over this libel, then you could also sue the company as well and make sure there are press releases that state that you are fighting this as false so that they become higher in the search rankings. Then at least if future employers are looking at this, it will call into question whether or not you are actually guilty.

Is there even anyone that would take this on spec? Previously stated, my financial situation is unfortunately dire at this time :/

Borrow money from friends and family if you have to. Expensive lawyers can do a lot of things that ordinary people can't do. I would do thorough research on this to figure out who can do this type of work for you. I think it's the most likely to be successful and if I were in that situation, that's exactly what I would do.

It's also a reason why I gave my kids very, very generic boring names which would make it very hard to google them.

I was the "successful" one in my family, so i don't really have a lot of familial borrowing power unfortunately.

Sadly, I am the only person with my name in the country. something I used to be proud of actually.

Had to make an account just to post this.

Get a new email/Linkedin etc of course, and apply to some contractor positions with a nickname on your resume.

By contractor I mean like things you would find on CareerBuilder or Linkedin Easy Apply.

If you get an offer, then you know that not every company is researching you very deeply.

But if even these guys are denying you, then it is maybe time for a legal name change, which still might not even help because you have to provide this info in a background check (which should only be for criminal things, not behavioral).

Probably you are only applying to small companies?

Sorry you had to make an account, but it's really appreciated. The contracting work is good advice, I have been looking exclusively for full time positions, at small agencies for sure, but still, no dice as I've said. Maybe I need to just pick up that small time contracting work in tandem with a full name change. That would be preferable to the fast-food restaurant I've been working at for the past 2 months.

The jobs I'm referencing are W2 with insurance and are often sent to big clients like Home Depot or 7-11 or whoever. The company that signs the check is some random agency, yes.

I would be shocked if you fail this background check. My experience across many such jobs has been that they just check for convictions using your drivers license.

If you get an offer and don't pass the background check, you actually have the right to appeal the decision I think.

But if you aren't getting the offer, your name is too unique, your work history is too uniquely tied to your name, and you need to apply with a nickname that is quite different from your real legal name (which is what my wife does as a cultural Chinese thing.


Employers carry out vastly differing amounts of due diligence. Lots do basically zero due diligence.

You need to relax. The world is not as serious as you think it is. You are talking to someone whose livelihood is at stake.

It's hard to strike it out on my own when my name is worthless. Thanks for your perspective.

Have you tried a change of name?

If your name is associated with these incidents and you need a fresh start, why don't you consider that as an option?

Obviously this might not pass the background check phase. But not all businesses do a detailed due diligence

Do you have more than one first name?

Just switch everything to your other first name.

Also do the same as the big corps, send dcma take down notices to the offending websites.

I have absolutely, I just have worried about the optics of changing my name and having people find out, like it would seem as though I'm running from things and making it worse.

Just change your last name. People will assume it’s due to marriage (which, depending on your gender, will either be totally normal or mildly abnormal). Only the background check companies will look into it and they usually are just there to check criminal record.

If you get a legal name change, once it's done even your birth certificate is changed. Hr would never know.

That would be great if it worked like that. I know it's stupid in my position, but I like my name, and I know I didn't really do anything wrong. I feel like it would absolutely just be like letting the offending party win, if I did this. But I need to grow up and accept my new reality.

Did your employer not listen to your side of the story at all?

My manager did and I could tell they believed, but the optics of it all I imagined made it too toxic to be worth defending me over. Racist, sexist content was falsely attributed to me.

In what sense were there “optics” beyond the company? Was this incident public, or just on some forum that would only show up when people Google your name?

Some other platform picked it up and started bagging on me. Not national news public, but still.

Until HR requests your academic records, references or anything else that refers to you by your old name.

I’ve never had an employer request academic records after working at multiple FAANG companies — except perhaps right out of college, but I’m not sure even then.

Unless you’re applying for a job that’s high-profile (like VP or C-suite), or in a highly regulated industry, I wouldn’t expect this.

Plus you can probably contact your university registrar with your legal name change and ask them to update the transcript to the new name.

HireRight background check for 2 different BigTech companies required me to put the contact information of my University’s registrar. I think they did actually verify that I received the degree I said I did, despite that being over 15 years ago now.

I would immediately try to get the defamatory content in question to slide through blogspam and other blackhat SEO techniques. You can also dilute the message through similar but more spammy and completely misleading defamatory content which links out to shady and scary websites to scare off anyone researching the topic.

Get cheap SIM cards for verification and create an array of a dozen sockpuppet accounts all over top social media platforms for downvoting or reporting defamatory content and use them to promote content which makes you look normal. Log in to different social media accounts from fast food restaurant WiFi all over town with different user agents and wireless mac addresses.

>wireless mac addresses

no one outside the wifi sees his mac address.

You can self employ as a contractor. Not the easiest thing, but clients may have less of a problem with reputational issues than employers.

Whatever you end up doing, please make a follow-up post on this. Everyone deserves a second chance (though this is confused by the fact that by the time we hear about it, many are already through their fifth)

I see many valid options for you to take: you could be upfront with it in a cover letter, disguise it by using a nickname, move into contracting and do business through an LLC, or come out swinging and make a bigger ruckus in your own favor. Whatever works. I'm preparing to be cancelled, because the truth is an ugly thing, and I want to know what works.

I certainly will, and I hope I can follow up with good news. This has been the worst experience of my life. A) Because people believe I did and said things that I've always opposed B) Because no one gives me enough of a chance to show that it wasn't me. Thanks for the message.

Personally, I would just start working for myself and hire an account/project manager to be client facing.

Are you proactively bringing this up during the interview process?

If not, you almost certainly should. It's like a conviction: if I find it when I run the background check, first I'm surprised, and second, the candidate has lost all opportunity to set context. Plus not mentioning it borders on lying.

I don't suspect the best context for you is someone set me up; you should try "I did some dumb things (assuming this wasn't outright criminality), stuff was someone exaggerated, I'm a different person."

This + write a blog to explain your side of the store + SEO for the blog.

You could also publish another blog about cancel culture and lies (no burden of proof) and impact on real life.

This could turn into you favour.

I am purposely being vague to avoid outing myself, but knowing the situation, and knowing what was attributed to me as being said, somehow this seems like it would just highlight a toxic situation and be an automatic red flag to employers. I wish I had the gumption to do this.

Well, right now what you're doing isn't working.

The approach I suggested has resulted in the hiring -- including at a place where I worked -- of people with criminal conduct. Which is probably worse than what you did.

Again, if potential employers are finding out about this, you're choosing to either let them find out while reading stuff on the internet, or with you saying "read the stuff on the internet, but first listen: this was 10 years ago, I did something stupid, I've changed, blah blah blah."

If they read it without that context, does a potential employer even know you disagree with what was said? Probably not.

I agree this could easily be something that spooks an employer that is weighing you against another decent candidate. But then again, it might not be much worse than what they find googling already.

How you tell the story might influence people. Have friends/family read whatever you write about it and give you feedback on how it comes across.

I doubt you are on a list. This is just a thing in the back of your mind that is haunting you. Not exactly the easiest environment to find a job these days, given its all via zoom and all.

What I recommend is different. Practice your zoom skills, record yourself in mock interviews to see how you look over zoom, and work on that.

Cancel culture is stupid, and we only make it a thing, if we make it a thing. It won't last 2 generations and society will be sick of it and will have moved on.

As others have said contracting is the way to go. If this were any other trade/craft I'd say open your own business or firm (the software version of which is contracting).

Companies contract smaller companies without even due diligence quite often, unfortunately. At least in your case it could be used for something constructive.

Change last name, get DBA, grab as many small projects as you can to build an active portfolio of happy clients.

All the best.

Hi Cancelled

Very sorry to hear. I cannot offer you a paid job. But if you like to get involved in projects where you could add value without compensation in return, do head towards https://skilledup.life.

At least this way, you will be involved in something and who knows where it might lead you to.

All the best Manoj

Register a business and do contracts under that name? Are you able to sue this person?

I wish. Sadly, I have no clue who this person truly is. Someone I spent years on ${platform} with, mostly avoiding.

Do you really need to know who this person is to sue? Maybe you should talk to a lawyer about it. Filing a complaint is usually the starting point if you want to open an investigation.

Apply to large companies? I work for a large company and, when hiring, I never look up people on social media. Mostly because I don’t use social media, so I wouldn’t know the first thing about looking anyone else up.

Large companies are the worst for this. They hire firms to go through a person's social media history to find out what they did and if they are a good fit. One mention of recreational drug usage in a positive (or neutral!) light can sink you. Being seen to go on racist rants certainly will, especially when you consider that most large firms' HR departments also have extensive DEI programs.

Could you put you resume up somewhere, anonymized with an email address you could be contacted on?

If you’re happy with 90-95% WFH we’d be happy to take a look and see if you’re a fit for us based solely on experience.

That will not help you now, but I think a support network / company for canceled people shoud be established. There is a ton of people who are living in the fear of losing pretty much everything in a context of ever shifting political and medical Overton window, and then there are those like you to which it happened. Such a company may have difficulty to make business in the Western world, but the rest world usually don't care so it can be economically viable.

Alice Dreger seems to be the go-to support/advice person for people in this situation--don't act entitled to her time but if you reach out respectfully she has helped a lot of people in this situation.

Have you tried to have this information removed from Google? You can select the "defamation" option:


Have you considered starting an LLC and working for your LLC? Take on consulting gigs as the LLC.

There are plenty of capable, gainfully-employed software engineers that make racist and sexist tirades online, and manage to get away with it for a time...what is different about your situation?

If you were not responsible for the original posts, call it out, show some proof that you aren't the person that others claim you to be, and move on; otherwise, own the situation, accept responsibility for your actions, change your attitude, and get on with your life.

Thanks to all for the advice. I think contract work + changing my name is really the only way forward. I was naive in thinking I could get it all back somehow, and I have been too disillusioned to see the obvious through this whole ordeal.

Next you'll have to explain why when your name is googled, nothing comes up.

> Next you'll have to explain why when your name is googled, nothing comes up.

If you were to Google my real name, nothing would come up that is related to me. Since the 90's I've been careful not to use my real name or images of me on the internet.

I'm sure plenty of people are like this?

I said what I said due to experience, which I probably should have clarified. I, too, have almost no internet presence under my real name. It has come up in interviews. I didn't say it prevented me from obtaining employment, but it came up is all. In this day and age, it is an outlier to have no social media/internet presence, even though I'm sure "plenty" do (which is small relative compared to the working tech population at-large).

Or just make a new LinkedIn. Not everyone has a bunch of content published about them. Alternatively, choose a common name and get lost in a crowd of people with your name who are more famous than you.

I seriously doubt that would be a problem OP would face, except maybe for an errant employer they wouldn't want to work for anyway.

I myself was “canceled” privately from an employer where I had worked for over a decade. Fortunately the issue stayed in-house and my name did not go public.

I wrote an on-topic email about my life experiences and challenges concerning a medical issue, linking to relevant CDC and WHO medical guidance on the topic and suggestions on how the company could take steps to mitigate discrimination against people in similar circumstances.

Despite my good intentions, desire to bring hard data from authoritative sources into the conversation, someone presumably took offense and reported me to HR - I assume the allegation was promoting discrimination, even though I was not expressing any opinion of my own and simply linking to data from authority data from sources & pointing out problems and challenges that the data showed we would face in fighting that exact same discrimination. Sadly ironic.

I never learned the details of the allegation nor had a chance to defend myself. Multiple employees vouched for me, including people from the minority that presumably initiated the complaint, and many others sent me private messages saying how they thought my contributions were constructively adding to the conversation. The investigation was completely opaque, and the ultimate explanation was that I simply used bad judgment. That’s at-will employment for you. No opportunity to appeal, confront accuser, present evidence contrary to the accusations. A decade of good reputation and sound judgment meant nothing when (presumably) a minority reported me for discrimination.

The same HR investigator who investigated me previously investigated allegations of sexual misconduct by a female employee of a manager I knew well. The employee was performing poorly and filed misconduct allegations against the manager too. The manager had kept extensive documentation and was cleared. We were virtually certain the sexual misconduct allegations were bullshit and retaliation: and ironically the target was a supporter of the employee. The target ended up being fired. (Despite it being highly likely there was any more than he-said-she-said evidence with no corroboration.) The problem employee was on medical leave for months and eventually left the company.

Moral of the story: (1) Don’t expect fairness from HR. Their job is to protect the company from liability. They don’t care about you. A big company doesn’t care one whit for fairness and will fire you based on a calculation about liability of the situation going sideways (like PR explosion) (2) Don’t post about non-work topics at work, even if it’s being discussed, unless that’s your job. You never know what risk you’re exposed to. (3) Everything you post publicly online will be around forever. Even if you delete it someone might have an archive. Have sensitive discussions only in private group chats over end to end encrypted messengers, potentially ones that support message expiration (delete history after 1 day | 7 days | etc).

I was fortunate to be able to sign a mutual non-disparagement and NDA with my employer as part of an agreement to mutually terminate my employment, for consideration of staying on paid leave until a certain date so that I could job search without having to explain my departure, and receive my next stock grant. I’ll never be able to work at that employer again unless someone very high rank makes an exception.

The most frustrating part of the whole situation was never receiving a real explanation with any detail about what I was alleged to have done wrong, or what corporate policy I was alleged to have violated, nor have an opportunity to rebut the accusations. I also don’t believe my management chain stood up for me or defended me despite my long record of good judgment and high job level.

The silver lining is that I fortunately found an even higher paying job at a higher level with another tech company. My ability to get a promotion had probably already stalled out, and doubly so after that episode. So the threat of termination resulted in a higher level and considerably higher paying job at another employer, with an small group of people who know what really happened.

I got lucky though in that sense. I’m pretty sure that the person who reported me is a Twitter activist about that topic. I’m fortunate that they didn’t attempt to direct the outrage machine against me, otherwise I might have ended up in the same boat, publicly canceled. I stand by what I wrote as being reasonable, defensible, unbiased, and non-discriminatory (I was proposing ways to fight that discrimination!); merely discussing the topic and mentioning data and facts that the cancel crowd don’t like could get you canceled. My bad judgment was choosing to discuss the topic at work at all (even in a discussion about fighting discrimination).

Be careful what you write. I for one would appreciate if more companies adopted Coinbase’s “no politics or non-work chat at work” policy [1]. Employees could and should engage in the political activism they are passionate about on their own time, not by trying to manipulate the company’s strategy, or engaging in internal debates (unless necessary to contact the company‘s business and establish its social policies, as part of one’s job role) in my opinion, especially through strongarm tactics. This would free employees from the distractions of wanting to oppose extremist viewpoints they disagree with. At my last company I knew large networks of employees who disagreed with what these vocal extremists were writing internally but were afraid to say anything against it for fear of what ended up happening to me.

[1] https://blog.coinbase.com/coinbase-is-a-mission-focused-comp...

What medical issue did you write about? I'm having a hard time imagining how what you wrote could have played out.


I'm so sorry to hear this. Understandably you're still upset, but I hope things are better today.

Username checks out.

If you were wrong, never changed, and just trying to get away with it: suck it up.

I honestly wonder 1. why someone hated you for years, 2. the hell are you doing online that you gave that person enough bullets to get you fired, 3. don't you also have good relationship in your workplace that you weren't able to convince them not to fire you?

Get legal involved on this, you guys are nuts.

Awful response. Perhaps OP did something bad, but you have to remember supporting Trump or taking a strong dislike to BLM is enough to get you in trouble in some places. Perhaps 5 years ago it would have been acceptable to assume the person did something wrong, but these days I would guess it's just as likely to be a socially awkward James Damore type.

Also people change. I've been on Twitter since I was 17. My Twitter feed for the last 13 years has been full of autistic ramblings. I'm sure if someone really wanted to get me fired they could, and I suspect many others here are in a similar boat.

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