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The world has slowly become spineless, and when someone like Josh Hwu shows a spine and stands up for what's right a rather large fraction of fellow programmers jump on him. Shameful! The CEO of Miso is an unethical egotistical person who doesn't even have the self-awareness to admit to his knee-jerk abuse of power (a mistake that many a young manager has made, myself included).

The real story here is that fighting on principle is the rational thing to do. If you don't fight on principle then the predators feel empowered, and everyone suffers. People like Josh are heroes. Those who try to take away from his accomplishment by either convincing him that it would be "smarter" to be spineless or that somehow it's wrong to have a spine, are even more despicable than Josh's abusive ex-boss.

> The CEO of Miso is an unethical egotistical person who doesn't even have the self-awareness to admit to his knee-jerk abuse of power

Unless you have information not available in the original post or reply, you're making that judgement off of a severely limited set of (largely one-sided) data.

If you read the email stream, the CEO wanted to withhold the referral bonus as a punitive measure for a work-related mistake. His subsequent "apology" in the comments tried to unring that bell, instead blaming an "unclear" referral policy for the "misunderstanding". The first act was unethical, the second was egotistical, and both judgements are based on the CEO's own choice of words, not Josh's.

"work related mistake"? If anything, the CTO should be blamed here... it's not hard to do a sql dump on the hour for backups.

we don't know the size of the db involved. multi-gig dbs dumping every hour may be production-limiting.

Well, I've worked on a 50T DB doing 800G of changes per hour, which was recoverable to any point in time. That's not even particularly big by today's standards.

and you dumped the entire 50terabytes every hour? The point above was that they should have been doing a db dump. that's not always the best way (or even possible) to deal with large data sets.

No, but why would you do that? It makes no sense when there are better backup strategies available (archived redo logs, hot standby, filesystem snapshots, etc etc).

Agreed. One of the best comments I've seen on HN yet.

Thanks! Felt good to write it.

One concern that I have is that the Miso CEO (and people like him) will take away the wrong lesson, along the lines of "be careful what you say to employees in email". But the real lesson is that you should keep your promises, and if you have a moment of weakness and try to reneg on a promise, don't be proud: admit the mistake and keep the promise. People make mistakes, even twenty-something CEOs of tech startups (shocking, I know).

I 100% agree with your concern, and that is the problem for it extends beyond tech startups to anyone in the world who have this mindset (of which there are many -- the ruthlessly, amorally, ambitious.)

Hi javajosh, I just had to leave this comment here to say thank you. Your comment was possibly one of the best comments I have ever read on HN, and possibly the internet at large. Thank you for restoring my faith in humanity somewhat.

If I could sit here all day clicking the upvote button I would!

Crap, accidentally downvoted. In too strong agreement to not apologize for the downvote and thank you for saying that.

Let me tell you my perspective, which may be interesting. The company Miso has good points about the reason for the program. In the original exchange the points were brought up.

To me, the points were brought up one email too late. The moment the first response was Josh, let me talk to Tim. After you lost our data and caused our entire company to scramble for 3 days, I am hesitant,

I saw this as. "Let me think of how I can not pay you."

Even though the next email was perfectly cogent, it wasn't the first. (The next email read Spoke with Somrat about this. You're right that the trouble that you caused has nothing to do with a referral bonus. However, we only pay bonuses to employees. The bonuses are discretionary and not contractual. You and Miso never signed a contract that mentions bonuses. As a policy, referral bonuses are meant to help build a stronger team based on existing relationships. Employees bringing on employees that they've worked with in the past builds a stronger team. This bonus is not simply about hiring. For example, we don't pay people outside of Miso when they refer us candidates that we hire. Because you are no longer employed by Miso, you are not eligible for this bonus.).

After the first email bringing up something irrelevant that I passed summary judgment on Miso: if you don't pay, everything else is irrelevant, no matter what you think of it's just excuses, since your first excuse was to just say, "Fuck you, I don't need to string you along anymore. Here's the first thing I could think of. You dropped a one week old database on a product we didn't have backups on." Of COURSE that has nothing to do with a referral, except if you're saying, "you know I pull the strings around here and it's my decision to make. I'm not all that happy with you."

Sorry, Miso, you lost in that sentence. The question is only whether you owe the employee a referral bonus you promised. You don't get to do what you promised if you had a good experience with the the guy or not otherwise.

There's this great founder I always have in mind when I read stuff like this. Boy did that guy have a philosophy! I've always thought of drawing a caricature of him sitting down at a restaurant with his wife and looking at the menu, and his wife saying that they really can't afford these prices. So he says, "It's okay honey order whatever you want. There is no way I'm paying for any of this shit."

I don't know what the culture is like at Miso but I would take

"After you lost our data and caused our entire company to scramble for 3 days, I am hesitant."


"How do I justify to the rest of the team paying you an exorbitant bonus for team building after you trashed a production system that cost the team 3 days of work, then quit."

Not that this changes the fact that they should have paid.

I will just point out that in the present climate the bonus is NOT exorbitant where Miso is based, especially post-funding or after a few employees.

Exorbitant would be: equity; $50k; paid on when the referral joins (instead after 6 months); paid if the referral is brought in for an interview, regardless of hire. (would be VERY VERY exorbitant). This is just standard.

I guess it is a different culture. In the teams I have experience with, people referred because they wanted to work with good people.

You either need to read the fine print of your employment contracts better, or you've never signed one that included a referral bonus. It probably would've been mentioned by your hiring manager, or whoever interviewed you for the position, or the HR rep.

The amount varies, but the last two places I've worked have spelled out their referral bonus amounts and terms explicitly.

It sounds like you're talking about companies where there wasn't a bonus of this kind and magitude. If so, yeah, different and not really comparable (maybe a token $500 or whatever). Otherwise I think if there's the bonus and people ask for it, obviously it does figure in motivating them to take proactive steps to bring someone on.

Who is John Galt?

mcteapot, please realize that people are a mix of lots of different preferences and motivations. I think we can all agree that on the whole, when management says you will get $10k for a certain action, it means that they expect this helps more people do the action. That doesn't mean it's the only reason they do it, or that some of the people who do it after the bonus wouldn't have done it without the bonus. It just means it helps. Otherwise, if it doesn't help, why not call it a thank-you-for-not-parking-in-the-handicapped-space-when-you-shouldn't bonus (assuming that, like most companies, nobody happens to have any problem with not doing this, and at any given time either the handicapped spaces are empty or employees with a legitimate entitlement are using them) and give it to every employee equally? I mean, if you don't expect it to have any effect whatsoever on referrals/behavior...

Also, I want to make a nuanced but important point here. The employer in this particular case is explicitly kind of saying, "yeah, it might have kind of helped at the time, but you're not working here anymore." By that logic, every single person who ever gives notice should have their last paycheck docked if the time to cut the check occurs after they have left. After all, even though the paycheck might have originally helped them work there, they're not working there anymore so that doesn't matter. Why should an employer ever pay the last paycheck? You're not part of the team anymore and the paycheck is meant to motivate employees to work, that's why it exists. "Also, you dropped the database", or some made-up excuse.

I think we can all agree that people don't just work for money, but we can also all agree that every employer needs to pay the last paycheck, even if the time to pay it comes after the employee has left. To me, per my comment that you replied to, the fact that the database thing was brought up means the employer is trying to squirm out of settling a debt; rather than say that it wasn't a real debt.

Reading between the lines I was assuming the guy got fired for the screwup.

The thing that stood out for me is the part where they said, "You and Miso never signed a contract that mentions bonuses", which means he has no "legal proof" a bonus was even offered in the first place.

I don't want to pick on you in particular, since it's something a lot of non-lawyers are confused about, but you might be interested to know that "he has no legal proof" isn't really accurate as a legal matter. Your assumption should be that any time you make a promise in exchange for a promise (or a promise in exchange for performance, like "if you refer someone we hire, we'll pay you $X"), you probably have an enforceable contract, whether it's in writing or not. Instead of "proof," think "enough evidence to convince a jury that it happened, more likely than not." The testimony of a credible witness is plenty.

(I have no idea what happened in this case, and I'm not saying a spoken agreement is necessarily a contract or that you definitely can offer any given piece of evidence to prove it. The rules are complicated. But contract law is basically about fairness, not technicalities. If "you have no legal proof!" sounds unfair, that's a good hint that it's probably not an accurate statement of the law.)

I'm actually aware that the absence of a written contract doesn't necessarily negate his rights, especially in light of the fact that he had emails showing the arrangement. I was pointing out the CFO tried to use the lack of contract to fuck him out of the money.

Oh, I get you. Yeah, that makes sense.

Just because the idea is kind of neat: It's possible you're getting jumped on by the lawyers here because "legal proof" itself is such a non-legal concept. There's such a thing as mathematical proof, for sure. There might be such a thing as scientific proof. But you could rarely point at something and say "that's legal proof." You could only say, "that turned out to be enough evidence to convince that particular jury." "Proof" is defined by the observer (jury, judge, etc.), not the object (contract, bloody knife, etc.).

the CFO tried to use the lack of contract

He did have a contract. It just wasn't written and signed. It's still a contract. The CFO is misleadingly implying that because it was not signed, there was no contract.

In many jurisdictions VERBAL agreements can be considered contracts and legally binding. Often people don't sue over verbal contracts is because the burden of proof that one existed/exists is very difficult.

The mere fact he has the email exchange which took place between them afterwards is probably enough evidence to show in court that a [contractual] agreement existed. Miso was dumb to ever respond. They would have been better to pretend they never saw or heard from the gentleman again and leave it to him to sue... with little to no evidence that the agreement existed. That still doesn't mean Miso doesn't suck... it's just the move Miso should have made if they were going to try and be dicks about it, like they were. Miso, should have just paid up right away, they got caught red handed though and their legal counsel probably said... pay up, it'll save you as much or more and cause you less legal headaches and stress... let's just make this go away and save ourselves from losing focus on a legal fight we will probably lose and minimally will cost as much or more to fight.

They would have been better to pretend they never saw or heard from the gentleman again

That's hard.

It's easy to pretend you didn't get an email. But what if you send via registered post a letter, or a courier? What do you do if the employee has a signed form saying you received the letter? Blatantly ignoring the good faith attempts to resolve this matter before courts are involved might harm your case.

> Often people don't sue over verbal contracts is because the burden of proof that one existed/exists is very difficult

That, and because verbal contracts are not enforceable for all transactions.


The "statute of frauds" doctrine only applies to certain types of transactions. Most transactions, including employment agreements (or for example, selling your business) can be executed verbally.

Often people don't sue over verbal contracts is because the burden of proof that one existed/exists is very difficult.

Oh, they definitely sue over verbal contracts all the time. Just trying watching any of the dozen Judge X shows on TV or visiting a small claims court. Indeed, the reason for small claims courts is largely to keep these types of disputes out of real courtrooms.

Contracts can be verbal. That's the first thing you learn in law school. Having a written contract as evidence is helpful, but testimony (however self-serving) of an alleged contract constitutes legal proof.

I saw this as. "Let me think of how I can not pay you."

It's a (thinly) veiled threat. Of course, it's irrelevant to what's being discussed, but it's a way of saying "I can embarrass you with this irrelevant issue if you press this" without actually saying it. Classic extortion tactic.

Since Josh printed the exchange in full, they no longer have this on him. Still, I don't know if it's a smart move on his part. He could have left that out entirely, and if they brought it into the public, he'd have more than $10,000 to talk about.

Actually, I'm sure there are two sides to the database story. He could have been poorly trained, or working 80 hours per week-- at which point mistakes are inevitable-- or given bad tools. These kinds of fuckups rarely have only one person at fault, especially in the sloppier startups where management is thinly-spread and incompetent and there are too many moving parts (startups are hard to keep track of when well-run, and many aren't). I'm surprised he didn't get into detail of what happened there.

> These kinds of fuckups rarely have only one person at fault

Fat fingering an rm -rf or corrupting a DB, if you have good backup policies, should generally not cause End of Days.

Exactly. Accidentally deleting a database should be a minor concern in any well-run company. It'll be painful and annoying, but shouldn't cause "scrambling" for "3 days". The ire should be directed at management that allowed that condition to exist, not the person that fat-fingered something.

In this worldview "management" is expected to be superhuman, while the guy who actually makes the mistake is absolved of responsibility.

It's more of a question of demarcation of responsibilities, of which there are two:

1. Responsibility to have a backup.

2. Responsibility to not screw up live data.

When someone screws up on #2, it inconveniences the person responsible for #1 and potentially loses any data since the last backup. That is the limit of #2's responsibility in this.

If #1 hasn't done his job right, it will come out when someone eventually plays the part of #2 (mistakes happen). Once that happens, the damage from not having a backup is #1's responsibility, not #2's.

In this case, we do not have clear information about who was responsible for #1.

Speaking as a manager - no, not superhuman (I'll restate to be it's a management/organization problem - not an individual problem).

It is my job to make sure we have a well-run software engineering product team. Ensuring that backups run and are tested is one small part of my job. Not doing the backups, sure, but making sure the team has taken care of it.

Mistakes happen and folks shouldn't be punished for that.

Remember that disks are fallible - human error needn't be involved to require recovery from backups.

Regardless of the root cause of data corruption, requiring three days to recover is completely a management/organization problem.

  He could have been poorly trained, or working 80 hours per 
  week-- at which point mistakes are inevitable-- or given 
  bad tools.
Or he might just be a really poor programmer. Why do people want to be highly paid software engineers without taking any personal responsibility for their work? If you are getting paid $10,000 referral bonuses, you should be training yourself and doing things that are above and beyond the call of duty, not punching a clock.

The phrase "poorly trained" puts the blame on someone else, rather than on the person who made the mistake. Anything to avoid responsibility.

Of course, most of us have no way of knowing whether OP is a good programmer or not.

If a programmer is consistently making mistakes that cost other programmers time and energy, and either incapable or (worse yet) unwilling when it comes to improvement, then he's a bad programmer and should be fired. No company can tolerate dividers.

It doesn't sound like this is what happened to the OP. It sounds like this was an occasional mistake. They happen.

If a run-of-the-mill junior programmer mistake is an existential threat to the company, that's management's fault. Either (a) it was too early to hire someone that junior, or (b) the infrastructure was poorly designed.

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