Software engineer fired, shut out of office for three weeks by machine

HAL 9000 is here – and it's plugged into your HR system

Robot hand holding cards

It was only a matter of time before the machines started fighting back. And let's be honest, we all knew the software engineers would be the first to fall.

And so it was that Ibrahim Diallo, in California, USA, found himself fired from his job, had his network access and his entry card killed, and was unable to get himself reinstated despite his own manager, and even his manager's boss, assuring him that he was still employed.

That's right, in some demented but less apocalyptic version of War Games, our plucky engineer was fired by an automated system and the humans were unable to do anything about it.

Incredibly, it took three weeks for the issue to be resolved and for the not-fired Diallo to get back at his desk. Funnily enough, he decided at that point to quit, and take his expertise elsewhere. What the hell happened?

Well, according to Diallo, in a blog post he put up this week, no one knew. All he knew was that one day his key card stopped working, leading to a series of embarrassing appeals to the security guy and a series of temporary passes.

We've all been there. Except then he started getting calls from his recruiter asking why he'd been fired. He went to his manager who assured him he was still in a job – just eight months into his three-year contract – but slowly he was shut out of all the systems he needed to work on.

The manager kept insisting he come in until one day – prompted by a stern email – security turned up and escorted him from the building.

"Who the hell is sending those emails!?" he bellowed as HAL 9000 looked on without emotion. For it was HAL – or, at least his version of it – that was behind the situation, it was eventually discovered. But it was weeks of no work before that came out.

Transition

"Just before I was hired, this company was acquired by a much larger company and I joined during the transition," Diallo explained. "My manager at the time was from the previous administration.

"One morning I came to work to see that his desk had been wiped clean, as if he was disappeared. As a full time employee, he had been laid off. He was to work from home as a contractor for the duration of a transition. I imagine due to the shock and frustration, he decided not to do much work after that. Some of that work included renewing my contract in the new system."

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As it turned out, some time-saving sysadmin had written a script to automatically shut out an employee with the trigger being the official employee termination email.

The automation extended to the point that the non-renewal of the contract – requiring human intervention – led to the termination email, which led to that employee's key card being disabled, and their network access cut off on each system that they had privileges on.

What about the email ordering security to escort him from the building? That was seemingly triggered by him trying to use his cancelled key card to get into the building. Another script red-flagged the attempted unauthorized entry and alerted security. When he then tried to log in to his blocked accounts, well…

The system was also impervious to efforts to stop the process, no matter how high up the issue went. In the end, the company gave up and Diallo had to be rehired as a completely new employee, with all his details re-entered – including bank details - and his network privileges recreated from scratch. A new key card had to be ordered.

"What I called job security was only an illusion," he writes nervously. "I couldn't help but imagine what would have happened if I had actually made a mistake in this company. Automation can be an asset to a company, but there needs to be a way for humans to take over if the machine makes a mistake. I missed three weeks of pay because no one could stop the machine."

Oh we know

Of course what he doesn't know but we suggest is that this was no machine at work – at least not one working autonomously.

Somewhere out there is a Bastard Operator from Hell who knows exactly what happened. We imagine he is currently reclining on a Caribbean beach, checking every once in a while that everything is up and that the system continues to be prompted to make it look as though he is entering the building at night and leaving again in the morning.

No one sees him and they dare not ask him questions. No one has opened his door in years and that's how he likes it. We take out hat off to you, sir. ®




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