Fifteen minutes of fame

This entry was published at least two years ago (originally posted on October 29, 2003). Since that time the information may have become outdated or my beliefs may have changed (in general, assume a more open and liberal current viewpoint). A fuller disclaimer is available.

#1 and #2 on Blogdex!

Wow. The past day has been absolutely incredible — naïve as it may seem, I really didn’t expect all of this response to come from my little adventure.

While I had to give up on linking back to every site that linked to my post simply because there were too many of them to keep track of, some of the biggest so far have been MetaFilter, The Register, and Slashdot. Crazy. I’ve also had interviews today with both MSNBC (ironic, no?) and the Seattle P-I — I’ll post links to those articles when they become available.

Seattle PI Front Page, 10/30/03

Update: The article in the Seattle P-I is now online (and it’s on the front page of the print edition — yikes!).

Update 2: The MSNBC article is also online.

Following up on some of the many comments that have been left on my site and others where this has been mentioned:

Yes — I made a mistake

This has been pointed out many times, sometimes more politely than others. My posting of a photo taken at the Microsoft campus was (most likely) a breach of contract. The only reason I qualify that with “most likely” is that, due to my particular employment situation (a temp worker contracted to a vendor who had an account at Microsoft), I never went through any Microsoft-specific orientation or “rules and regulations” session, so I can’t say for certain that there is a “no cameras” clause as a condition of working at or for Microsoft.

No cameras?

Now, even without knowing about a “no cameras” clause, common sense does come into play here. Had I been foolish enough to take pictures inside any of Microsoft’s buildings, of the buildings themselves, of the offices of any of the employees, or anything similar, than I would fully expect to be terminated. As I mentioned in my Of blogging and unemployment post, I thought that the picture was taken in such a way that it would not cause any issues, revealing only an unmarked truck with some computers, and a small section of loading dock that could be nearly any loading dock on any building across America.

In fact, it may very well be that the picture itself is not what caused Microsoft to decide that I was no longer welcome on their campus. Again, as I mentioned in the ‘Of blogging and unemployment’ post, it appears that it was the combination of the picture with the information about what building I was at when I took the picture that prompted them to make the decision that they did.

NDAs (Non-Disclosure Agreements)

Many people have posited that my ultimate downfall was a breach of an NDA. This may or may not be the case. Again, because of the circumstances of my position at Microsoft, I never signed a Microsoft-specific NDA — however, this does not mean that I was not bound by an NDA. I would not be at all surprised if there were some form of NDA clause as part of the contract between Microsoft and their vendors. Now, I’m not sure if my post, the picture, or the combination of the two would constitute a breach of any NDA clause that I may have been bound to. I didn’t think so when I made the post, however given recent events, that may very well have been where I was wrong.

Who’s to blame?

In the end — me. I really don’t blame Microsoft for their actions. By my best guess, they saw me as breaking the rules — whether those rules were a “no cameras” clause, an NDA, or something entirely different — and decided that rather than give me a second chance and run the risk of me doing something similar in the future, it would be better to just cut me loose before I could do any more damage.

I can (and would) swear up and down that I would never divulge any internal Microsoft information. Heck, during my tenure at the printshop, I saw a lot of information that would have gotten me fired faster than this did if I’d been so foolish as to publish it. As “evil” as Microsoft may be popularly perceived, I don’t think it’s any secret that they have many incredibly intelligent people working for them, who come up with some truly astounding ideas. I’ve seen advertising campaigns in their preplanning stages weeks before they hit the press, I’ve seen internal documentation on programs that are still in development, and I’ve seen ideas and technologies that I would love to have available on my Mac at home. None of those have ever been mentioned here in my weblog, and even now, this is the most I intend to say about them.

However — while I may not have seen my post as violating Microsoft’s security standards, someone there did. Because of that, they may feel that it’s not worth the risk of continuing to allow me access to proprietary information that I could, in theory, leak to the world.

I may not like the way that they handled this. While I didn’t plan for my post to generate the amount of attention that it’s received, it has, and now Microsoft is facing a certain amount of bad press because of that. It may have been far better for them (on a PR level) to reprimand me and have me take the post down. However, I cannot fault them for making the decision that they did, however much I wish that that they had made a different decision.

I goofed. I regret it, but the damage is done. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. ;)

Future employment

I’ve seen a lot of comments suggesting that I apply to Apple — even some stating that Apple should just give me a job. As amusing as this idea is, I have to say that even I find it entirely unrealistic.

First off, as some have pointed out, my post could be seen as indicating that I have a propensity for disclosing internal company information. That’s not likely to put me very high on the list of prospective candidates for any business, let alone one run as tightly as Apple.

More importantly, though, is the simple fact that as my resumé shows, I’m woefully under-qualified for many computer-based positions. I don’t have a college degree. I don’t have any sort of computer certification. Aside from the past eight months, I haven’t even held a position that was primarily computer based. Instead, I’ve spent ten years working in the quick-print industry, running high-end digital copiers.

This isn’t to say that I’m a computer illiterate, of course. I’ve been a fairly typical “computer geek” for most of my life. I have experience with a wide range of systems, starting with CP/M on an Osborne 1, a few different flavors of *nix, DOS and Windows based PCs, and my primary focus, Apple Macintosh computers. I like learning about how all of the bits and pieces work, and how they work together. I’ve been fascinated with HTML for years — my first website went up in 1995, and I’ve been “blogging” in one form or another since 1998 or 1999, though I only have archives dating back to November of 2000 — and while I may not be much of a designer, if I may toot my own horn for just a moment, I think that my HTML code is damn good. I’ve spent a little time mucking around with Perl, Java, and Javascript, not enough to be a programmer (by any stretch of the imagination), but enough that I can take a look at the code and at least get a general feel for what it’s doing.

All of this, though, is self-taught. And self-taught doesn’t really get you jack, for the most part, especially when it doesn’t show on your resumé. My biggest regret with all of this is that, as my position for the past eight months has been working in a prepress environment, getting digital files print ready, I was finally getting some resumé experience that could show that I really did know something about computers. Now, however, I’ve lost that position, and I’ll just have to hope that if I’m lucky, those eight months might be enough for someone to give me a chance again at some point.

In the end, it all comes down to hitting the streets, throwing my resumé around town, and seeing what comes up — and hoping that when an interviewer googles my name, all this brouhaha doesn’t scare them off!

Rent (or “Wow — you all rock.”)

While I’m sure after reading the article at The Register that many people will find this hard to believe, I originally only mentioned financial matters because I had had enough people inquire that it was easier to do it in a single post than e-mail everyone. I’ve never expected donations in the past, and I wasn’t expecting donations this time.

Quite honestly, I’m floored.

An incredible number of people have tossed a few dollars my way, and I really don’t know how to thank you all. It’s enough to ensure that my rent for the month is taken care of without having to hit my emergency stash, and just a little over (which will go for good cheap eats — like Top Ramen, the bachelor’s/college student’s/first-time-apartment-dweller’s food of choice!). Many, many thanks, karma points, and mojo out to all of you. You rock.

Surviving Slashdotting (or, “Commercial time!”)

Lastly, but definitely not least, I’ve had quite a few people inquire about the weblog itself — specifically, who hosts it, and how it’s managed to stand up to the abuse of a Slashdotting as well as it has.

My site is hosted by TypePad, from the same good people that produce MovableType. I used MovableType for quite a few years on a personal server running out of my apartment (thank goodness I’m not using that setup now — my poor lil’ G3 webserver would be in puddles on the floor by now!), moved to TypePad when I got the invitation to be part of their public beta test — and have stuck with it since.

As I’m a confessed HTML geek, I find TypePad’s pro level perfect for me. They take care of all the niggling little details of server management, and I still have full control over all the HTML code produced by the system. I can be as picky (ahem…anal) as I want about the code that my site produces, and I do what I can to ensure that the pages are as clean as possible — minimal graphics, standards compliant code that’s easy to read if someone should dive into the source, CSS for presentation, and all the rest of the current buzzword goodies.

I can’t recommend TypePad enough — or MovableType, if you prefer to handle the server end of things yourself. I’m also very grateful to them for handling my Slashdotting (their first, apparently!) with such aplomb. As far as I know, there were very few glitches over the course of the day.


So what have I learned from all of this? Well, firstly, and most importantly — keep my big fat mouth shut! ;)

Some people have made comments along the lines of, “this is why I blog anonymously.” I have to say, that I don’t honestly think that that’s necessarily a perfect solution. Given the well-known power of Google, it’s very easy for me to believe that many anonymous blogs are — or at least could be — far less anonymous than their authors might believe. A comment here, a phrase there, a certain choice of words, and suddenly, someone’s put the pieces together (“They said that their birthday was on or around this date, they got together with this group of friends here, they took a trip to Disneyland here…”) and they are suddenly “outed”.

I made the conscious choice a few months back not to blog anonymously. Prompted by a post by Anil Dash, I decided that given the All-Seeing Eye of Google, I would rather do what I could to “own” my own name. I stopped using my prior online pseudonym of ‘djwudi’, began using my given name of Michael Hanscom whenever leaving comments on sites, and registered the domain name. To me, the ability to have some amount of control in ensuring that information that is connected to my name is actually connected to me is worth the risk of situations like what I just went through.

Basically, it all boils down to making sure that you know just what your employer would or would not be comfortable with you mentioning on your weblog — and if there’s any doubt, don’t mention it. I didn’t, and it got me canned. You shouldn’t let the same thing happen to you.

Thanks much for all the attention, comments, and food for thought over the past few days. It’s been a bit overwhelming, but one hell of a ride.

47 thoughts on “Fifteen minutes of fame”

  1. Glad to see you’re handling the situation so well andbthat people have been so supportive! From now on, you’ll be my poster boy for someone who stuck to being accountable for his actions and words on his blog, even in the face of a largely unnecessary backlash.

    Bravo! Sounds like the kind of spine any employer would be glad to have.

  2. Ditto on what CPS says, hon. You’ve certainly expanded your reader base now. How do you plan on keeping the masses entertained? Just kidding… I have my fingers crossed for you.

  3. Michael, I’m never telling you any of my secrets ever again!

    ;-) Just kidding.

    I think you’ll be fine in the long run. You’ll probably get a really good job, and maybe some tech company will scoop you up from all this press coverage you are receiving. I know a few people have suggested that you work at Apple. Maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad idea.

    Perhaps you could blog about newly released Apple products at their site. Does Apple have a blog yet? If not, you should be the guy they go to.

  4. Michael, this is giusec from Milan, Italy. Just to let you know that the eco of your story arrived here in Europe as well.
    I decided to post a story, on my blog, this morning. It is in italian, you can watch it.
    Your fame landed overseas, now.

    Italian bloggers are with you – against the Giant.


  5. Spot on.

    I also wanted to say that for anyone else who might suffer the same fate it isn’t always the best idea to blog about being fired. If you want a job in the same industry, in the same town, you can make your life a little easier by keeping quiet. Just a thought.

  6. you might want to make some money out of this website now…should have enough visitors in the last couple
    days for the next months rent…;)
    good luck mate!

  7. Your news made it even to The Netherlands! An email was sent to almost 60% of the it-world about your ‘problem’.
    hang on man! I hope you’ll find a new job soon.

  8. I have to say I appreciate the fact that you accepted responsibility for your actions. How many others in
    your position would have whined about how unfair if was to fire you, and put all the blame on the company?

    Too many to count, would be my guess. Unfortunately, it seems that it’s always someone else’s fault.

    I agree that the punishment seems excessive, relative to the supposed crime, but you’ve at least stood up
    and admitted that what you did may have been grounds for termination. I’d hope that someone at MS would
    realize that it was an overreaction and ask you to come back. If for no other reason than your standing
    up and showing some integrity.

  9. Great reply. You admitted your mistake and gave an honest acessment of the situation. If an employer asks about this whole incident, just point them to your reply.

    Good luck on the job hunt!

  10. I wish I could go without Microsoft products, I’d boycott for the way they’ve trampled on your rights.

    Whether you were right or wrong, let’s face facts: It wasn’t that big of a deal. So what if Microsoft has G5s? Honestly, did they really have to fire you for the picture? Was it to save face? Was it because the biggest PC company has Macs? Who cares?

    You have my 100% support, not that that means anything, but you’ve got it nonetheless!

  11. Woody…. not to frighten you any firther but you made #1 on
    It’s a little disconcerting, all of this. James just told me about it last night.
    Anyway, I wish you immense amounts of good luck.

    P.S. I’m gonna send you some money as long as you go to The Hurricane for me.

  12. Hey, you made the front page of MSNBC. :) Under the fold, as it were, but who the hell cares?

    You’ve handled this deluge of sympathy and criticism magnificently. I could only hope to be as even handed.

  13. Just read at (dutch only, sorry) that your story was a news item at the nationwide radiostation!

    It is very, very sad that this all happened to you and you probably can’t buy anything* with all this ‘fame’ but I guess the MS people will think twice next time before they decide to ‘sack’ one of their blogging employees ;)

    Also read at Macfreak that at Apple also once had fired a guy for an action similar to this…

    Take care and know, the Dutch apple-users also feel pity for you ;) (It’s a small, small world etc. etc.)


    *) This was an attempt to translate a dutch saying in english… Hope you get the point… (jeez, my english sucks….)

  14. Just linking to your posts about what happened boosted my traffic from 70 something a day to 1500 a day! Whoa! I wish I could help you but I’m so very happy that you’re getting some help from good people out there. I use to want to work for MS. I had an interview from hell with a big wig in HR at her home. I went home crying because it had gone so bad. MS has been a dream job for me and now after what happened to you, I realize that are not all that they are cracked up to be. Off to blogroll you now… want to be kept up to date with what you’re up to. :)

  15. I just don’t get it. How can someone fire you for posting a picture of a truck at a dock. It could be any loading doc in America.

  16. Hi Michael,
    One of the “big thinkers’ recently said everyone will get their 15 mins of fame. They were right!
    You common sense and honesty by themselves will get you another job.
    Over here in New Zealand it appears that M$ had a knee-jerk reaction when they fired you.
    They won’t act so hastily again. You have struck a blow for bloggers everywhere!

  17. All because Bill didn’t want anyone to see his toys… Aww. M$ would sure fire me (if I ever was working for them), for having their competitor on my skin … Anyway, take care! Sounds so unreal experience. And it’s one more reason to hate M$.. I keep being 100 % M$ free. :)

  18. I tend to blog with security, so that only those i want to see it, do see it.

    Great article by the way and its a shame what happened to you :(

  19. I think you totally got what you deserved.. You ridiculed Microsoft, you insinuated that even their “Unholy Alliance” partners hardware wasn’t good enough that they had to use the enemies hardware.. You totally humiliated them and your wondering why you got terminated? They didn’t need a reason!! Anyone who is ungrateful and disloyal enough to do something like that to MS is obviously not going to be a team player MS wants.. I hope you understand this and stop this blog nonsense.. Your upset, your bitter, you probably know you were wrong but too arrogant to admit to it and YOU LOSE!!! BAM!

  20. I dont understand what they are talking about :( :confused:
    But actually I also dont care what they are talking about
    Michael !!! you well ? It s been long long time I have not come to forums :)
    That a false email address I gave you…:)

    Have a nice day !

    By theway where is your picture ? mdmd ?

    I also have an idea, i m sorry but your surname is Hanscom right, at first, I thought you were joking between handsome and hanscom, but if you could change it into handsome, you will have a lot o girlfriends then…:) I think so…

  21. I’m not a big fan of employers with this type of “we noticed you, therefore you’re fired” philosophy. If I were you, I’d be glad to be rid of Microsoft (in more ways than one).

    I’m a bit of a free speech advocate so I’ll probably get in some sort of trouble someday over something like this, let me know if you have any suggestions besides “keep your mouth shut” or “ask if it’s ok” lol.

  22. Hi, Sorry to hear abt this. When i read ur article in 2003 i was wondering why they would fire you for such a little thing. Now i know that this was not just a little thing. Those G5s were being shipped for the next generation console XBOX 360!!!!! And that was probably one of their biggest secret which they didnt want anyone to know the power of xbox 360, atleast in 2003

  23. I think you totally got what you deserved.. You ridiculed Microsoft, you insinuated that even their “Unholy Alliance” partners hardware wasn’t good enough that they had to use the enemies hardware.. You totally humiliated them and your wondering why you got terminated? They didn’t need a reason!! Anyone who is ungrateful and disloyal enough to do something like that to MS is obviously not going to be a team player MS wants.. I hope you understand this and stop this blog nonsense.. Your upset, your bitter, you probably know you were wrong but too arrogant to admit to it and YOU LOSE!!! BAM!

    Not even gutsy enough to say that with a name. Stupid reader. Buck up and own up to comments like this.

    As for you, Michael… you are handling this well. Don’t think you’re underqualified. I was too before I got my current job 2 years ago. Stick with it and maybe we have something for you up there.

  24. Why is it even news that Microsoft has Macs? They develop software for Macs after all right? They have done so since Apple was founded. This whole thing is stupid. Have a nice day.

  25. Apart from the story itself, this says a lot about the First Amendment.

    Unless you are luckly enough not to care about the need for a job, people do have to reconsider what they say in a blog.

    Free Speech is cherished the world over, yet apparently, doesn’t apply to anything your boss doesn’t like!

  26. so how did ms even know you had a blog? did you tell them? how often had you mentioned ms in previous posts? be sure of this: whatever they tell you is what they want you to think, not necessarily the truth.

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