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One More Turkey? 'Fired for Using Linux'

One More Turkey? 'Fired for Using Linux'

The story of the Linux job candidate who lost out because he couldn't access the online competency test he needed to take using Firefox on his Linux computer has divided the blogosphere. Is it a case of Linux abuse by a certain three-letter company, or is it a case of a disgruntled candidate making excuses? "This guy wasn't fired for using Linux, this guy was fired for having ZERO problem-solving skills," argued Slashdot blogger hairyfeet.

By Katherine Noyes
11/30/09 4:00 AM PT

The Linux Blog Safari "Tech Turkeys" column may have come and gone, but there's one more story to share that could almost have been included.

What else can you call it, after all, when a Linux professional is apparently fired for using Linux?

Sound too strange to be true? Better read on.

'Three Letters in Their Name'

The story involves an American principal, an Indian contracting company, a "large computer/server company with three letters in their name" and a "large credit card company with four letters in their name," as HeliOS's Ken Starks discreetly put it.

The problem? When asked by said three-lettered computer company to take an online competency test in order to win a contract involving Linux servers, the principal couldn't get said test to render in Firefox on his Linux desktop computer.

Not only that, but the company's project manager apparently didn't know what Firefox was. While waiting for a laptop with IE to be sent to him, the principal tried to get tech support to make Firefox work.

The result? Bye-bye, contract.

A 'Friend to Linux'?

"I'll let you be the ones to point out the obvious," Starks wrote -- "the fact that this large computer/server company with three letters in their name is reportedly a 'friend to Linux.'

"I'll let you talk about how a Linux professional who uses Linux as their desktop environment was denied access to employment," he continued. "Employment that was based on his knowledge of Linux."

Hear that thundering noise in the distance? It's the stampede of bloggers, rushing to have their say.

'3-letter company, YE SUCK'

In addition to the 100-plus comments the story garnered on the Helios blog, Digg bloggers jumped in with more than 1,000 Diggs and 200 comments of their own.

Bottom line? Outrage, disbelief, and an assortment of other strong emotions.

"3-letter company, YE SUCK," wrote Anonymous in the Helios comments, for example.

"But is it *really* that much of a surprise?" asked another anonymous blogger. "This is how Linux gets its bad rap..."

Windows Wins Again?

What's going to happen "is that a Windows shop is going to get the contract," the blogger predicted. "They're going to run up cost overages and then either conclude, 'it's not possible, you should use Windows,' or deliver a broken solution that needs endless support."

Then again: "I strongly suspect your blog is mostly a work of fiction," charged yet another anonymous commenter. "There has been just one too many of these mysterious, uncorroborated whoppers for me to extend you any further credibility."

There may be something to that, Linux Girl couldn't help but think (to wit: this and this, for example). Not that she's complaining! Nevertheless, she took to the streets of the blogosphere for more insight.

'What Do You Expect?'

"Well, what do you expect from bureaucratic purchasing/acquisition departments?" blogger Robert Pogson began. "They make so many rules, nothing makes sense.

"I had a recent encounter with an outfit that is supposed to be platform-neutral, but you needed not only IE but that other OS to use their site," Pogson told LinuxInsider.

"Firefox was listed as a supported browser, but it would not work from GNU/Linux," he added.

'The Guy Was Incompetent'

Alternatively: "I'm sorry, but the guy was incompetent," charged Slashdot blogger hairyfeet. "You are telling me he is qualified to do a bunch of major overhauls to a server system and he doesn't have a SINGLE Windows VM? None? I'm sorry but that is just stupid."

Even if he didn't have one, "he DID have high speed, right?" hairyfeet asked. "He could have downloaded an evaluation version of Winserver, probably of Windows 7 desktop as well, made a VM and been up and running in a couple of hours tops."

In short, "this guy wasn't fired for using Linux, this guy was fired for having ZERO problem-solving skills," hairyfeet told LinuxInsider. "I'm willing to bet they figured if this guy had to call tech support and couldn't figure out this problem, how good was he gonna be with something he couldn't call tech support for?"

'Fired for That? Disgusting'

On the other hand: "I would be quite frustrated by being forced to use a Windows laptop to access the VPN," Slashdot blogger David Masover opined. "Cross-platform VPNs are easy to find, but that's not the issue. Having to use PuTTY for SSH isn't that much worse than running SSH in Konsole. I don't know whether PuTTY was used in this case, it's just the obvious choice."

Of course, "I also wouldn't have tried a workaround _after_ I'd been informed that I was receiving a laptop for that purpose," Masover acknowledged. "But being fired for that? Disgusting."

There is no credible reason for the company to reject one browser over another, he added. It is also "selecting against curious, motivated individuals" and in favor of "cogs in a machine," he added.

Unique 'Pitfalls'

Another view: "I have worked projects for large companies, including Microsoft and Intel," Chris Travers, a Slashdot blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project, told LinuxInsider. "Reading the facts listed in the blog entry leads me in a very different direction."

Large companies "are intensely political organizations," Travers explained. "In some ways contractors have it easy," but they "also have to watch out for a few pitfalls that employees don't."

In this case, "the biggest issue is that a contractor has to keep a number of parties happy and has to avoid looking bad politically," he noted.

'Let It Be'

"The lesson contractors should take from this is to work very closely with the department that is retaining the services and to avoid going out of his/her way to have other interactions," Travers advised.

"If the laptop is on its way, don't call tech support trying to get the issue fixed," he warned. "Doing so makes one look like a zealot. Just having made the initial call is enough to register one's belief that the page needs to be fixed. Let it be."

Indeed, "it's not really a secret that idiocy abounds in the credit card processing industry," Montreal consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack told LinuxInsider.

'You Will Pay the Price'

"The PCI folks set standards that need to be complied with, but those standards have much more to do with setting up the right kinds of internal bureaucracy than they do with actually making things more secure," he asserted. "If you cross the resulting bureaucracy, you will pay the price."

It's still not uncommon to find sites that don't work with Firefox, Slashdot blogger Barbara Hudson told LinuxInsider.

"My first response is to try with Opera; sometimes it works," she said. "After that, I boot my laptop into Windows, do the updates that have accumulated in the six months since the last time I booted Windows, then go to the site."

'He Isn't Listening'

The principal's first mistake was "ignoring the obvious," Hudson asserted.

"If it's a job testing site, and it's clearly IE-only, why risk having it mess up the submission process and making you look like a total n00b?" she asked. "Imagine how you'd feel if you got every answer correct, but because you didn't follow directions and use IE, they all ended up in the response database as null fields."

If the principal "couldn't pick up from the 'What's this Firefox thing?' question that management was all-Windows, all the time -- and act accordingly -- he might be hearing, but he isn't listening," she added.

'Blatant Sexism'

Starks' description of the female project manager's unfamiliarity with Firefox, meanwhile, betrays "blatant sexism" on his part, Hudson charged.

"The only thing missing is the :rollseyes: emoticon," she explained. "Mr. Starks might ask if Mrs. Starks feels the same every time she has to refill the toilet paper holder because he leaves one lonely square on it (and that is only 1 ply, when the roll is 2-ply tissue), or pick his dirty underwear up off the floor.

"Just saying ... because in fairness, if you're going to be sexist," she concluded, "you've got to be able to take it if you're dishing it out."

Lessons to Be Learned

After this long season of The Great Sexism Debate, Linux Girl isn't inclined to touch that one, she must confess.

But there's no doubt the story holds lessons for those hoping to work with large companies -- even the three-lettered variety. Lesson No. 1, in Linux Girl's view: If you're seeking technical employment, don't call tech support!


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