In twenty-five years as a professional software person I’ve done quite a few things but they have all focused on, or at least started with, writing code. I am basically a programmer. Somewhere along the way, around the 2000’s if I recall, the term “software engineer” became the fashionable title. I always felt a little silly using it because I don’t have a degree in software anything, and my Dad is an actual engineer with stuff hanging on his walls to prove it. I didn’t go to family parties and talk about what an engineer I was. In fact I’m not sure I ever actually had the word “engineer” in my role until now. In this post I’m going to talk a little bit about how that changed.
Back in 2015 I had just finished up a gig writing a specialty search engine from the ground up, working on a two man team with friend and repeat colleague Joey Espinosa. With just two of us working for a somewhat tech-savvy business person that project was hands-on full-stack everything. We did the data layer, scraping engine, customized spiders for horrible ancient broken sites, web layer, networking, admin, everything. We deployed the app in docker containers using custom scaffolding on AWS instances. It was a ton of fun almost all the time, but business-wise it went nowhere.
Writing technical articles is hard work. I wrote my first one in 1993 for Dr. Dobb’s Journal (a link, more or less), and since then I have written a couple of dozen more. Last year I wrote three posts here on kubernetes networking that proved pretty popular and were picked up by the Google Cloud community blog. Each of these posts took dozens of hours of writing and research, not to mention creating accompanying graphics. And each of the posts got things wrong, despite my several years of experience with the platform and all the aforementioned research. As readers have chimed in with clarifications and corrections I have revisited the work and updated it where changes were needed. I know a lot of people are reading them and I’d like them to continue to be useful.
In all the years of writing I have never, as far as I know, been the source for a plagiarist. This is probably a testament to the level of obscurity in which I toiled. So I was fairly surprised when a kind reader named Ian Douglas reached out to me last week while I was attending Olark’s company retreat to let me know he had run into some content that was suspiciously similar to mine. I didn’t really have time to look into it until I returned home last night. When I did, sure enough, the content was suspiciously similar to mine. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions. Here’s a link to my post on pod networking, the first in the series, and the other guy’s post on the same topic:
The pattern continues for the whole series, but it would be tiresome to post them all. At least the author took the time to rewrite, rather than simply copy and paste text extracted from my posts. But the graphics were just snatched wholesale, and of course none of it is attributed to me.
Now, to be clear, I don’t make any money off these posts. Nobody has even offered me a job because of these posts. Which is fine because I’m not looking for one. I don’t really give a shit if someone copies them. My instinctive reaction would usually be “whatever.” If this had proven to be some small outfit in a developing nation copying my stuff for their website I’d be like: hey, if copying my stuff helps you get your business off the ground and make some money have at it. But the author of these derivative works is someone by the name of James Lee whose profile identifies him as an ex-Googler who lives in San Francisco.
I mean come on, man. I don’t even get to live in San Francisco. I live in one of the more expensive parts of New Jersey, where people from San Francisco come to downscale and improve monthly cash flow. Ok, that’s false, but it does strangely bother me more that I’ve been ripped off by someone who is probably a verified member of the privileged tech class. Maybe this is related to why he’s an ex-Googler. Who knows? But seriously, privileged people should not steal. It’s like taking two flutes of champagne from the tray at a fundraiser. There’s only so much ripping off that can be tolerated in a given period of time, and I think we should save that for people who need it.
So, James, if you’re looking to raise your profile and give your company a boost, the best way is persistent work. You can try an end run around that lamentable fact, but it will almost always come back to haunt you later. Like this.