Saturday, October 11, 2008

Matters of Ownership (ethics)

I've seen job ads where the recruiting companies want to look at samples of an applicant's work. I've heard technical writers declare brazenly, "Oh, I have removed all references to the company's name, and masked all the company-specific information. Therefore, I can use it as my sample because I have created it."

Please allow me to tell you a little story.

There's this old, wizened man back home in my native town. Let's call him Wajid Ali. He is the one who built the house that we live in. Why do we live in the house and not him? Because my grandfather owned the house and passed it on to my father. How could my grandfather own the house when Wajid Ali was the one to build it? Because my grandfather got the house built, Wajid Ali was only a contractor who was paid to build it. My grandfather had bought the services of Wajid Ali. At the end of the day, contractors do not own the houses they build.

Technical writers, generally speaking, are much like Wajid Ali. They are employed by others to write documents for those others. Despite all the hard work and creativity that goes into making those documents, at the end of the day it is those others who own the document, not the technical writer. It follows, therefore, that a technical writer cannot show off such documents without express permission from the document owners. The document owners have bought the document from the technical writers. This is what lies at the heart of all the stuff about NDAs and document ownership.

It is extremely bad behaviour (I am being polite, I swear) to use a company's resources (authoring tools, documentation infrastructure) to create something and show it off as a sample without seeking the company's permission first.

Oh, um, but we all may want to change jobs at some point of time. What do we do if we're asked to present some samples of our work? Two options come readily to my mind:

  • Ask the document owner (present employer, contracting agency, whatever) for permission to use what I've created as samples.
  • Create my own samples, in my own time, using my own resources.

:) Like I read in my very first book when I was a child of not even five years (yep, I started early) - পরের দ্রব্য় না বলিয়া ল‍ইলে তাহাকে চুরি বলা হয় | যাহারা চোর, তাহাদের কেও দেখিতে পারে না | (Translation from the Bengali original: Taking another's object without telling that person is called stealing. No one loves a thief.)

1 comment:

Geek said...

The last quote is very true.