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We've all probably experienced Security by Obscurity. Most of us have now seen Security by Oblivity. Kurt G. is the only one I know who has come face-to-face with Security by Insanity ....
It all began on the first interview, the moment I entered their building. I was asked to sign a four-page Non-Disclosure Agreement and was sternly warned that no recording devices of any kind were allowed in the building. It didn't seem that unheard of, so I assured them that I had no intention of recording the interview and signed the agreement, thereby swearing on my life that I would never describe to another living soul what I saw on the premises that day. To this day, I cannot reveal which motivational poster I saw framed in the only room I was allowed to see: the conference room off the entrance.
The interview was not terribly off-base, though it did strike me as odd that I would have to wait for the second interview to see their shop floor. And that was if I was "lucky." As the hiring manager put it, "we don't kiss on the first date." I guess that was all it took for me to agree to a second interview, one week later.
When I arrived for the second interview, they reminded me that no recording devices were allowed, and that I would have to sign yet another Non-Disclosure Agreement before I could even be considered for entry in the inner sanctum that lay beyond the conference room door. After a brief chat and some discussion amongst themselves, they deemed that I was trustworthy enough to see the secret realms and guided me inside.
The core of their daily activity was in the electronics workshop, in which a few dozen subdued technicians hunched quietly over their test circuits, jotting down notes. I was told that technicians' notebooks were locked up every night in a safe to make sure not even a single scrap of paper could leave the building undetected. Additionally radios, laptops, recordable media, and even music playing devices were banned from entering the premises. Makes sense, after all. Music leads to dancing.
By now you may have guessed that this interview happened at Area 51 and this company was reconstructing a top secret warp drive engine salvaged from a UFO. Not quite. They were making test equipment for timing circuits. That's it. That was their big secret (pray I don't get sued).
The company's claim to fame was that they made the best damn circuit test equipment money could buy. Though it wasn't for sale yet (it was still being tested), they were certain that their phantom competitors were trying to steal their ideas. In fact, they came right out and asked me if I worked for the archrivals, and also reminded me that I better not be lying because I already signed paper stating that I was not a corporate spy. Thank goodness I wasn't a spy.
At the end of the second interview they handed me a 14 page contract, a mere review copy of their standard Employee Agreement. The document mostly spelled out the various entertainment devices employees were not allowed to bring into the building, the number of minutes per lunch break, and the process of turning in notebooks at of the end of each day. This didn't mean that I was hired; it was simply an opportunity to read through the contract in case I had any questions about it. In the meantime, once they were sure I was not a corporate spy, they might ask me back for a third interview.
Another week passed and I was back in their conference room, ready to discuss the Employee Agreement. The first question I had was about the workweek: the contract described a forty-hour week in one part, yet mentioned that employees would work six days a week, eight hours a day. Before I could finish the question, the VP suddenly froze and starred stunned by my copy of their Sacred Contract.
He saw my pencil marks on the page, where I underlined the two conflicting sections. He snatched the document out of my hand and glared at the pencil markings. He flipped from page and to page, and to his disgust he found MORE PENCIL MARKS! Not just in the margins, but on the words themselves! Pencil marks! There were ugly questions marks, lines, arrows, and circles around words; it was appalling to him! He looked up from the paper and gave me stare of utter sadness and betrayal.
"You ... altered The Contract" he mumbled.
"No," I corrected him, "I made a few notes on the review copy you gave me; you told me to review it, and so, these are my notes."
"You altered ... The Contract!," he insisted.
"Errm ... no," I didn't know how simplify it further him, "this is not a contract unless we both sign it. Nothing has been signed yet. You told me last week that this is just a review copy, and those pencil marks are just my comments about it."
The VP sat silent and confused. He flipped through my copy again, growing more and more disgusted at each pencil mark. He dashed out of the conference room in search of a pencil eraser. He return moments later, exasperated and unable to find a pencil eraser anywhere in the building because. After all, erasers can be used to alter data and, therefore, were a security risk. Only pens were allowed in the building. Blue ink, to be exact.
He had no idea what to do; he had no access to the tools that could remove my offensive markings on The Contract. I offered this brilliant can-do solution instead: "You could just go back to your desk and print a new copy, right?"
That made no sense to him. No, can't do that. He shook his head. No. NO!!!
I calmly tried to explain it to him: "We don't have to sign this copy of The Contract. If we're going to sign anything, you'd print a fresh copy, and then we would sign that copy."
He couldn't hear me. There were pencil marks on The Contract! Pencil marks! He grabbed my pencil marked pages and bolted out the door again, leaving me alone in the conference room to contemplate the horrible things I had done. After about fifteen minutes, three people entered the conference room. They did not sit. They stood over me. The first speak was the President and Founder of the company.
"Did you ... do this?" she asked referring to pencil markings on The Contract.
"Yes, you gave a copy for review, and asked me to review it, so I sketched a few comments on my copy."
"YOU ALTERED THE CONTRACT!!!" she yelled, glaring at me in disbelief.
"That's not a contract unless we both sign it." I tried to explain again. "Nobody signed that."
"We can't sign this!" she said, "YOU ALTERED IT!!!"
"I did not expect to sign that." I said, "I always assumed we'd sign a fresh copy. You guys can print another copy of this document, can't you?"
Rather than answer my question she announced "Now I have to call my lawyer!" and stormed out of the room.
The VP and head of HR were left standing there wagging their heads at me. "You shouldn't have done that," one of them gravely mumbled at me.
"No, you can't alter a contract." the other chimed in. We sat in silence for several minutes until the President returned, resolute with her lawyer's verdict. I assumed that, at this point, he'd congratulate me for being on Candid Camera. Not quite.
"We can not sign this copy; we have to destroy it and print a new copy."
That seemed reasonable. Everyone agreed that would solve our great dilemma.
"BUT THIS TIME..." she sternly warned me, "DON'T MAKE ANY CHANGES TO IT!"
I apologized and assured her that I would not even think to do such a horrendous crime to any graven images of The Contract. With peace and calmness restored, the VP explained to me the Saturday work policy: everyone has to work on Saturday, including the engineers, which would be me.
Any more questions? I didn't dare ask, so the interview was over.
Just for laughs, I waited by the phone for a few weeks just in case they made me an offer. This was America in the 90's so could I expect an amazing salary? A signing bonus? A company car? Stock options? Keys to the time share in Bermuda? Not quite. They called me with their best offer: $23K/year. Salary. No benefits. For 48 hours/week. And they said they were being generous because their normal starting pay for engineers was $22K. I laughed and hung up the phone. They didn't call back. I threw away The Contract.
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