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When I fix issues, some of them are company specific so I try to document them internally. Others are broad and can be applicable to any one. I try to document them in my own blog. I am wondering if it is ethically appropriate to do so?

For example, if I troubleshoot a user is not able to login, that is internal issue that I would not discuss externally. But if I troubleshoot how Excel expects a formula to be entered (I just made this up), I might document this in my own bog, hoping that one day it will help me (and can help other people as well).

What ethical concerns, if any, should I be aware of when exercising this practice?

  • I guess it is ethics related. I have no issue with management but want to know if this is ok according to work ethics. If this is not a suitable question, i will remove it. – rocketscience May 4 '12 at 13:41
  • I think this edit is more constructive and more likely to be of use to future visitors. It is not going to tell you if it is right or wrong but It should help you be aware of concerns so you can make your own determination. Is there any thing not covered? – IDrinkandIKnowThings May 4 '12 at 13:52
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    we probably need a guideline about this on meta. The same question becomes in scope if phrased differently. To me ethics related questions are totally fine here as long as long as they are not too localized. BTW I could just do what I am doing without asking and this could be terribly wrong practice. So where should I be asking this? – rocketscience May 4 '12 at 14:13
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    @rocketscience I think Chad was saying that his edit brought it more in scope (which it did, IMHO); I think it's fine now. The issue was the original yes/no right/wrong wording, which is a general SE issue (not just here). – jcmeloni May 4 '12 at 14:15
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    @rocketscience Unless you are actively vandalising posts, attacking users or something equally nasty, you are not ruining the site. We don't close questions because they are ruining the site, we close them because for one reason or another they either don't fit the expertise or format of the site, and that's just it. Great questions might not fit, it's not something to worry about. – yannis May 4 '12 at 14:16
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I do not think it is unethical at all. Unless you are posting trade secrets, company proprietary information (especially financial), company customer information, or downright false information about your company than I think you are in the clear.

As an example, check out Steve Yeggie's Google Platforms Rant. Steve posted this publicly on his Google+ account. He originally meant it to be private. I think even posts like this have their place and are not unethical by any means.

My company actually encourages employees to publish articles about technical/business/personal solutions encountered at work and they even provide some small incentives for doing so.

No technical challenge you come across in your day-to-day is going to be so groundbreaking that sharing it would cause irreparable damage. In fact, I'm wondering how many times a day you look for help online in the form of a blog post or article that someone else has written. I know I couldn't even make it through the day without asking Google for some kind of help.

If you work for a company that is afraid to let their employees do what you are suggesting, then I'd seriously start thinking of finding a better place to work.

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From the draft of our acceptable use policy:

Blogging

  1. Blogging by employees, whether using 'Company Name'’s property and systems or personal computer systems, is also subject to the terms and restrictions set forth in this Policy. Limited and occasional use of 'Company Name'’s systems to engage in blogging is acceptable, provided that it is done in a professional and responsible manner, does not otherwise violate 'Company Name'’s policy, is not detrimental to 'Company Name'’s best interests, and does not interfere with an employee's regular work duties. Blogging from 'Company Name'’s systems is also subject to monitoring.
  2. 'Company Name'’s Confidential Information policy also applies to blogging. As such, Employees are prohibited from revealing any 'Company Name' confidential or proprietary information, trade secrets or any other material covered by 'Company Name'’s Confidential Information policy when engaged in blogging.
  3. Employees shall not engage in any blogging that may harm or tarnish the image, reputation and/or goodwill of 'Company Name' and/or any of its employees. Employees are also prohibited from making any discriminatory, disparaging, defamatory or harassing comments when blogging or otherwise engaging in any conduct prohibited by 'Company Name'’s Non-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment policy.
  4. Employees may also not attribute personal statements, opinions or beliefs to 'Company Name' when engaged in blogging. If an employee is expressing his or her beliefs and/or opinions in blogs, the employee may not, expressly or implicitly, represent themselves as an employee or representative of 'Company Name'. Employees assume any and all risk associated with blogging.
  5. Apart from following all laws pertaining to the handling and disclosure of copyrighted or export controlled materials, 'Company Name'’s trademarks, logos and any other 'Company Name' intellectual property may also not be used in connection with any blogging activity

I do get that you are approaching this from an ethical and not a contractual standpoint, however I feel that clauses 3 to 5 give a very good idea of what's generally accepted and what not when it comes to employees blogging about their work related activities.

At the end of the day it's up to you to apply good judgement and decide whether what you write on your blog may may harm or tarnish the image, reputation and/or goodwill of 'Company Name' and/or any of its employees, but if in doubt you can always ask: Show a draft of your post to your manager or to your co-workers, after all they are going to read it anyways after you post it.

  • Let me add this here, I am really not using company name in any imaginary way nor I am blogging about anything that is proprietary to the company. No question about. The fact that I am blogging about a technical solution which I solved during my work, it is ethically ok. On one hand it is documentation that I can use later and on the hand it is on my personnel blog not on the company site. – rocketscience May 4 '12 at 17:21
  • @rocketscience Well the gist of it is that if you are in doubt, you should ask. A small insignificant technical detail you may share on your blog might get you fired, this isn't really about ethics. You may not use the company's name directly but your peers know where you work, it's not difficult to make the connection. – yannis May 4 '12 at 17:24
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There are several factors to consider:

  1. Direct disclosure. Saying anything that reveals confidential information is a breach of trust (and probably a violation of your non-disclosure agreement). (This one should be pretty obvious, but I include it for completeness.)

  2. Indirect disclosure. Suppose your company is working on some super-secret new techology. You don't post anything about that, but you start posting about very specific APIs or OS features in a way that could lead somebody to deduce what you're working on. Even though you didn't say it and didn't reveal secrets directly, you left the door open. Excel formulas are probably pretty safe -- unless you have previously only posted about web services and networking, and you're now working on "Excel in the cloud" (I made that up).

  3. Funding. Work you do on your own blog shouldn't be done on the company dime, unless there is a policy about that sort of thing that says it's ok. If there is such a policy, it's probably intended for general knowledge-sharing; a blog would be more iffy than, say, posting answers on Stack Overflow, which employers may see as not only ok but a good thing. This is an area where what is permitted varies by employer, so check with yours.

  4. Your employment agreement. If you signed an agreement that governs outside activities, read it carefully. Sometimes this just means "no working for competitors" but sometimes it means "we own everything job-related that you produce". I don't know how common the latter form is these days (or where you live), but if it applies, ethical behavior would require that you stay within the constraints of what you signed.

  • The only thing i want to clarify here what is applicable to me is 3. Funding. I don't earn any money from my blog btw. No body even visits it. But I do add article in company time (may be 5-10 min an article) and probably close to 2 hours in a week. The thing is that it is documentation that I can use for my reference. Usually I would add only those article that I can't find help in any blog or QA site and I find the solution the hard way. – rocketscience May 5 '12 at 17:06
  • @rocketscience, it doesn't necessarily matter if you earn money from your blog. Your employer is paying you to do work for their benefit; if posts to that blog don't fall under that umbrella, there's an ethical issue to consider. (They might prefer a company wiki, for instance.) 5-10 minutes doesn't sound like a lot, but 2 hours is 5% of a 40-hour work week. Most employers tolerate "reasonable" amounts of personal surfing and the like; whether 2hrs/week qualifies is something I can't answer, and beyond the scope of this question. – Monica Cellio May 6 '12 at 3:46
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I think single most criteria that determines this is the intellectual property related to work and product at hand.

In general, when some problem is very specific publishing without context might be hard. But there are broader solutions which are good to publish but should you really do this?

I will answer this by example:

Out here, we have tried to implement a core algorithms in one our key product. We didn't published them as papers (or as blogs) but did filed for patents (which is also publishing by the way) - this is because Intellectual property for the same was very crucial. And would definitely give away strong advantage over competition.

However, at the same time - we also ended up creating a new design over the database access (a typical ORM model if you know). While this is very interesting and would invite quite a bit of academic interest and also it is no harm to share with world around.

Many large companies specially their research wings have continuous work towards open publishing (such as papers, books, blogs) as well as owned publishing (such as patents). The criteria for going either way is the significance of intellectual property involved.

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