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I have a friend working as a software development intern. She mentioned to me that a senior developer, who works with her, was remoting into her virtual machine and discreetly watching her code the other day.

She only noticed because she had trouble moving her mouse (her pointer moved when she wasn't moving the mouse). Then when the she encountered an issue in her code, the senior developer immediately messaged her on Slack with suggestions. She thought the timing was suspicious, so she politely asked if he was remoted into the virtual machine and he said yes.

After this, she started to recall that there were several other instances that he provided helpful suggestions right when she encountered issues. She didn't ask about that though since it was in the past and she was unsure.

She feels this behavior is concerning because he seems, from her perspective, to be making small advances towards her, with this latest action being a much larger step compared to previous actions. Other behaviors include:

  • Over complimenting her presentations with comments like, "you're so amazing and cute, any developer would rush to help you." (I don't recall the exact wording, but I know 'cute' was in there.)
  • Adding her on Facebook and then changing the icon to a blue heart, and then to a red heart. She changed it to a random green icon because she thought a heart is strange.
  • Messaging about non-work related items past midnight

She is not too concerned with those minor behaviors, because she fends them off by keeping messages short and work related, not replying after work hours (unless absolutely necessary), sitting away from him meetings, going to other senior developers for help when possible, etc.

But the discreet remoting really bothered her, and she isn't sure what to do because:

  • She is only an intern and feels causing friction could hurt chances of a job offer. She likes the company, the position, and the people, just not this specific person.
  • The senior developer has lots of connections. Burning bridges could hurt the future career
  • Her project is related to the senior developer's work, so they will have to work together for the remainder of her internship which is about half way through.
  • She isn't sure if this technically counts as any sort of harassment since he was only providing suggestions by monitoring the virtual machines
  • As far as she knows, he has not monitored other interns because no one else in their group of interns mentioned anything. Though she did not explicitly ask, because she doesn't want to start drama.

This is her first internship, so she asked me if her concern, and for lack of a better word, weirded-out feelings were justified. I don't work in the software industry, so I am not sure if that is a standard practice for senior developers helping interns.

So my questions are:

Are her weirded-out, uncomfortable feelings justified?

If so, what advice can I give her for the situation?

If not, what is something she can do to perhaps just avoid this situation all together?

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    The remoting into her pc issue seems like the smallest issue in this question. Why was that specifically targeted when the others would be grounds for immediate dismissal of the senior dev in virtually any company? She just needs to go to HR and say this guy keeps calling her cute and sending her hearts on facebook, problem solved. – Jesse_b Aug 10 at 20:50
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    I can only say that if I did this to a junior developer, especially a female one, and that junior developer went to my boss, I would be in deeper **** than I have ever been in my life. – gnasher729 Aug 11 at 21:02
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    Sounds like he's trying to flirt but has really no idea how to do so in a socially-acceptable manner. – forest Aug 14 at 7:32
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Wow. The senior dev sounds like a complete creep.

Are her weirded-out, uncomfortable feelings justified?

Yes, I think you'd struggle to find anyone who would consider this as reasonable or normal behaviour. It's not standard practice in the industry - far from it. If (as a senior dev), I want to review work, I sit with the intern and we go through it together. I certainly wouldn't open a remote connection to their computer and watch what they were doing, without their knowledge or consent, it's just plain sketchy and not only that I've got my own stuff I need to be doing!

Unless other Senior Devs in the business do this with their interns, and it's published and documented and the interns are told this is happening, this is a huge invasion of privacy and probably illegal in some states.

As for the other activities (adding on FB, messaging after hours, making personal comments), these are completely inappropriate and unprofessional. You mention this dev has connections - it's fair to bet that they won't want him as a connection if they hear about this.

If so, what advice can I give her for the situation? If not, what is something she can do to perhaps just avoid this situation all together?

Go directly to the Senior Devs' manager and tell them what the Senior Dev is doing, and let them handle it.

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    I have nothing of substance to add to your answer, but couldn't leave the page without seconding that this behaviour is exceptionally creepy and unprofessional. I hope he's fired. – Phueal Aug 10 at 13:00
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    Oh! One thing of substance to add: worth noting that if he replied "yes" on Slack then there's a paper trail. She should screenshot that response. – Phueal Aug 10 at 13:01
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    The more I read of the OP the more horrified I got. If this guy worked for me I'd fire him on the spot. I really sympathise with your friend @siushi and hope she is able to get a positive resolution out of this. It's most certainly not normal behaviour. – AdzzzUK Aug 10 at 14:41
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    Since this is going to be a somewhat awkward conversation, the friend should make herself an outline of her concerns. She needs to be prepared to tell everything in the first meeting, and she needs to tell a consistent story if other meetings are necessary, say perhaps with HR. She needs to just tell the facts. Not starting drama with other interns is absolutely right in my opinion. – MaxW Aug 10 at 20:07
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    In isolation, the screen snooping is at best unprofessional. With the FB stuff and "cute" comments on top, it gets waaaay into creepy territory. – Jane S Aug 11 at 0:24
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I fully agree with the answer of @AdzzzUK. I am a team lead (male, senior), and his behavior is unimaginably nonprofessional.

If so, what advice can I give her for the situation?

  • Read the IT/security guidelines of the company. If these forbid such kinds of behavior, then report it to the IT/security. If I would be IT and I would learn that people circumvented my authentication for session access, I would try to get them fired.
  • Do not to worry about repercussions. People like the senior dev also tend to over-represent or over-estimate their own influence. People who have the time to "supervise" an intern without giving him/her time to prepare specific questions they need to have answered are typically not very important or influential in the company. If they are (and their manages and/or HR don't react), then it's best to avoid the company anyway.
  • Also: The behaviors of people like this senior dev are very often known/suspected in their surroundings.
  • Calling a colleague (intern or not, female or not, young or old) "cute" is something unacceptable.

If not, what is something she can do to perhaps just avoid this situation all together?

Sadly, nothing besides watching out for the company culture, not friending colleagues on Facebook, and silencing them on WhatsApp the moment you leave the door in the evening. (But watching out for the company culture is the most important). Also, be straight and polite about this like "Sorry, unless I am on call duty I deactivate messaging from colleagues and by principle I don't friend colleagues on Facebook - but we can connect on XING/LinkedIn."

And senior devs who are incapable of disabling features like mouse control when secretly remoting are not worth anything.

Update after comments - some sexist people seem not to realize it otherwise: Calling her "so cute that every developer will help" directly puts a shadow of doubt on her future successes and directly belittles her professional competence. Also: It's creepy if she did not do anything to invite compliments on her body.

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    "People like the senior dev also tend to over-represent or over-estimate their own influence" This. Great point. – AdzzzUK Aug 10 at 12:40
  • I wouldn't start multiple discussions. So rather than talk to IT too, just start talk with sr. developer's manager and ask about IT policy. – MaxW Aug 10 at 19:57
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    One of your points is "calling a young female colleague (intern or not) "cute" is something unacceptable." Are there any colleagues who the subject is not properly romantically involved with (e.g. a spouse) to whom "cute" would be acceptable? – Andrew Morton Aug 10 at 21:35
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I can't speak to the screen mirroring - as a senior dev, it may be part of his position to mentor interns and either direct over the shoulder monitoring or similar screen monitoring could be acceptable to me IF it was understood to be part of internship requirements or process and was being applied somewhat equally across the intern "pool". Heck, I do the same thing in the classroom (I teach Linux admin courses in a technical degree track). But I also tell my students that I can do it, and I demonstrate it in action on the projector.

The other behavior - adding on FB, the heart icon choice, the inappropriate comments - is just flat out unprofessional and wrong, no matter the internship requirements or requirements of the business/industry you are interning in. Should you choose to go further with this (ie, HR and/or lawyer) this is the direction to focus your complaint.

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    The screen mirroring is also pretty common in some industries where compliance is strict. Listening in on calls, and watching the screens of some workers is considered normal. They are usually told about this ahead of time though. Good point in your second paragraph. – Cypher Aug 13 at 19:07
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Are her feelings justified? Sure.

If so, what advice can I give her for the situation? If not, what is something she can do to perhaps just avoid this situation all together?

Send him an email from a company account that says, "You're making me uncomfortable. Please stop spying on my machine and sending personal messages." And don't ask him any questions or tell him anything that isn't directly about work. Ignore 100% of any personal messages he sends you. Unfriend on FB. If he keeps it up after this or acts weird, mention it to your manager in private.

  • I strongly disagree with this. facing this person is the last thing that she should do, the companies usually have a HR department to deal with this kind of things, she should try to reach this department so they can handle the situation. – Blazerg Aug 28 at 10:19
  • @Blazerg If she never told him to stop, she doesn't have a leg to stand on. It's not like he physically assaulted her (which would warrant calling the cops). HR will ask if she bothered to tell him to stop or not. Then they will tell her what I told her. – HenryM Aug 28 at 17:56
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Where I worked so far people were allowed to install their private messenger app on the work computer, so they don't have to type on their small phone screens. Also browsing private stuff was always allowed. So someone remoting into this computer would be an inaccaptable breach of privacy and would get the person fired immediately. The fact that he can technically do this means also that he could modify your code maliciously and commit it in your name and other very bad things.

When we mentor interns they usually ask questions and then we go over to their machine and discuss the problem, or the commit the changes and ask to take a look at it. There is never the need to remote into another machine, let alone in such a sneaky way.

Ask your manager if you can get assigned another mentor and if he asks way tell the whole story and let him decide what to do. Maybe he won't be able to fire him right now because they are in the middle of an important project, but it will definitely lead to something.

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Mirroring a co-workers' screen without at least informing her is very strange practice. It's possible the company has a policy of doing this. But it's unlikely.

Each behavior in the question by itself is slightly off. Taken together, they definitely cross the line into sexual harassment. This is especially true considering the power imbalance between your friend and the perpetrator.

This kind of thing puts everybody at risk: the company, the intern, and even the perpetrator. It needs to be stopped.

The company almost certainly has a sexual harassment policy. It almost certainly says "report this bad stuff to your manager, or to xxxxx person." Often xxxxx is a female executive or senior manager.

Your friend does not have to put up with this behavior. She should do any of these things she's comfortable with:

  • Tell the perpetrator to stop the behavior. "Please don't monitor my screen without letting me know first. Please don't use words like 'cute' to describe my physical appearance. Please don't interact with me on my personal social media accounts."
  • Report the behavior to the supervisor or the alternate person, and ask that person to make it stop.
  • Keep notes, on paper, of dates, times, and behaviors. Take the paper home at night.
  • If the internship was organized by her college, tell the professor in charge of organizing it.

It may be very uncomfortable for her, herself, to tell the perpetrator to stop. She doesn't have to do this herself if she doesn't want to. But, she should definitely report it in that case. "I wonder if you can help me? Joe Senior has been making me uncomfortable at work. Detail. Detail. Detail. Can you ask him to stop doing this?"

(Keep in mind that managers and executives can get really freaked out the first time they get this kind of complaint. It's wise to give them some time -- overnight maybe -- to figure out how to move forward.)

Good luck and courage to your friend.

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I would never work for a company where someone can remotely control my computer without my permission.

Sometimes you exchange emails with HR containing your personal information regarding visa, salary, medical conditions, full address, next of keen etc., and that is a private information. You also have to provide ssn/sin and bank info for payroll and that is a sensitive information that you don't want other people to see. Also as a team leader I want my developers to feel safe to allow them to reply to their personal email, do a bank transaction and other things that would save them time.

For that reason there is a policy that every new employee would format and reinstall a new copy of OS and I would give them a license key and manual for setting up the network, computer name etc. That will also ensure that no rogue developer can install a trojan/rootkit on anyone's machine.

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Are her weirded-out, uncomfortable feelings justified?

Yes. Such practice is definitely not normal. It would have been ok, if she had been made aware that senior developer is going to watch her work and give advices - and of course, if there were no other disturbing behaviours, like setting the FB icon to heart for example.

If so, what advice can I give her for the situation?

She could:

  • speak about it to the manager / CEO
  • possibly make the Employment Tribunal (or some similar organisation that exists in the US) aware of the situation
  • run away and never return...

If not, what is something she can do to perhaps just avoid this situation all together?

Possible solutions:

  • If there is no obligation for her to have her computer connected to the internet, she could just disconnect it. (and use other device to access internet if that is allowed in the company)
  • Disable notifications on FB, if there is no obligation for her to check the FB messenger, and stick with Slack only, during the work hours.

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