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Last week, there was an industry conference where I was selected to pitch for my company.

Things have been difficult for me professionally recently as I didn’t get a major contract and keep worrying that I can’t keep up. I was really putting in the time for the pitch, hoping that it would give me some clarity. I’ve never been a confident person and never really got away from the feedback cycle in university, where there were always little bits of good news.

I do my pitch. It goes fine, but there was no obvious love from the audience. The applause sounds socially obligated. I thought that I had failed and wasn’t in a good mood.

The voting URL was put on the projector with a code and everyone was to vote while we got dinner. We were going to go as a team, but two devs said they had to deal with a “server problem” and took out their laptops and went to the corner. Not too unusual so far, as things happen.

We eat and go back to our seats. 15 minutes after the voting closed, they announced that the process “had clearly not been fair” so they decided to redo the vote in a 10 minute window. The two devs had another “server fault” and went off again, returning 15 minutes later, just in time to be there when I won.

I was so happy for the first time in a long time. No longer trapped under the rubble of past failure. There was joy in my heart and confidence in my voice.

Because I didn’t feel obligated to keep working late, I went to see my mom over the weekend and we celebrated with drinks. Chatted with a friend as well and told them the good news.

Today, the boss bought me lunch, some of the guys brang a cake, and everybody gave me hugs. Life was back on track!

Later today, the other female employee came and told me about how the two male devs who suddenly had to deal with a tech problem during the event had actually gone and used a bot on the form, which is why the first set of votes were invalidated. She thought that I should know the truth.

On the one hand, I’m grateful that they cared so much (I’m one of just two women at a tech startup of 20 and have struggled to be accepted) but also concerned at how easily they congratulated me about winning and easily used it as proof that I “had what it takes” and “just had a run of bad luck.”

They casually lied to my face about how I was great and had won over everyone at the conference when I probably would have come in 5th had they not used the bot. My confidence is gone again. But had I lost, I also wouldn’t be feeling good about myself.

They also had no confidence in me that I could win it by myself. Was the bot a vote against me? Something to use to push me out later?

I also feel bad for the person who lost as he seemed so nice and genuine. I also feel like a fraud to my mother and best friend and really don’t want to have to tell them I lost (again).

Should I just keep quiet? Ask the guys about it? Talk to the boss/CEO? Should I still consider quitting? Could two software engineers even build a bot to fill in a form in 90 minutes?

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    Have you verified any of this at all beyond the word of the one co-worker? As the creator of the form was incompetent if a bot could so easily be made for it. And are you sure it was a bot and not your co-workers just voting several times using Incognito mode or something? The latter is extremely common at conferences with these awards. – Matthew Gaiser Nov 26 '19 at 6:24
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    @MatthewGaiser so the creator of the form is incompetent if a bot can be made for it, but just fine they rely on a cookie that can be bypassed by using incognito mode? – Based Nov 26 '19 at 13:54
  • It seems to me like you don't know how to feel about this, and that's not something we can answer for you. Also consider the motivations of the person who told you the truth - maybe she wanted to take you down a peg. – AndreiROM Nov 26 '19 at 14:43
  • "used a bot on the form, which is why the first set of votes were invalidated. " if the first set of votes was invalidated, it looks like the situation was back to normal for the second, doesn't it ? did she tell you that they were still cheating during the second round ? it looks to me that you can assume you won in good faith. anyway, without the ethical aspect, these people seems to care about you :) – GlorfSf Nov 26 '19 at 14:45
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    I'd like to vote for not closing this. This is clearly workplace-related, for someone suffering badly from Imposter Syndrome which is something that bites many of us. I think it would be profoundly disrespectful to the OP to try to silence her and negate her situation. – Graham Nov 26 '19 at 17:12
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There are a few odd things that come to mind and a few questions. However my main concern is:

If two guys wrote the bot and deployed the victory, why did the other female colleague know about it? Must have been told and possibly told because you would then hear about it. There is a potential for it to spread and a future potential for it to be used against you if so chosen. What do the two guys have to gain with this act? If it were 100% to help, it would have\should have been kept 100% secret. My spidey sense is tingling over this one

The important thing here is that you did absolutely nothing wrong up to this point. Now you know. I do not know if there was a prize in the conference so there was remuneration or items involved, or if this was purely a recognition thing. Regardless, if you feel that you should not have won, you can simply renounce your victory. Renounce on the basis that there are rumors circulating that there may have been some voting issues with the system doing the tallying. You do not need to reveal who mentioned it, you can simply defer and say that nothing is substantiated so you do not want to continue to propagate the rumor but you feel that just in case, the results should become invalid.

Perhaps a revote could happen. Perhaps the boss/CEO or whoever is in the position of authority will say that your presentation was good and deserved it anyways.

Then if things come out later on, you have already freed yourself of any guilt at all. You had your suspicion, you felt the needed to renounce, it was accepted, or not and it was nothing to do with you, so you are all good - on record.

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    +1 for suggesting to renounce the win. It would be an ethical win to the OP, if done. – Sara Nov 26 '19 at 9:35
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    -1 for suggesting to renounce the win and associate the company name with vote rigging – LucasSeveryn Nov 26 '19 at 14:23
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    @LucasSeveryn But the company was associated with vote rigging... it's not the OP's duty to cover-up for something they disagree with. – DaveMongoose Nov 26 '19 at 14:42
  • It wasn't associated with it, the association will only be made once OP flags it. – LucasSeveryn Nov 26 '19 at 14:53
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    It's a tough one, not the companies fault or the OPs fault. OP has to protect themselves foremost, the company may have to do the same at a later point in time for reputation purposes. In fact the company should do the same IMO, talk to conf organizers and withdraw based on information learned. It would look good on such a company to take the lead in moral accountability – Chris Nov 26 '19 at 14:53
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Should I just keep quiet? Ask the guys about it? Talk to the boss/CEO? Should I still consider quitting?

You should tell the conference organizers that you won the Bot's Choice Award through your coworkers cheating, so that they can award the rightful winner.

You should tell the cheating coworkers that you don't want to win that way.

Your decision to quit or not should have nothing to do with this silly incident one way or the other.

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    This is assuming that the OP's female colleague was correct in saying the coworkers set up the bot. What's to say she's not just jealous? – GrandMasterFlush Nov 26 '19 at 13:54
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    AND assuming the OP would not have won either way. – clem steredenn Nov 26 '19 at 15:01
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    She won the Bot's Choice fair and square. It was the People's Choice in which the irregular activity is alleged to have occurred. – Strawberry Nov 26 '19 at 15:32
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    I would verify first, but this is spot on otherwise. – T.J. Crowder Nov 26 '19 at 16:02
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Was the bot a vote against me? Something to use to push me out later?

Why would it be? They're from your company. They're your friends.

Could two software engineers even build a bot to fill in a form in 90 minutes?

Let me put it this way.

If there was little to no security on the form itself, it would take a non-programmer about 2 to 30 seconds to record such a script if an automated web testing tool like Selenium was already installed on their browser.

Should I still consider quitting?

Was prize money involved? I assume not.

Assuming you trust your CEO, you should consider telling him privately about this without naming the person who told you. He's the one who can advise you on this, but he's also the one who can make sure this doesn't happen again.

And who knows? May be the higher management instructed those two developers to develop and run the bot. – Sara

One party who did know was the organizer(s) that ran the contest. The organizer(s) knew about the irregularities and they still chose to announce a winner anyway.

In any case, if it also turns out that the CEO was also aware, or that he doesn't want to reprimand the two guys that did this, then you may want to consider finding a new employer.

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    And who knows? May be the higher management instructed those two developers to develop and run the bot. – Sara Nov 26 '19 at 6:36
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    If it turns out that the CEO was in on it, or doesn't want to at least reprimand the people involved, then you should consider changing employer. – Stephan Branczyk Nov 26 '19 at 6:42
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    I was at an award ceremony today where they had a people's choice award and the form was protected by cookie only. People were constantly opening Incognito, voting, closing it, and starting over again. The vote was invalidated for having a multiple of the number of attendees. You don't need a bot (which as you said would be trivial to do), just diligent fingers. – Matthew Gaiser Nov 26 '19 at 6:46
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    @nick012000, She is in a small startup, not a "big tech company". – Stephan Branczyk Nov 27 '19 at 12:32
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    @nick012000, I get what you're saying, but that just doesn't sound feasible to me. There are other far more effective machinations you can use to get rid of someone. – Stephan Branczyk Nov 27 '19 at 12:43
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I would raise this with a manager. This is called whistle blowing, and the correct course of action is to inform the company before notifying external bodies so that the company has a chance to defend itself and investigate. It may turn out it wasn't rigged; and you were lied to...

Interacting with the external body directly would be very unwise and could have you fired on the spot. You are protected from retribution when you whistleblow internally or law enforcement bodies. You are not protected when you go to other 3rd parties.

Remember - you did not attend this conference personally - you attended it professionally; as such it is your company that will be impacted. Don't break their trust.

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    I really don't understand why someone would downvote this. – undefined Nov 28 '19 at 8:46
  • This is the right answer – dan-klasson Dec 3 '19 at 21:03

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