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I resigned from my job as a developer today, giving one month's notice.

I mentioned that on my last day I would format my PC and reinstall Windows to provide a fresh computer for my company to use if they hire another person.

Shortly after I received an email specifically telling me to not format my PC when I leave.

My main reason for wanting to format is to ensure that all possible personal information is removed, and also to help out my employer to a degree by providing a clean computer to re use.

Is it reasonable for me to want to format my work PC when I leave, or, is it reasonable for my employer to request that I don't?

EDIT: I will be having an exit interview tomorrow, in which I will bring this issue up, but I would like some people's opinions before then.

EDIT2: Since a few people are saying that this is the IT department's job, the company has less than 10 people and as such does not have an IT department. I built and formatted my PC when I received it and installed all software I need to it.

  • @ReallyTiredOfThisGame I don't see how that duplicate applies. That dup is NO personal data. – paparazzo Sep 2 '15 at 12:05
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    @Frisbee - I agree its not a dup but this quesiton is discussion bait, and the only way to save it is to make it a dup of the question linked. Lets just skip the middle man – IDrinkandIKnowThings Sep 2 '15 at 12:57
  • It's not your computer. – cja Jun 28 '17 at 16:48
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It's very reasonable for the employer to not want you to format your computer.

From the employer's standpoint, lots of employees inadvertently leave some piece of company information sitting on their machine when they leave that the employer will subsequently need. Developers may have versions of documentation that never got saved off to a network drive or code branches they were playing with that never got checked back in or random spreadsheets with information that someone will need in a week or a month or a year. A lot of places will either leave departing machines with the employee's manager for a while or copy the hard drive before re-imaging it just in case someone needs something off of it in the future.

Realize that this approach has benefits for you in addition to the employer. If in a week someone says "Hey, didn't Steve have an updated version of this doc? I could have sworn this is old", they can go to your machine and check. If there is a more recent version that you happened to forget to save off to the network drive, all is good. If all your files are there but there isn't a new version, people generally assume they were mistaken about there being a new version. If you wiped your machine on the way out the door, someone is liable to think that you carelessly (or worse, intentionally) deleted information they needed.

While employers generally understand that employees will make incidental personal use of company equipment, that should generally be incidental. So there shouldn't be much personal information on there to begin with. And what information is there is generally easy enough to remove. And even if you leave something behind, the employer isn't likely to go looking for personal information (particularly where they have tons of your information in their own systems already) so it's relatively safe. For the employer, the risk that you're going to destroy some document that they need is much, much greater than the risk that you're going to leave some piece of personal information that they later trip across.

Beyond that, it's likely that if you did reinstall Windows, the company would just have to redo it. Most reasonably sized organizations have a relatively standardized process for taking a returned laptop and refreshing it for the next person. Often that involves re-imaging from a "golden" install that has Windows, the default set of applications, etc.

  • But if nobody knows the document exists, how will they think to look on the old employees' machine for it? And if they do know, why is it not moved to the network? – Erik Sep 2 '15 at 8:08
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    @Erik - I've seen lots of cases where people knew that Bob was working on something and when the document can't be found elsewhere, lo and behold, it's found on Bob's old drive. Should documents get put on the proper network drive? Of course. Do people always do that? Particularly when they're trying to depart the organization? Not always. – Justin Cave Sep 2 '15 at 8:12
  • @Steve- If you're happy to let them review all your code, look through all the documents on the machine to make sure that that something isn't missing, etc. why do you care whether they do it while you watch on your last day before giving you the green light to reinstall Windows or whether they hold on to the machine as is and look only if a question comes up later? If there is personal information left on the machine, making someone go through it document by document to audit it is far more likely to expose that information. – Justin Cave Sep 2 '15 at 8:23
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    @Steve Go in before your exit interview e.g. an hour early if you have to, and manually remove any personal information (Skype login, passwords, emails, etc.) from the machine. If you can't figure out how to remove a password for some reason (e.g. maybe Skype doesn't let you delete saved passwords?), then in that case simply log in to your account from home and change the password to something else. Problem solved. – Brandin Sep 2 '15 at 8:46
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If you reinstall windows the company cannot know if you added extra goodies, keyloggers or similar. Let them install the fresh version.

If you accidentally happen to wipe the disk, they could claim you deleted something important, so don' try being smart.

Clean all your data you are worried about and it will be fine, also changing your passwords once in while is a good thing, you don't know if they had a keylogger installed all that time.

A lot of comments are about personal use of office equipment, in most companies I worked for it was allowed to login into your own communication stuff like skype, facebook, etc. Most developers don't have that may friends and prefer working instead watching kitten videos, so it would just waste time if you type on a tiny screen on your phone.

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Formatting the drive and reinstalling Windows is the IT department's role, not a developer's, in most reasonably sized businesses. Odds are that there are enterprise licenses involved and all the arcane processes they require when installing, and the IT department is specifically equipped to deal with those.

If your concern is privacy or personal information being disclosed, delete everything you have issues with the old fashioned way. A good IT department would zero the drive before restoring it to the desired default configuration. if you don't trust your IT department, you could delete the files and zero the 'unused' space yourself using freely available tools.

In the situation that there isn't an IT department, formatting the PC should still be left to other staff after your departure, as a final measure of assurance. You may be leaving on the best terms possible, but it never hurts to cover your ass. If you didn't handle the formatting, any loss of information that may occur isn't on you.

  • @Steve - That changes the specifics, but not so much the spirit, of my answer, so I have updated it accordingly. – TJennings Sep 2 '15 at 8:23
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From my perspective both as an employer and network engineer. If I told an employee or even one of my clients employees not to format his machine I would have a reason to do so. Basically, it's not his/her job, nor is it his/her machine. I'm not interested in any bikini pictures they might have or old versions of code etc,. primarily I'm interested in maintaining security protocols and procedure. Trusting everyone to back up fully and completely is bad practice.

On the other hand your boss may well have gotten frightened and confused when you said 'format' and imagined it means all sorts of nastiness. Most of my clients would probably react that way.

My advice is scrub your personal info and leave it as your soon to be ex employers asked you to. You've got a whole month to get your personal stuff out.

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When I leave a company, I try to take the shortest possible route to the exit. So your question leaves me somewhat bemused because you want to create more work for yourself as you leave. The PC belongs to the company, they have every right to decide what to do with it. If they ask you to return it as is on your last day, then that is what you should do.

To answer your question, I do find your insistence on formatting the disk before leaving rather unreasonable. Once you have left the company, why do you care if they reformat it or recycle it or donate it to charity or use it as a paperweight?

Other answers have described very well why it is reasonable for a company to ask you not to format the drive, but I would say that the question doesn't arise at all. If you employ me and assign me a computer to do your work, you can expect me to not destroy any data on it without the need to give me any justification.

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To answer straight. It is not reasonably correct to ask for formatting a PC.

  • Company has full rights on the data in the work PC.

  • In fact, it is not required also. Because, what ever files you are allowed to keep in PC, all those files can be deleted by you.

  • If you have a problem in the second point, which means you have only create/edit-file-permission and not a delete permission. If this your problem, then inform the company about those data/files and request to delete those files.

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It would fall under company policy really. The work place owns the computer and any data you put on it. With that said, I would just remove any personal data from the computer such as any passwords, websites, chat logs, etc and any programs associated with that so long as it doesn't relate to anything about the company tasks.

At my previous job, it wasn't unusual for a leaving member to have his/her emails be forward to the boss after their departure since that person might have been getting important messages from scripts, and whatnot and they want to capture that.

That is why it's important to never use company email for personal business. From what I remember, emails are kept stored for 5 years in most cases by law post Enron.

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Yes I think it is reasonable as long as you have submitted all of your work (e.g checked in all your code).

If your company has specifically told you not to format your computer and you trust them then you should leave your computer alone.

However if you do not trust them or think they will not wipe the computer properly then do it yourself or even just change all your personal passwords.

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    The company has clearly stated they do not want him wiping the computer. He will need to go through and 'clean up' all his online access etc. so that it can't be used. You will also want to change the login to the computer to something you don't use else (password is a good choice in this instance) – Bill Leeper Sep 2 '15 at 14:26
  • @BillLeeper Yes I do agree. As the OP is a developer he should be able to clear all personal data without wiping everything – Bobby Sep 2 '15 at 14:44