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I'm quitting my first job and when researching how to do it legally correct (Germany) I read that it's a good practice to remove all personal traces.

Obviously you should take things like stuff on your desk, but I also have some "personal" files on my account. Most notably a bunch of code that I wrote to enhance my own productivity. I'm not hired as a coder (I'm an artist), but I had a few scripting tasks nontheless. I'm talking about my own stuff though. Should I get rid of those?

If so, I have noticed that deleting things isn't easy on our PCs because the server sync doesn't work correctly and generally restores all files after a reboot - so I was wondering if it makes sense to ask our admin to wipe my profile. Would this even be allowed? Is it unprofessional?

Another reason why a wipe would be useful is that we have storage problems and my profile is pretty huge, having the whole Anaconda suite installed locally.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation about pros and cons and implementation suggestions has been moved to chat. – Monica Cellio Sep 7 '17 at 21:11

10 Answers 10

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Most work-contracts I have seen here in German state in some form, that everything you produce for/at work is company property and you grant all rights to the company. So you may want to check your work-contract before you attempt to try and destroy company property. Even if you are hired as an artist, scripts you wrote to improve the productivity of the work you are paid for are most probably considered company property.

Also, maybe your company want´s to keep your account for a little longer in case they forgot to move any licenses, need your E-Mail history if they get sued by a client in the future etc.

Just wipe any personal files, like photos, private mail etc.

Remember any work machines and accounts generally belong to the company so it is always best to try and keep any personal files away from them at any time. .

If, in the future you plan to bring any of your own personal code etc. to your workplace, I recommend to get a usage agreement beforehand that states the rights and terms under which you provide your private code in addition to your normal workforce you provide under your contract.

If you quit, storage and archiving is generally not your problem. Of course you might give them a hint on how to save space as you know best what kind of big data-lumps you have created.

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  • Accepting this as an answer despite the other (also good one) having so much more upvotes because it includes the legal side :) – anon Sep 7 '17 at 7:22
  • Good answer. Just a small nuance: while you’re right about property right, judges in Germany have repeatedly ruled that employers cannot forbid all private use of work computers. One implication of this is that work computers can contain private data that doesn’t automatically belong to the employer (this would in fact probably violate a whole series of German privacy as well as property laws). – Konrad Rudolph Sep 7 '17 at 12:16
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    Hi Konrad: You are right, and this is why I recommended to delete private mail, photos etc. The problem is that this gets kind of fuzzy quick. It starts if some customer, who you are also friends with, sends you a mail asking a product question and also tells you that his aunt died. It gets really complicated if you just bring your code-collection with you and later try to argue that this is you own ip and was created outside of work. Hence the recommendation to at least try to keep it somewhat separated - or inform your employer and reach an agreement beforehand. – Daniel Sep 7 '17 at 12:44
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You can ask, but they will most likely either:

A) do this as a matter of course for everyone or B) ignore your request, because they don't do this for anyone

Given that the code is for work related things that you were never asked to build, it doesn't sound like there'll be a big problem if they float around. If the company wants to clean up disk space, I'm sure the files of employees who left will be the first to go.

Personally, I'd just go with a warning to the admin that your profile is very large and leave it at that. They might want to keep your files around for a while in case they need some of your stuff later, but knowing that there's a lot of programs installed on your profile might get them to at least get rid of those, while keeping the work files around.

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    As an admin, this is exactly it. There are already policies and procedures in place for handling departed users, and users themselves do not have ultimate authority over their own accounts, profiles, mailboxes, etc. Those data belong to the company. – Todd Wilcox Sep 6 '17 at 14:45
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    Or (C) will cause the admin to wonder "what have they been up to that they want all record of it wiped?"..... – PoloHoleSet Sep 6 '17 at 18:27
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    @ToddWilcox Again and again and again I see these assertions made. And they may be true in the US but the question is tagged "Germany" - and the labour laws and privacy rights are just different there. Some of the employee's data may actually belong to the employee. But this point is completely lost in the flood of US-centric answers assuming that things are everywhere as they are in the US. – AllTheKingsHorses Sep 7 '17 at 8:51
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    @allthekingshorses Ah good point. I didn't realize jurisdiction was indicated by tags here. It's really just that everyone who was actuallly taught English as a second language in school writes better than native speakers so everyone seems to be from US/UK ;-). – Todd Wilcox Sep 7 '17 at 11:50
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Can I ask my admin to wipe my profile when I leave?

You can ask, but generally speaking they are under no obligation to do so, and probably won't. I suspect your profile probably isn't having as big of an impact as you might think.

One take away from this experience for you: Keep any personal information you don't want your employer to have access to you keep off company assets.

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I'd say there isn't much point in doing so. Even if they do, you can't be sure they don't keep a copy 'just in case'.

If there is nothing secret amongst the files, I recommend you just ignore the issue.

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Maybe because I am a programmer, not an artist, I would go in the opposite direction on productivity-improving scripts.

Use part of your notice period to organize and document them. If you have a designated successor explain the scripts to them.

I assume that any code I write on the job, whether on my own initiative or not, is company property I should preserve and pass on.

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The crux of it is this incorrect statement :

I also have some "personal" files on my account.

It's not your account, it's the company's.

You should not have personal files on the company's equipment. For the future, don't do that.

If they are on company equipment then almost certainly a group of people (ranging from a few IT and HR people to the entire company) who would be authorized to access your account and data on company equipment. So once it's on your company account, it's not really private and not really personal.

Most notably a bunch of code that I wrote to enhance my own productivity.

Written presumably on company time and using company equipment ?

I'm not hired as a coder (I'm an artist), but I had a few scripting tasks nonetheless. I'm talking about my own stuff though.

To prove it's yours would require evidence you wrote it before you were employed and/or exclusively using your own equipment.

Even then the company could argue they need the files as part of their audit trail for your activities.

And the simple fact is this is probably not worth the trouble to fight over.

Note also that if your IT people have an automated backup process then removing the data would entail considerable expense and time and a risk of data loss for the company. They'd be very reluctant to do all that.

So this is something you're going to have to let go, IMO.

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  • well it is code I made for myself, but with the purpose of improving my productivity. So it is for work, but only for my side of it, which is why it's "personal" in quotes. – anon Sep 7 '17 at 9:16
  • Can you clarify what "only for my side of it" means ? My thinking is that that when you're employed by someone there really is only their side of it, if you see what I mean. – StephenG Sep 7 '17 at 10:52
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You can ask, and they may even comply. But in any reasonable company there will be multiple backups of everything in your profile anyway. Admin is not going to go through these and delete yours.

My advice is delete anything you want to from your profile and leave it at that. That way it is not immediately accessible. Clearing your stuff from all company data storage would be a big job and extremely unlikely to happen until normal clearing is done (usually years, in some countries and industries record keeping is mandatory for 5 years due to legislation).

Quite often profiles may be reused since they have all the security etc,. required for certain jobs and just renamed for a new staff member, so delete anything personal if you can.

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  • well that's the thing - I in fact can't just delete my files cause they will be restored after reboot as I wrote in my question... – anon Sep 6 '17 at 16:05
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    @anon that's the thing - they're not your files ;-) – Mathieu Guindon Sep 6 '17 at 17:16
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This doesn't directly address the question at hand, but as an alternative consider this:

Instead of trying to hide your "extra-curricular" work, approach your manager:

Hey boss, I know I'm not a coder, but here are some scripts I wrote that made my life easier while I was here. I'm leaving them behind, maybe someone else will find them helpful.

You may earn yourself some extra good-will (assuming you're already leaving on good terms) or soften the blow if your leaving hurts the company (you're the only artist, 1 of 2 doing a lot of work, etc).

If you're getting a letter of reference, this might just make it even sweeter.

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I think you simply develop contact with concerned authority and reveal your problem because without them no one else can help you in this regards.

Professionally speaking, during one of my research analysis my client and I got codes from my previous organization via a simple request. We made them understand why we needed this data and how we will be able to use it. Out of organizational policy they provided us details. So, you should try do this. They need to be aware about the sensitivity of the data and then off course your requirement.

If it isn't works. Then I must say that you were the producer of those codes and might be possible you know better how to write them again. if those codes were just the practices, leave them behind and move with the new ideas.

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It is definitely OK to ask

As in practice, general practice takes precedence over smallprint in terms and conditions, the easiest solution is to facilitate the deletion, and then safely ask someone to execute it. This should not be a strange requests, as (in many European companies) it is allowed to use company hardware for limited private purposes, and even normal work processes sometimes involve private information.

It does help however, if you make things easy and avoid doubt as to whether business value is being lost. Hence the following simple advice:

Categorize, and request action

Assuming you are able to move files around, I would recommend the following approach:

Create 3 folders with clear names:

  1. Knowledge transfer (e.g. Code to enhance productivity)
  2. Junk (e.g. Anaconda repository)
  3. Private (e.g. Copy of your passport and other HR things, Love letters, Private pictures...)

After you have done this (but before you lose system access) contact IT, show them the folders and ask whether they want to copy 1 to an accesible location for your colleagues, and remove 2 and 3.

If they do not comply, either insist with IT that they remove 3, and otherwise go to your manager or HR.

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