How to talk about skills gained unethically during a job interview
June 12, 2013 11:26 AM   Subscribe

I'm applying for a job in automation software development but from what I have on my resume, I've only touched upon the subject. However, what my resume doesn't mention is that I was active in the Warcraft botting community developing profiles and behaviors and made programs that botted various online games, surveys, and web forms. I'd be very happy to "go legit" as it were and use my skills for good, but mentioning that I have a good background in automation would prompt questions of specific examples and I don't know how I could talk about it without sounding like an unethical person.
posted by anonymous to Computers & Internet (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Can you give broad strokes and then plead some some of confidentiality clause that keeps you from going in to specifics? (that is kind of not-on-the-level too though...)

Frankly, I kind of think you're in a tough spot. Is there any way you can get in some legit, ethical experience doing that? Even something you did on your own, not for profit, that would demonstrate your ability? That would be your best bet I'd think.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 11:42 AM on June 12, 2013

1. make up some legit use-cases for your skills
2. code some shit utilizing your skills for those use cases
3. post your shit on a personal site as part of your portfolio

if you can prove you know how to utilize your skills above board, probably nobody cares much how you learned.
posted by par court at 11:46 AM on June 12, 2013 [15 favorites]

I think it's most unethical to lie about it, so either don't mention it all, or own it entirely and say you were young, got hooked on the challenge, and stopped when you realized it was wrong, or whatever the story is. Honestly, as someone who hires developers, it probably wouldn't bother me. This may vary with the type of employers you're interacting with and where you are.
posted by feloniousmonk at 11:52 AM on June 12, 2013 [5 favorites]

Turn legit, showcase all of your work in a blog, tear down the code and explain how it all works. You can turn your past stuff into a teaching/R&D experience.
posted by jquinby at 11:55 AM on June 12, 2013

I'm not sure why it's unethical to have participated in this community where you learned these skills. Sure it was unpaid and unofficial; but it seems clear there's a path toward surfacing this.
posted by lathrop at 11:56 AM on June 12, 2013

To be specific, the reason why it wouldn't bother me as a potential hirer is that the difference between someone writing a bot against a web app and the people I've hired to build an automated test suite for our application is effectively nil. This skillset would be great for SDET type roles.
posted by feloniousmonk at 11:58 AM on June 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

I say own it. WoW is not as big a deal in the "real" world as we'd like to think. So you created a program that would control a character and make it perform various actions based on environmental factors. Explain that, and tell them that although unfortunately those programs are against the game's ToS, it was a great challenge figuring out exactly how to do it.

Naturally, if this involved hacking accounts, stealing their toons and using them as bots, you'll want to leave that part out.

It was YOU who stole my nodes in Uldum! ARGH!
posted by kimberussell at 12:04 PM on June 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Is it really that big of a deal? I understand that games like World of Warcraft prohibit the use of bots, but it's not like you were hacking people's accounts to steal their gold, right? You were just figuring out a way to make the game automate itself so you didn't have to do the "grinding," right? That doesn't seem like a big deal and unless the person interviewing you is familiar with what exactly botting games entails, I think it will come down to how you describe it. You can use a lot of different phrases and words to describe the same thing -- I would just have a way you want to present it and make sure you don't deviate from that perspective. Basically, just don't present it as being unethical and you're fine.
posted by AppleTurnover at 12:06 PM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just don’t look like a liability. Simple as that.
posted by oceanjesse at 12:11 PM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have lots of co-workers who write bots. Telling them your interviewer that you now know it was So Morally Wrong at my workplace would probably result in an eye-roll at best and offending your interviewer at worst. YMMV depending on how strait-laced the company is. Personally if you told me that you learned automation sending Justin Beiber to North Korea, I would find that pretty funny.
posted by phoenixy at 12:14 PM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Could you present it as sort of childish/frivolous/mildly embarrassing? Then you're not lying about it, but you're also not falling over yourself to apologize for the deep, deep sin of TOS violation (which I suspect would come across as over the top).
posted by mskyle at 12:16 PM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Unless you're applying to work at a bank, for the government, or some similarly tight-laced industry, I echo the "own it" sentiment. You've got a better story than 99% of the developers I've ever interviewed.
posted by mkultra at 12:25 PM on June 12, 2013 [7 favorites]

Can you claim you did it on private servers or is that not a thing in WoW? That you weren't doing it on public servers but on a "lab server" where the local TOS allowed.
posted by Iteki at 12:55 PM on June 12, 2013

I'm with kimberussell; own it. Violating WoW's TOS is pretty unlikely to seem like a big deal in the context of a job interview, at least not at any company that I've ever been at ... maybe at a gaming company that had a similar product, or at Blizzard itself, but not at RandomBigSoft Inc.

I guess what I'd probably do is not mention WoW specifically in your resume; just refer to it as a "popular online game" or something like that. You don't ever want to admit in writing to doing something that someone might take offense at. But in an interview I'd be pretty open about it, particularly to nontechnical people (e.g. HR / Recruiting). If you are vague, they're just going to assume you're a bullshitter.

It'd be a little weirder if you got your experience by automating away your job functions at your previous employer and spending your days collecting your paycheck and playing WoW... which when I started to read your question was what I thought you were going to say. The fact that you automated WoW...? Meh.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:28 PM on June 12, 2013

Depends entirely on the employer.

Govn't? Banking? Probably don't want to mention it.

Most other software companies? Nobody cares. It's good experience.
posted by colin_l at 1:38 PM on June 12, 2013

I think it's reasonable to present these as the kinds of programming you're familiar with, and not dwell too much on why you decided to do that kind of learning in your spare time. Most of the "hackers aren't so bad" writing is focused on people wanting to beat the challenges or find ways around the system blocks, and does its best to imply that they weren't actually trying to take money from the company, god forbid, we just wanted to see if we could get a bot past their captcha. So go ahead and state what you've done, but downplay the "and I made money doing it" aspect.

As others have said, if this is a company that automates things, they surely have a lot of programmers who most likely automate things at home in their free time, either now or in the past; as such, you're probably not in a unique position. I wouldn't try to claim that you'd done nothing wrong, but I wouldn't make loud morality statements about how unacceptable this was and you'd never do it again and would report any such activity you saw.

So, the story: You got interested in automation programming through hobbyist pathways and extensive self-study (euphemisms they'll probably see right through) but now you're all enthusiastic about it and really want to bring it into a useful workplace environment.

To put experience on your resume, try to describe your programs in terms of what types of systems they worked with (but don't name names), what types of challenges you overcame, and how successsful they were (tests of my hobby program indicated that it could meet goals N% faster than non-automated interactions, and n% faster than comparable programs (but don't admit you actually ran it regularly) ) You are "familiar with" bot-prevention protocols (because you were on the other side of them). etc.
posted by aimedwander at 2:00 PM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

There are two possible consequences to explaining your activities.

1) They know something about WoW in which case they will say "You bastard!" Followed by "So tell me exactly how you did it..."

2) They know nothing about WoW in which case they will say "What tools did you use and how did they interact with the server?"

It is unlikely that the Terms of Service will arise in either of these conversations.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:12 PM on June 12, 2013

Paul Graham, who runs Y Combinator, says that they consider "Name a time you hacked something to your benefit" a very important question in assessing candidates, and that 'Naughtiness' is one of the qualities they look for:

"Though the most successful founders are usually good people, they tend to have a piratical gleam in their eye. They're not Goody Two-Shoes type good. Morally, they care about getting the big questions right, but not about observing proprieties. That's why I'd use the word naughty rather than evil. They delight in breaking rules, but not rules that matter. This quality may be redundant though; it may be implied by imagination."

So I'd say that for many employers, this stuff would be a real asset.
posted by piato at 1:14 AM on June 13, 2013

I know several people who have coded bots, both for WoW and other games, always against the TOS, sometimes for profit, sometimes not.

More than one of them has been hired based primarily on that experience, by small and big companies, with no college degree or 'paid proper job experience.'

Note however that none of them broke any laws, or if they did, they didn't advertise it in an interview! Making some DRM product work for yourself, cool. Breaking the DRM of a product and sharing it with other people, now that's when you're not going to be hired. But nobody cares about a game's terms of service. Actually, it can get you hired by that game company to fix the holes... I know someone who that happened to as well!
posted by Ashlyth at 7:53 AM on June 15, 2013

« Older Breast Cancer and Soon-to-be Uninsured in TN   |   What should I do with all this cardboard? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.