So am I being a big old computer usage policy meany?
February 20, 2015 7:10 PM   Subscribe

A direct report of mine complains of having a slow work laptop, but I noticed he was running BOINC, and I advised him to stop. He was working remotely today, and his computer was running flat out with the fan running at hand-dryer temperatures. At the end of the day, I opened it up, and saw he was running BOINC again, at 100% CPU load for his college computing team. Am I being a hopeless old fuddy-duddy in expecting him to cut that right out?

He's a recent graduate, very energetic, extremely smart. Very good at what he does, puts in long hours working while on a long commute. I get on very well with him, and mentor him where possible. We both know he's massively under-employed and would rather be working somewhere else. If he has a fault, it's that he doesn't follow team procedures, but gets the work done.

Our office is free-wheeling, owning mid-range laptops for admin work, but having no computer usage policy. You can install much run whatever will get past the (fairly stock) Windows or Mac OS security. His computer has already been taken away to be de-crufted and returned, and he's also taken over a second computer for running batch tasks, usually Acrobat OCR. I don't doubt that he was probably doing work on the computer earlier in the day, but this was purely for his WCG ‘team’.

I took a screenshot of the client and CPU load, e-mailed it to him attached to a note basically saying “Please do this on your own hardware, not the company's”, and shut down the laptop. I'm not going to take it any further, unless he does it again.
posted by scruss to Work & Money (42 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
I don't disagree with your conclusion that he should knock it off, but you probably could have handled it a little more politically. It's not like he was downloading gigs of porn or doing anything really objectionable. If I had been in your place, I probably would have spoken to him face to face and said something along the lines of "Hey, man. I appreciate the good you're trying to do by running BOINC in the background, but it's really putting a lot of strain on these old laptops. If you burned it out, there would be hell to pay. Please don't do that anymore. Thanks."
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:24 PM on February 20, 2015 [10 favorites]


Let me ask you a different question - if this report requested a raise of $2K/year, what would you do?

It sounds like you have an ideal employee. If he's a recent graduate, he's probably underpaid for his work, so it sounds like he's giving you more value than he's compensated for. If the cost of that value is that he goes through laptops a bit faster than the average employee, then I'd argue you have a pretty good deal.

All that said, I suspect he's not actually damaging his laptop in a measurable way anyways; most recent CPUs will reduce their clock speed when they approach thermal limits. It's not a particularly good thing for the laptop to run at 100% CPU utilization all the time, but it's not the worst thing in the world for the laptop.

To be clear, I think that it's not particularly professional of him to requisition another computer because he's using his laptop entirely for BOINC. However, I think that it's not that big of a deal to do what he wants with his own laptop, provided that the expectation is that if his work can be done with the laptop, that it is done with the laptop.
posted by saeculorum at 7:44 PM on February 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


You're not being a hopeless fuddy duddy, but you weren't very kind in how you said what you said. You needed to deliver this message in person and to get his buy-in, not speaking from on high down to him. That's likely to, even if it gets him to comply, push him out the door sooner.
posted by inturnaround at 7:58 PM on February 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


+1 for taking the time to actually talk to him about it instead of taking the passive aggressive approach.
posted by whatisish at 8:06 PM on February 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


I would have said something more to the effect of, "Yeah, your laptop is going to get slow if the CPU is burning up. It's by design."
posted by rhizome at 8:07 PM on February 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


Our office is free-wheeling, owning mid-range laptops for admin work, but having no computer usage policy.

There's a line about how whenever you see a policy, especially one that seems weird, you can trace it back to one specific act. Or a fridge with six pint bottles of milk, all labelled with passive-aggressive Post-Its. You probably need some kind of usage policy, though implemented in a way that doesn't make the proximate cause totally obvious. I'd also nth talking about this face to face.

It's not a particularly good thing for the laptop to run at 100% CPU utilization all the time, but it's not the worst thing in the world for the laptop.

But it's also a fairly shit use of a laptop. If he wants cycles, then he can run BOINC on an EC2 instance to his heart's content. (If he had a company car and did doughnuts in an empty car park, it's not like the tyres aren't going to wear out at some point.) So I think there's room here for a bit of fuddy-duddy tough love, because if he ends up somewhere with a formal policy and monitored usage, treating work hardware as FREE EXTRA COMPUTER may bite him on the arse.
posted by holgate at 8:09 PM on February 20, 2015 [7 favorites]


Errr... Yeah, I think you're being a fuddy daddy. There's nothing wrong with running a CPU at 100% if the CPU and the system have been competently designed, even for an extended period of time. It's not a lightbulb. Are you concerned about metal migration on the chip substrate, or something? I think that if you attempted to compute the actual additional cost of running BOINC, you would have a difficult time demonstrating that the cost is significant.

But if you have a problem with it running at 100%, I suspect he can adjust it to run at, say, 75%? Would that be better for you?

Personally I'd look at this kind of thing as a plus. Imagine you're giving a tour of the office to someone. Being able to make comments like "Bob likes to run BOINC and participate in distributed computing projects when he's not using his machine" is a bragging point, and goes towards having a group of people who aren't just working there - it's a group of people who are immersed. This is almost always a good thing.
posted by doctor tough love at 9:18 PM on February 20, 2015 [7 favorites]


The excess heat will indeed make capacitors and other passive components more likely to fail. The difference is negligible, though. The fan running flat out will reduce its lifetime much more significantly, but we're still talking a fairly small increase in MTBF.
The effect is greater on laptops than desktops because the whole thing gets hot and everything is all crammed together.

Personally, I'd tell this person to not complain of slow laptop while running non-work-related CPU intensive things, of which BOINC is only one. That's the real issue, IMO. That and ignoring what his manager told him, which is also not cool, regardless of whether he thinks your instructions are silly. Had he asked you to reconsider, that would have been fine, but he instead extended a middle finger directly in your face.

It sounds like this person would do well to have some sense knocked into them on a couple of different levels, because that attitude will bite them in the ass someday.
posted by wierdo at 9:33 PM on February 20, 2015 [8 favorites]


This person was provided a tool by their employer to perform a job and they complain that it isn't fast enough when they are running a processor intensive program that isn't relevant to their duties. It's pretty clear that you shouldn't feel any remorse for telling them to cut it out.

There is no need to coddle. You're their supervisor and don't approve of the way they're using company property and resources, simple as that.
posted by saltgrind at 9:47 PM on February 20, 2015 [28 favorites]


"Bob likes to run BOINC and participate in distributed computing projects when he's not using his machine" is a bragging point

C'mon. I ran SETI@Home on my PC back in the day, but I didn't claim to be searching for extraterrestrial life in my spare time. (I also remember people who got it running on servers until the sysadmins twigged, and sysadmins who ran it until the bosses twigged.) Team-based distributed stuff gets run mostly for leaderboard props, and reputation mining is the tech context from which Bitcoin mining emerged.
posted by holgate at 10:02 PM on February 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


A direct report of mine complains of having a slow work laptop, but I noticed he was running BOINC, and I advised him to stop.

Personally I would take no further action re. BOINC beyond refusing to take further complaints about slow laptops even the slightest bit seriously. This is so utterly one of those "Doctor, it hurts when I do this" scenarios.
posted by flabdablet at 10:30 PM on February 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


I can't imagine why you want to turn this into a thing, especially if he's "very good at what he does" and "massively underemployed." There is little to be gained by trying to make a point about your authority as a manager by becoming the CPU cycle nazi.

Just make it clear that you don't really care if his computer is slow because he's running BOINC while working and suggest he can dial back the CPU usage if he needs better performance for, well, work. If he needs a second computer for work reasons, then that's fine. If he needs a second computer to run BOINC, then refuse.
posted by zachlipton at 11:25 PM on February 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


What do you mean by "advised"? Did you tell him that running BOINC was likely the reason that his laptop was slow and that his computer would be faster if he didn't run it? Or something more like how you don't think that it's appropriate to be running BOINC on company hardware?

Because if you told him something closer to the former than the latter, he might have thought that it was okay for him to run that when he wasn't using that computer himself. He might not have realised the extent to which you were bothered by it.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 2:15 AM on February 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


I don't think you're a fuddy-duddy, or that you did anything wrong. You specifically told an employee not to do something, and he kept doing it. Now you've sent the clear message that you know that he ignored your instructions, and he should stop. Even excellent employees need to be reminded sometimes about the realities and restrictions surrounding usage of paid time and company property.

That said, given that this is an excellent employee otherwise, I'd leave it there, until and unless you get another complaint about slow equipment, or the person is somehow unable to deliver on a task because of said equipment. At that point, you can check and see if they are still running BOINC, and tell them that needs to stop before any further measures are taken to upgrade their stuff.
posted by rpfields at 3:47 AM on February 21, 2015


> but having no computer usage policy

This should be corrected.
posted by yclipse at 4:52 AM on February 21, 2015 [6 favorites]


What's a mid-range well used pc laptop worth? $600?

If he does his job well and there's no policy specifically against this, buy him a can of compressed air and let it go.
posted by spitbull at 5:04 AM on February 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


They are your direct report and not stopping behavior you told them to. Open defiance is firable. This isn't college anymore. Issue a formal warning and monitor the situation. Otherwise they will learn they can do whatever they want since you have no authority.
posted by TheAdamist at 5:06 AM on February 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think you did the right thing. It sounds like the guy is a bit privileged and arrogant and that you might actually have been a bit too lax about him not being a team player. If he's allowed to be a maverick at his first job, he's not going to learn about how to be a good fit in less laid-back environments. That won't be good for his professional life. As his mentor, helping him succeed in future office environments is definitely in your purview. You can always mention something to him Monday about how BOINC is an awesome concept and you appreciate his passion, but you just need him to be at work during work hours, both mentally and physically. It wouldn't hurt to talk to him about professionalism from time to time as well. I know people who have been fired for stuff like printing out a freelance article for another publication at their magazine job, using the copier to make band flyers, and even having tabs open to IM or Facebook while working. Some work cultures are way more lax about this sort of thing, but that is not the norm in the cutthroat corporate world of North America. And I've noticed that a lot of Millennials haven't learned a more traditional work ethic. Having a strong set of soft skills, especially in teamwork, is really crucial to success these days.
posted by Beethoven's Sith at 5:49 AM on February 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Most recent grads are underemployed. Guess what, those are the dues we ALL paid when we first started out. It's no excuse to defy a manager who has specifically told you to NOT run a particular program on a company owned computer.

Frankly, this is something a person could be fired for. You're not doing that. You're telling him, for the second time, not to run the program. And that should be the end of it.

If he's a good employee, then sit down with him and reiterate, "Ian, you're a great resource to me and one of my top performers. We have discussed your not running BOINC on the company's network and hardware. Please remove it from your laptop and I never want to see it there again. This is not negotiable. Thank you for understanding."

Be a manager, and follow your company's process for documenting disciplinary action. If this is a verbal warning, then make that notation. If it needs to be in writing, do that.

It think it's telling that although you specifically told this employee to remove the program from the company's computer, that he outright defied you. That's a problem and it needs to be addressed.

I have to wonder, why does this employee think it's okay to shine you on?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:20 AM on February 21, 2015 [6 favorites]


My thought is that he's going to be hard to replace. I guess I'm a generation older and I came up in the workplace dealing with this kind of dynamic and now the most talented of my peers are at startups (or founding their own) where the culture is more freewheeling and also tech workers are provided with decently powerful laptops, because dealing with overly strict rules about usage and equipment that wasn't up to par was really frustrating and made it hard to do the job well.

BOINC or no, if the laptop he's got is confoundingly slow when trying to run simultaneously the widgets/apps/browsers he does use for work, is that the problem? I have to work off a halfway decent laptop and it makes me absolutely crazy because it's allegedly suitable for admin work but it just isn't suitable for running Photoshop, three browsers (for site testing), multiple browser tabs, Excel, Outlook, Word, a text editor and a few video editing widgets at the same time. But that's what I need to really do my job efficiently instead of having to shut down and restart applications and wait for them to load multiple times per day.
posted by citron at 6:20 AM on February 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


now the most talented of my peers are at startups (or founding their own) where the culture is more freewheeling

And Silicon Valley's computing revolution was powered by phone phreaks. We know the mythology. We also know that a lot of startups in the current bubbly environment are the product of people with too much money throwing it at anybody who looks and acts vaguely like the next Zuckerberg. There's a certain amount of play-acting involved on both sides. Even if the bubble never ends, there are still going to be more corporate stiff jobs than startup jobs, and plenty of freewheeling rule-breaking startups will end up with corporate-stiff work cultures.

dealing with overly strict rules about usage and equipment that wasn't up to par was really frustrating and made it hard to do the job well.

If the hardware's not good enough for him to do his job, then that's another question entirely: he has every right to ask for better hardware if it's impeding his work. He clearly thinks it's good enough to run BOINC.
posted by holgate at 6:50 AM on February 21, 2015


I don't agree. The excessive corporate stiffness describes in some of the posts here is insane to me, I literally don't know anyone who has to put up with bans on using social media at work and cannot print occasional personal documents and use office equipment for limited personal use and surf the web or whatever in downtime, and I'm in the DC metro area which is actually pretty uptight. And I think it's a good thing to question management and push back. Why be all that deferential to authority simply because it's authority. Authority is often wrong. If you get dinged for it, you find a better job. I also think it's useful for the manager to clarify whether he's running BOINC at the same time that he is actually working. If he's getting lunch or something and letting it run then, it doesn't mean he doesn't have valid complaints about a frustratingly slow laptop.
posted by citron at 7:59 AM on February 21, 2015 [7 favorites]


And I think it's a good thing to question management and push back. Why be all that deferential to authority simply because it's authority. Authority is often wrong

It's one thing to push back when you're doing something that benefits the company, it's quite another when you've been expressly told not to do something, and you go ahead and do it anyway. As an entry-level employee, as intelligent as you are, you don't know all the goings on behind the scenes. If someone tells you something straight-forward like, "Don't steam music, don't read your personal email on a company device or don't run a program designed to use corporate resources for an outside source." Those are very explicit and rather self-explanatory requests. Pushing back just because YOU think, in the infinite wisdom of the 4 years you spent as an undergrad and the three summer internships that you had before arriving at your first post-grad job, that they're stupid or pointless, well one of the first lessons you need to learn about working in the real world is that sometimes, shit be like that.

Often the manager relaying this information is just waterfalling it. It's not his policy to change, or to allow you to change.

Sure, if it's THAT important to you, then yes, find employment at a place where these things are allowed.

There's a thin line between being innovative and disrespectful. Before pushing back, perhaps get some experience under your belt, get the lay of the corporate land, and see if there's a nuance or a reason you may be missing.

Otherwise you'll get the appellation as, "that know-it-all pisher." And really, who needs it?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:01 AM on February 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


When a person complains of slow latop, but chooses to run a program the makes the laptop slow, my response would be *major eyeroll* and 'Dude, BOINC.' The cost to the company is the loss of productivity of the employee due to the slowdown, and a tiny cost for electricity. Most laptops will be replaced due to general old age and borkedness from actual mobility. Consider assisting the user with a scheduling app so BOINC can run when the user isn't using.
posted by theora55 at 9:15 AM on February 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yes and no; really need more information. I think it's ok to have a company policy of not running non-work CPU-intensive programs, but, depending on the company's atmosphere, not necessary if it doesn't affect the hardware or your network. But, more importantly I would want to know if his laptop is faster if he's not running BOINC and why he needed the second computer. If he were not running BOINC, would he need the extra resources? Could he be running those batch jobs on his laptop overnight instead of on the other computer?

His computer has already been taken away to be de-crufted and returned

This seems to be a related issue to running BOINC. What else is he doing that requires his computer to be "de-crufted"? Or is this a routine thing? If your IT team has to cleanup his computer for him especially, then that's kind of a problem. He's taking up company resources (computing + people's time), that he shouldn't be. I think just having a nice face to face conversation discussing his computer usage (in an information-gathering, non-confrontational way) would be a good thing, especially if he considers you a mentor.
posted by bluefly at 10:04 AM on February 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


I do not know where people are getting this "open defiance" thing from. The original poster wrote:
A direct report of mine complains of having a slow work laptop, but I noticed he was running BOINC, and I advised him to stop.
1. This reads as if OP responded to the slow computer complaint by saying "well, you might want to not run BOINC". If OP had written "I told him to stop", that might be different. But that is not what the OP wrote.

2. It is not at all clear that the slowness of the user's computer is the result of him running BOINC while also attempting to work. Given that he is a "recent graduate, very energetic, extremely smart. Very good at what he does" I find it difficult to believe that he isn't aware that running a distributed processing bot on his machine is going to slow his system down. I strongly expect he kills or suspends BOINC when he's actually using the machine for his work.

3. Given the above, I believe that the user was complaining that the computer isn't especially fast compared to today's bleeding edge systems.
posted by doctor tough love at 10:08 AM on February 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


Given that he is a "recent graduate, very energetic, extremely smart. Very good at what he does" I find it difficult to believe that he isn't aware that running a distributed processing bot on his machine is going to slow his system down.

In that case, he should know that a mid-range work laptop isn't an ideal candidate for cycle donation. I'd actually be more willing to give him a pass if he'd got it running on a mostly-idle fileserver or something similar. I read it more as him thinking MOAR PUTER MOAR TEAM POINTS. The question then becomes whether a work laptop should be treated like borrowing a car or renting one.
posted by holgate at 10:15 AM on February 21, 2015


It is not at all clear that the slowness of the user's computer is the result of him running BOINC while also attempting to work

Right, because we don't have a lot of technical information. However, temperature pushes the button for dynamic CPU frequency scaling.

BOINC doesn't run while you're working, it's built to stay out of the way. It only uses idle cycles, but that means that the CPU is at 100% more often than it would be otherwise, and laptops aren't built to be at 100% all the time so they heat up, triggering frequency scaling.
posted by rhizome at 10:29 AM on February 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


> so they heat up, triggering frequency scaling.

But that would happen when BOINC was running at 100%, right? Not when the user was using the computer for work, because BOINC "stays out of the way", right?

> a mid-range work laptop isn't an ideal candidate for cycle donation

Huh? The entire point of stuff like BOINC is to take advantage of any machine that has idle cycles. Whether the machine is a mid-ranger laptop or a high-end server or Grandpa's computer that he only uses for AOL doesn't matter.
posted by doctor tough love at 10:38 AM on February 21, 2015


But that would happen when BOINC was running at 100%, right? Not when the user was using the computer for work, because BOINC "stays out of the way", right?

No, because the CPU temperature does not instantly decline once a key is pressed. Also.
posted by rhizome at 10:49 AM on February 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


Laptops should not be run at full usage all the time; compare diesel engines to gasoline engines: sure your car has 410HP, but trying to run at that level for more than a few minutes will ruin it, while a 410HP tractor runs at that all day no problem.

Also, he should be told: personal things can be okay on work computers only so long as they do not interfere with work.
posted by flimflam at 11:00 AM on February 21, 2015


There are separate conflated issues going on.
a) there is no computer use policy, so he can't be violating the computer use policy.
b) we don't know what extent you as the supervisor did or did not put him on clear notice that you don't want this particular app on work computers (or 'prefer not', or merely 'suggested that might be why it's slow')
c) you feel somewhat guilty that he's underemployed, he feels somewhat 'too good' for 'team procedures'
d) what else is on that computer? yikes.
e) his computer may or may not be too slow

The immediate thing is, he complains his computer is too slow for legitimate business purposes. Is that the case or not? Are people doing similar jobs to him having the same issue? Would he have the same issue disregarding BOINC? This appears to be what he's saying, and if he's right he's right even if he's confusing and damaging his own case by running BOINC. Also, "too slow" is not entirely his determination to make. Every employee would love the top-of-the-line equipment all the time, but that's not always practical. Tell him to write up how much the computer slowness is hurting him, and how much his preferred solution would help.

Don't let c control your relationship. Ultimately, he's chosen this job, and that's not your fault. You still need what you need. This is why 'overqualified' is a thing. If he's in job description A, he needs to swallow his pride and do job description A until he can move on, not try to be special all the time.

Also, this is a warning shot that you do need a computer use policy.
posted by ctmf at 11:38 AM on February 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


I agree that this is a totally inappropriate use of company property, regardless of whether you have a computer usage policy. This isn't checking facebook on your break or emailing your SO to ask what's for dinner and please can you pick up my drycleaning?. When you're lucky enough to work for a company with a generous (or no) computer usage policy, you should use your common sense and basically, don't take the piss. Running a company laptop at 100% all day to score points for a non-work thing is taking the piss and that's how former free-wheeling companies end up with computer usage policies.

Laptops are not designed to be run continuously and the certainly aren't designed to run at 100% for extended periods of time, they just don't have the cooling power.
posted by missmagenta at 1:32 PM on February 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is incredibly petty. Tell them not to run it if they want the computer to be responsive, and let it go.
posted by anemone of the state at 2:11 PM on February 21, 2015


Disagree. That's how you get your employees to think you're a pompous blowhard, deciding you know what the problem is when you don't and acting all "case closed" about it. The employee might very well shut down BOINC completely during his working hours* and still have persistent real performance issues doing only work-related tasks with company-provided software. Like I said before, that might be a "sorry, that's the tool we have, do your best" situation anyway. You aren't doing yourself any favors by blaming the employee for that, though, if they think you're just bullshitting.

I mean, that strategy will work, I guess, if the goal is simply making the employee stfu. Just not what I would do.

* I don't know if that's possible or really anything about BOINC, but I bet the employee does and will know if your easy snap answer doesn't make sense.
posted by ctmf at 3:48 PM on February 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


BOINC stays out of the way while the computer is being used, but the thing is that running BOINC means that the computer is basically running at full power as long as it's turned on. It's like a screensaver that pegs your CPU, which is its mission in life.

Diplomacy and bedside manner is one thing, but what's done is done.
posted by rhizome at 4:10 PM on February 21, 2015


Whether or not he's running BOINC or even whether or not he gets a new laptop are pretty small beans. Unless this is a very small company running on impossibly thin margins, two thousand bucks isn't that much. Your relationship as a manager with this employee is the real issue, not the particulars of the computer. That's where the value, and the risk, is in this interaction. Whether you are in the right or in the wrong on this particular issue doesn't really matter; even if you're in the right, this may not be—and I don't think it is—the hill you want to die on.

The cost of replacing an otherwise-productive employee due to a conflict with a manager can be really high. It is entirely possible, depending on the specifics of your job function and what else you do, that the value to the company of the baby employee, kept happy, is more than the value of the manager. I have actually seen stuff happen where Grizzled Manager gets in a fight with Bright Young Thing, Bright Young Thing runs up the chain of command and threatens to quit, and Grizzled Manager gets reassigned to Sub-Basement B to count staples until his retirement package comes in. (Typically that doesn't happen the first time off, though. There's typically something of a track record. But it's not a record you want to start creating.)

Even if that is not a particular risk in your company, just in general, "my way or the highway" as a management style is not a real winner. It's not really conducive to having your direct reports want to do things for you. And it's certainly not conducive to having them do what you want them to when you're not looking over their shoulder. Plus, in a certain number of people, it'll cause them to try and undermine you. Getting your way on this minor thing now is not worth having an employee who nurses a grudge until the day they can get their pound of flesh out of your backside, with interest, e.g. maybe when your boss is looking (or even just in a 360 review).

That doesn't mean you necessarily have to be best buds with everyone who reports to you. In fact, a certain amount of detachment is generally good. But having them hate you is not generally regarded as a good idea. And telling people, especially (and yeah, I'm going to stereotype here, but it's backed up by decades of Real Life) technical people and engineer-types, "do it because I said so" or "rules is rules" is a great way to make them hate you very quickly. So... that is not the tack that I would take, as a manager. It doesn't matter that you are right; you need to set ego aside and consider your actions in light of what leads to the best working relationship going forward.

Personally, at this point I would deescalate the situation. He said he wanted a faster laptop, you said stop running BOINC, he didn't stop running BOINC, the net effect of this is that he doesn't get a new laptop (duh) because the original complaint—"it's too slow"—is invalid, because of the whole BOINC thing. So you "win", in that sense, although 'winning' shouldn't be the important part of the interaction.

But you are potentially making this into a Big Deal, when it shouldn't be a Big Deal. He has a slow, hot laptop as a result of running BOINC. Great, big whoop. That's his problem. Maybe he kills his laptop early. Lots of people do stupid things to laptops (drop them, spill coffee on them, etc.); I know developers who go through laptops like drug dealers go through cellphones (they have great backup strategies though!). If it actually happens and becomes a pattern, that's when you do something. But don't press the point just as a dominance display; you're not in a dog pack and that is not how to lead people effectively.
posted by Kadin2048 at 6:49 PM on February 21, 2015 [7 favorites]


A couple of points of clarification, since my question was a little light on detail:
  • the computers aren't old; they're less than a year old, and are bought new (as in, belonging to the company) as each employee starts. They're typically multi-core Celerons with at least 4 GB RAM, running Windows 7 or 8. We do the electronic equivalent of pushing paper around for compliance auditing and lender risk management. Our biggest bottleneck (mostly due to an owner's insistence we remain virtual at all times) is network latency.
  • I should have added that he's massively overworked and underemployed. This is neither a technically challenging role nor a particularly well-paid one, but he sticks around nonetheless.
> Are you concerned about metal migration on the chip substrate, or something?

If anything physical, thermal BGA failures. I've had a couple of mini-ITX boxes fail that way. But more realistically, it's fan noise; he's close enough that I can hear the damn thing rev up and down.

> I would want to know if his laptop is faster if he's not running BOINC and why he needed the second computer.

He started using it for batch-processing of PDFs overnight, as a typical contract will have about 1000 pages of scanned unsearchable stuff that we have to pull meaning out of. He said he runs BOINC on all of his computers, so I'm assuming he was running it in parallel on two computers.

> What else is he doing that requires his computer to be "de-crufted"?

He has a lot of stuff on the go. Two browsers, as he has all his personal stuff in Chrome, so uses another for work. Usually has some kind of chat going (Viber?) with his family and friends around the world. Excel, Total Commander and his own PDF workflow (the rest of us use Acrobat Pro) open all the time. We've checked RAM, and he's still got about 600 MB RAM free, no swapping. I think he uses TeamViewer (?) for remote control, or some other ad-supported thing.

> If OP had written "I told him to stop", that might be different. But that is not what the OP wrote.

Advising = telling, at least where I'm from. We're from very different cultures; in my experience, quiet advice from a manager is a small step below being written up.

I do generally agree that I should've done this f2f, but there was an element of "dude, wtf?" in discovering he was running the distributed computing thing again after being told to stop. He's apologized, and said he won't do it again. I will work with him to make sure he gets the computing resources he needs.
posted by scruss at 8:35 PM on February 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


>> He's apologized.

Have you?
posted by whatisish at 8:27 AM on February 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


Apart from the e-mail approach, what else do I have to apologize for?
posted by scruss at 9:50 AM on February 22, 2015


For having an I AM THE BOSS mentality. I might well be off base but that's the perception I get and wouldn't be surprised if your "direct report" did too.

You've acknowledged that there is no usage policy, that the office is freewheeling, and that there is some latitude in installing stuff for personal use. As long as this overworked (and presumably underpaid) employee of yours is getting everything done, cut him some slack.

If you don't think an apology is in order, how about an unexpected thank you instead?

Good luck.
posted by whatisish at 11:24 AM on February 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


Well, if the problem is the fan noise, why don't you just say so? "Hey Bob, the fan on your laptop is running up and down all the time and it's driving me crazy. Can you dial BOINC back to 50%?"

Also--do his different processes seem to be any kind of improvement over what everyone else is doing? If you can get some process improvements spread to the rest of the team, I bet the cost of the laptop will seem insignificant. One thought is maybe it would be better if the whole team shared a machine dedicated to running those long OCR jobs (or, gosh, push it off into the cloud)--and no BOINC, since this machine will be working full time already.
posted by anaelith at 7:03 AM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


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