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Lies at Sirius Open Source

Video download link | md5sum 4e251da456416f8e8155bd4f356340d3
Cover-up Culture at Sirius Open Source
Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 4.0

Summary: Cover-up and lies became a corporate pattern at the company where I had worked since 2011; it was time to go in order to avoid cooperation in unethical activities

IT has now been 4 days since I officially left Sirius ‘Open Source’ after disputes with the management. As the above video notes (near the start), we’re dealing with thin-skinned people who lie to staff and then get all “victim-like” because someone used the word “liar”. We’ll come back to this much later in this series.

The video mostly deal with the latest part of the report, which examines awful events nearly a decade old. There was an actual lawsuit, but it was hidden away from staff. The lawsuit had been filed after suspension/dismissal of someone alleged to have engaged in wrongdoing, along with his partner, who was of course innocent regardless of the merits of these allegations.

The use of the word “allegations” is key here because what management is alleging has historically not been trustworthy (and usually those allegations aren’t shared with staff or constitute mere smears). There’s a culture of dishonesty or a chronic culture of lying at the management. It’s something I was first made aware of about 4 years before joining the company. Someone credible (whom I first knew online, later met in person) told me that the Sirius founder had lied about his credentials (for media attention) and that litigation was considered over those lies; it was not worth pursuing for financial reasons, but the founder of Sirius was taking credit for things not actually one’s own achievement (misrepresentation or lying about one’s role in a British institution).

The saddest thing is that real people are hurt and even disabled people are harmed. They don’t do anything wrong, but for pseudo-political reasons they get punished regardless.

I never forgot what I learned down at a local pub before I joined the company; but I only saw it firsthand in more recent years. I was conveniently ignoring the lies for years, as they didn’t impact me personally and I didn’t participate in the lying.

Sirius Open Source Operating in the Dark

Video download link | md5sum b1726ae376189bc6db959452e1e46683
Working in the Blind
Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 4.0

Summary: When companies behave like monarchies where staff has no role at all in decision-making and decisions are made in violation of those companies’ tenets (or mission statements) it is inevitable that staff will issue concerns, first internally and — failing that — in other channels

THE company Sirius fancies the word “Open”, but it does not engage in open debate. Staff is left in the dark about the company’s own affairs, never mind clients and the general public. Everything is decided secretly by an inner cabal; it wasn’t always like that!

In the more recent past, bad decisions were made like abandoning Open stuff in favour of proprietary spyware such as Slack, Skype, Google, and Zoom. A decision regarding mobile phones came much later, without any consultations at all with those actually impacted by the decision. They say there were concerns about the staff pushing back, but if staff isn’t being listened to, then key staff will leave the company. This already happened before. Managers, for instance, were making our infrastructure obsolete and driving out people who can maintain it, leaving rotting foundations and massive bills for “Clown Computing” (the same could be hosted for like 10 times less and be controlled directly).

The video above mentions taxes, addresses, and a pattern of misleading clients while taking great risk. This is no way to run a company, except into the ground. Its long-earned reputation (almost 25 years) cannot compensate for recent bad karma.

Chronic Abuse in Sirius Open Source Ltd.

Sirius Open Source: stress-free

Summary: Part 3 of a report regarding Sirius Open Source, which is imploding after bad judgement and misuse of power against employees

THE signs of Sirius collapsing were all over the place. In Part I and in Part II (see index) we explained some of the earlier days of the company, which turns 25 next year. It might not even reach this milestone at all. Prognosis is negative.

People can understand that institutions are failing when people improperly qualified are assigned jobs they are incapable of doing. This is where Sirius is today. And now we come to Part 3, looking back a bit:


The Open Source Era

Humble Beginnings

Roy’s loyalty to the company is evident and easily provable considering how long he has served the company. But now it is not the company he entered in early February 2011; nor is this the company Rianne entered in 2013. Much patience and tolerance were needed to justify staying in the company for so long (in 2 months it’ll be full 12 years since Roy joined), especially after unforgettable tirades from management that has since then been (apparently) removed, albeit only after a lot of backlash from a lot of staff. 12 years is a long, long time. Roy worked there from his 20s to his 40s. He had much better job offers elsewhere. 12 years is also the longest any existing worker has served the company. That’s very long by today’s standards, where employment records are a lot shorter than back in the 1960s-1980s. A lot of people hop between jobs only months or a few years apart. But not Roy.

Both Roy and Rianne have consistently and persistently demonstrated loyalty to the company, sticking to it even when times were rough and people elsewhere offered “better” jobs. This, as a matter of very simple fact, is why there’s a benevolent fight for the company and its (original) core mission. It’s why internal issues are escalated internally (not to publicly embarrass the company) and misguided directions get highlighted without admonishing anyone.

It’s important not to derail core tenets of the company. It’s essential for recruitment, which can beget better clients, in turn rewarding the staff, too. People who don’t care about their employer simply keep quiet, blindly follow instructions, and don’t care about long-term consequences. Those are typically employees that just come and go. They don’t offer much value to the company (training takes up a lot of time and it’s an investment which goes astray), so they don’t fully develop familiarity, skills, personal connection etc. (among colleagues and among clients, who learn to trust the company based on names of long-serving people). Many of them cannot develop software, either.

A Fast-Rotting Apple

Companies succeed and perish based on what people they can attract and what people they lose. In the case of Sirius, much was lost and almost nothing gained in the “human capital” or “human resources” sense. It’s becoming a crisis. More on that later.

Over the past decade or longer there has been a change of leadership and severe brain drain. Morale has not been good, to put it politely. The Sirius management figures rely far too much on credibility of a company that existed well over a decade ago — a company that had a physical office (real location), a clearer and more elaborate leadership structure, and a lot of office staff, not just remote workers. The company had assets, certified professionals in fields of operations (not just technical fields), and therefore it functioned a lot more reliably, e.g. in the accountancy. There were cheques and balances. There were actual domain-proficient departments and not self-appointed jacks of all trades.

As we shall see later, there was also a change of address in October: [sic]

Registered office address changed from The Columbia Centre Station Road Bracknell Berkshire RG12 1LP United Kingdom to 80-83 Long Lane 80-83 Long Lane London EC1A 9ET on 11 October 2022

Registered office address changed from The Columbia Centre Station Road Bracknell Berkshire RG12 1LP United Kingdom to 80-83 Long Lane 80-83 Long Lane London EC1A 9ET on 11 October 2022

Change address: Registered office address changed from The Columbia Centre Station Road Bracknell Berkshire RG12 1LP United Kingdom to 80-83 Long Lane 80-83 Long Lane London EC1A 9ET on 11 October 2022

This is not the Sirius address, it is the accountancy’s address.

Sadly, what we’re seeing or what ‘low-level’ employees have witnessed so far this year is a growing level and ever-increasing frequency of cover-up (few examples to come later) of what was/is really happening. Those who are portrayed as troublemakers are in fact those who supposedly ‘threaten’ this veil of secrecy or amicably challenge the company to improve (from within, repeatedly if necessary, in order to spare otherwise-avoidable damage and save face). As internal avenues of grievances are exhausted, people start speaking to friends, even without naming any persons, companies etc. This is a well-known high cost of failing to act upon internal suggestions or constructive complaints, leaving little leeway and inevitably causing a sort of spill-over of woes and gripes. This, suffice to say, is another example of managerial failure. Being unable to listen (not just hear but actually listen) to workers is a weakness. It’s not a strength, although it can be rather tempting to simply ignore critics and impulsively alluring to reject criticism as fundamentally “invalid”, “void”, “hostile”, “paranoid”, “ignorant” and so on. Egocentric companies end up with no inflation in business, just inflation of the self. That weakens teamwork. A cohesive working environment boils down to collaboration and deep trust, not a bunch of superhero avatars in Slack channels, which to an outsider may indicate that the company is immature, unprofessional, and child-like.

In the past, the company known as “Sirius” (same name, very different people) had more competent administrators (like a person associated with the Ubuntu community back when Roy joined), i.e. folks who actually understood the products and services that Sirius provided. It helps to have such people onboard because of networking and links; they can bring business (around that time Sirius had clients directly connected to Ubuntu; it was a gateway to a flourishing network of other clients). Likewise, some world-class and well-known PostgreSQL engineers were employed by the company; this is a sign of solid corporate leadership, technical leadership, and also a lead to future clientele. Of course almost all of those people have since then left the company, leaving the company with a “skeleton crew”.

Having an administrator with no background in computing is not a good idea; clients can sense they’re interacting (e.g. over the telephone) with people whose skills are limited to “personal assistant” that soon got promoted to management due to an unfilled vacuum. Potential of career leap may seem nice, but that comes at a collective, company-wide cost. Another aspect of this phenomenon was in recent years dubbed “imposter syndrome”. That can lead to insecurity, which in turn causes backlash, outbursts, and paranoia. It makes any workplace potentially toxic. Any time a company is hiring unskilled people or promoting people in spite of a lack of relevant skills it causes issues on several levels; clients lose respect, workers feel dissatisfied, and job roles cannot be performed (maybe not by intention, but high forms of incompetence are not distinguishable from malice). Due to (corporate) survival instincts, those being scrutinised can turn aggressive very fast.

In the past 4 years staff casually witnessed tantrums (albeit staff was subjected to divide-and-rule tactics, impeding communication between staff or across teams); that typically came from above, not from below, e.g. managers resorting to bullying. General consensus within workers’ circles is that at least some of that stems from some people’s desperate desire to cover up their lack of capabilities. This is very dangerous to any company, including those who do the bullying (after all, without the company they too would be unemployed). Those who stand to lose the most are long-serving staff, whose CV is closely connected and long-connected to that one firm. Those who just come and seed destruction can move on and repeat the same modus operandi. Short-term workers have a different set of personal interests. That’s just how it is.

The Old Sirius ‘Open Source’ Was a Patron (Sponsor) of KDE and FSF

Summary: The company my wife and I joined was (at the time) still Free software-centric and reasonably friendly towards staff; today we examine Sirius of a decade ago

IN THE previous part we showed some preliminary statements about this report regarding Sirius ‘Open Source’, a company known very well from the inside for nearly 12 years. Today we can introduce the softer side of Sirius or what Sirius used to be.


The Open Source Era

At the Beginning

Sirius is early Patron (sponsor but a more modern term for sponsorship) of KDE, a prominent European project for GNU/Linux- and BSD-centric desktops and laptops. Sirius is also an early Patron of the FSF, which stands for the Free Software Foundation (listed and thanked by the FSF for several consecutive years, as The Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine confirms). The FSF was established in the mid 1980s, i.e. almost 1.5 decades before Sirius was even founded. Many early employees of the company were GNU/Linux users, KDE users, even Debian Developers. They were highly technical people who shared the philosophy reflected upon by these (aforementioned) generous donation.

The Wayback Machine shows the Sirius site (old snapshots). Wayback Machine screenshot of the front page:

Wayback Machine screenshot: Sirius and GNU

Wayback Machine screenshot from the FSF:

Wayback Machine screenshot: Sirius and FSF

The company was able to attract high-calibre staff based on these credentials and hard-earned track record. Roy too was attracted to the company based on these publicly- and readily-visible credentials.

People worked overtime to please Sirius clients, some of which were very high-profile. Sadly, as we shall show later in this document, that’s no longer the case and hasn’t been so for several years. The company is living off or leeching off its (distant) past reputation and is extremely paranoid about people finding out about a rapid pivot across numerous dimension, e.g. in-house technology, levels of relevant skill mastered by staff, overt nepotism, and promotion of technologies not compatible with the company’s original mission statement. A lot of the work produced by the company — and it is no longer so much in-house work — leverages Open Source/Free software (libre, or free as in freedom) but does not share back the contributions (or mere code changes), even when initially there’s intention to do so, even if not for licence compliance purposes but status (companies that share back code and don’t just use or exploit code have better karma, averting the image of becoming parasitic to the community).

An Exercise in Optics

The company’s Web site is intentionally outdated. It projects outwards an image of a company that may or may not existed about half a decade ago. Some of the clients being bragged about are well over a decade old. The intention there is to use past clients, no matter how old, to present a credible, potent, highly-experienced firm with high competency. A lot of the actual work gets done by associates (external contractors), not dedicated staff, and those associates have their own firms, which aren’t connected to Sirius at all, except maybe loosely. We’re left to assume that Sirius quietly transforms into a sort of middleman or reseller across a number of domains. For instance, there are a number of things Sirius claims to be supporting, but managers inside the company have no actual staff familiar with ways to maintain such things, so Sirius would typically contract outwards or outsource. This is a crucial point. This isn’t how the company presents itself to the public.

The company, at least in the past, not only had legitimate credibility in the Free/Open Source software world; it goes beyond that. This is well documented and it’s not too hard to find the company’s founder cited extensively in the technology-centric media, especially over a decade ago (Roy used to cite him a lot, including in his site, Techrights). The founder is very visible in national and international press.

The company made a name for itself by attending international events and even hosted an event promoting the use of OpenDocument Format (ODF) in the UK. That’s vital advocacy of Open Standards at a very crucial point in time (format wars and struggles against vendor lock-in). As we shall see later on, these laudable outreach efforts have played a considerable role in attracting Roy’s interest in the company. As an aside, the company first sought to recruit Roy, way back around 2006. The founder of Sirius phoned Roy when Roy was completing his Ph.D. degree in Victoria University of Manchester.

Conflicts Inside Sirius Open Source

Video download link | md5sum 5fc22241d0ba2771d8eb8d960d4e13de
Start of Sirius Series
Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 4.0

Summary: Sirius has not been functioning properly for years, but this year it got a lot worse and the story ought to be told; there are many aspects in it that may be applicable to other companies, including those that engage in openwashing for marketing purposes (opportunism)

THIS is the second video regarding the company I left yesterday. It was not a pleasant departure; it was the result of a weeks-long conflict. It started a month ago after I had done just one single (yes, just one!) shift in November.

Someone’s feelings were hurt, so a vendetta began, never mind why those feelings were hurt in the first place (context matters). More details will be supplied later, but today we start the release of a detailed report.

For a number of months already the managers were looking to downsize (disguised euphemistically as reorganisation) with an external HR firm advising them against staff’s interests, as one might expect. There were attempts to deny severance/compensation and these attempts were rather obvious right from the start. But nobody took the bait, so a campaign of witch-hunts (vendetta) began.

The vendetta cannot be understated. This wasn’t done to some opportunists or some “tourists” in the company but to devoted, long-serving staff. To put it in context, in almost 12 years never — not even once — did I take sick leave (not ever!), but that does not seem to matter. These was a bogus “scoring” exercise and a divide-and-conquer effort, orchestrated by a company that became incompetent and unethical because it was running out of money (or losing the ability to borrow more money). All those things are of course connected; they’re connected by institutional demise.

So this month I get to tell my story, starting in early 2011 when I joined. As a long-term worker, I would be entitled to compensation, but abusive management is using fake nonsense to avoid paying severance, knowing that if it gets sued the company is already registered (partly) in another country and is too broke to even fight in court. The managers know this, but they’re fakers and posers at this point. They’ve evaded liabilities in other areas too. Clients are being misled about it. Clients deserve to know.

Sirius Open Source Explained

Sirius Open Source xmas tree

Summary: Statement on SIRIUS OPEN SOURCE LTD Compiled for Roy and Rianne Schestowitz, Sirius Staff since 2011 and 2013, respectively

TODAY we begin to share a document circulated internally regarding the company where I worked for nearly 12 years. The document can help highlight phenomena found across companies, not limited to this one. The subject will be covered on a daily basis throughout December.

Introduction

Roy is a computer scientist based in Manchester, UK. He has been advocating digital security, autonomy and freedom in computing for over 20 years. He has given lectures on a number of topics including computer security since his early 20s and his experience writing about labour and legal rights spans well over 15 years (Roy’s only uncle — and he has no more uncles — is a court judge). Roy is passionate about the Rule of Law and morality.

Rianne is a computer scientist and the wife of Roy, her loving husband who had joined Sirius 2 years prior to her joining the company as well. The role of Roy and Rianne inside the company is similar if not identical (only the time slots are different), so their grievances are inherently similar. The bosses and colleagues are the same. Hence, this document shares many overlapping observations. They will be presented in tandem.

Privacy Notice

Sirius Open Source watersideThe document does not infringe privacy. Roy has extensive experience writing about privacy-sensitive issues, including whistle-blowers, so names of clients and colleagues will not be mentioned (even excessively redacted in some cases). Evidence, where ample paper space is needed, won’t be shared unless demanded. All statements herein are backed by verifiable material and all evidence is readily available upon demand. Do not assume anything here constitutes mere gossip (we reject weak levels of evidence like hearsay) and provided that all statements are true and any inaccuracies may be unintentional, nothing provided in this text could be defamatory.

Company Overview (Quick Facts)

Sirius Open Source wineThe main subject of this document is Sirius, a company registered under several different IDs in the Companies House (depending on the range of years of operation). Currently it is not registered under the same name as it had been registered when Roy and Rianne joined the company. Directors also changed a bit (this typically happens when this company rolls on from one ID to the next). It’s possible to also learn a chain of cliques and friends (possible cases of nepotism and favouritism) by studying connections between and across organisations, e.g. Open Source Consortium. The reasons for the change are not known, leaving us speculating at best. When asked about that in person, the company declined to provide an explanation. Another ‘branch’ of the company is based in the US, i.e. outside the UK and largely unknown to us (e.g. its financial state). This document won’t speculate on these issues and confidential material circulated within the company earlier this year will not be cited (in the interest of confidentiality). Careful attention was paid to confidentiality laws.

Structure of This Document

The main sections of this document deal with 1) the company when Roy joined it. 2) the company when managerial bullying turned more institutionalised. 3) the company in what seems like its last gasp (heavy debt that grows rapidly).

Resigning Was the Belated and Necessary Moral Choice

Video download link | md5sum b592f88498af1b6093b6cc3fffbb8a02
Why I Left My Job Today
Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 4.0

Summary: One very important (and perhaps lifelong) lesson learned in my last job is that clients and agenda can change rapidly as a result of rotation in management and a loss of moral compass; it’s critical to check not only what employer one works for but who the upstream and downstream entities are (their nature can change for the worse when the employer becomes desperate and neglects ethics in pursuit of money)

IN INDUSTRY, there is a chain of suppliers and providers. Microsoft, for instance, gives “products” and provides “services” to companies, governments, militaries and so on.

In the case of the company where I worked (until today), we had provided services for companies in the private sector and many in the public sector too.

For software development firms, there are typically “users” or firms/people who purchase the software, license it etc.

What about the morality of those whom you provide for? Never mind suppliers, though that’s an important but separate subject (for firms that resell things and fund potentially unethical suppliers).

When Microsoft bought GitHub many employees left as they refused to work for Microsoft. Not too long afterwards many left GitHub (both users and employees) because of the ICE controversies (Microsoft insisted that GitHub should supply “services” to ICE). It quickly became a major crisis of brain drain (one colleague followed another, leaving GitHub with a lack of geeks, sort of like in Twitter last month) and Microsoft resorted to planted/seeded distractions in the media (“Arctic Vault”) in order to change the news cycle.

Today, a Friday, I officially left my job. The video above explains some of the background but future videos will delve into the lessons learned, not just based on personal experience. Many of the underlying issues seem rather common and they’re worth explaining in a generalised way that many people can relate to and study when assessing potential employers.

For instance, do people walk into a job interview and ask who the suppliers/providers are? Or who the buyers/users are? Maybe they should. Also check if management actually understands the products/services offered. If not, that’s a big red warning sign.

In my personal case, the chain has changed profoundly. Instead of spreading Free software there was a bunch of stuff like AWS being promoted. Instead of working for public sector clients (very ethical and moral agencies whose functions service to protect the vulnerable people) we started to accept business from objectionable groups. Merely pointing out such problems was framed as the real problem. That transition led to tensions and confrontations, culminating in resignation. It had been planned for months.

“He does not possess wealth; it possesses him.”

Benjamin Franklin

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