Monday, November 18, 2013

One person's trash is one bot's treasure (GIGO part one)

Sara's second day at her new job started off relatively normally. The new startup wasn't as weird as her worried parents feared that it would be. "Why join a startup when you can join a real company?" her father had asked. Her parents were placated when they learned that leading Silicon Valley and New York venture capitalists had poured $20 million into the venture. However, when Sara's father asked what she was working on, she simply replied that it was a secret. The secret wasn't closely guarded - most of the industry blogs were talking about it - but Sara didn't want to tell her parents that her company's "killer app" was an Android application that combined GPS with "big data" to find the nearest piano-playing cat.

Despite the odd product, the job itself was pretty normal, and actually wasn't that different from her senior year in college - until 8:30 on the second day, when Sara was walking down the hall.

"What are you doing?" asked Scott, one of Sara's matrixed bosses.

"Taking the trash out to the dumpster," Sara replied.

"You're what?" asked a shocked Scott.

"Hey, it's OK," Sara replied. "I understand that we probably don't have a janitor, so I'm happy to pitch in and take it out myself."

Scott put his hand up. "No!" he barked.

Sara looked at him.

"Sara, I know you're new, but no one should violate the Prime Directive here at GatoForte." Sara half expected Scott to put up his hand in the Vulcan salute, but Scott continued. "Never, ever destroy data."

Sara was starting to get annoyed. "Scott, this is trash, not data."

"Sara," Scott shook his head. "Data is data. Can you imagine the reaction from the press if they found out that our employees were discarding data? Think of the security implications, much less the loss of knowledge."

Sara reached into her trash can and pulled out a gum wrapper, with the gum inside. "Analyze this, Scott," she said, putting it in his hand so that the gum stuck to his finger.

Scott stared at his hand for a second. "Your purchasing habits, your entire health history, possibly information on your dental provider. This is a treasure trove of information, Sara, and we don't just throw it away. And what's the small pink bag, if I may ask?"

"Well, Scott, since you work at a pet-friendly company, you will not be surprised to learn that this pink bag contains dog crap." Sara almost threw it in Scott's face, but restrained herself. "And my dog doesn't have a credit card, so there's no purchasing history there."

"You'd be surprised at what can be gleaned from that data," Scott replied.

"So what am I supposed to do? Leave a pile of dog crap next to my workspace?"

"Of course not, Sara. Pablo!" barked Scott, and a man with a bright yellow uniform ran to Scott's side. "Take this" - and Scott peeled the gum off his hand and put it in the bag - "and this to the data analysis center."

"Data analysis center?" asked Sara, not believing it.

"Yes," replied Scott. "A highly secure area that only four people in the company are allowed to enter. All data delivered to the data analysis center is analyzed by expert software developed on an open-source platform and incorporating the highest levels of security. The NSA couldn't get this data if they tried. So if you have things to get rid of, don't take it to the dumpster. Call Pablo or Fernando, and they'll take care of it for you."

Sara, sufficiently creeped out, felt queasy. She had to go to the bathroom, but was wondering if the pipes were being redirected to Pablo and his data analysis center.

A few hours later, during lunch when the office was empty, Martin walked into the office. As the CEO of GatoForte, he could choose his own work hours, and rarely came in before noon. He immediately went to the data analysis center, pressed his finger on the door lock, and went in to find Pablo and Fernando sitting at a table. No software analysis tools were in sight.

"Anything good today?" asked Martin.

"Nothing," replied Pablo. "Some dog crap from the new girl, but no racy photos or anything like that."

"Any bank receipts?" asked Martin.

"Not on Tuesday," said Fernando. "The employees don't start their drinking binges until Wednesday night."

Martin looked disappointed. "Well, keep an eye on things," he said. "And it looks like everyone is at lunch. Why don't you take this stuff out to the dumpster before they come back?"

Sara, listening to the entire conversation via a pipe in a bathroom stall, quietly smiled to herself. As far as she could tell, everyone else in the office bought this "data analysis center" story. Well, she thought to herself, let's have a little fun and make Martin's day a little more interesting.

To be continued...
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