Thursday, May 10, 2012

I'm a former Miso engineer and the founders screwed me out of 10k


There's a few things I want to clear up here about certain assumptions made about what exactly happened.

Prior to the database incident I had already given my intent to resign for a different opportunity. I stuck around for a month to complete a product that was assigned to me before the fact. I could have just left, and let the rest of the team pick up my shit. I didn't do that, because I wanted to do right by them and finish what I had started, and I wanted to have adequate time. Sometime during the development of that project is when I nuked the DB. 

Those that are calling the Miso engineering team incompetent. STOP. These guys are easily some of the best I've ever had to pleasure to work with. Chances are you've never worked with a 5 person team of this caliber. But shit happens. It happens to the best of us. (I blew away the database in exactly this manner) It's the way engineering is sometimes. When you're in a small start up where resources are scarce and deadlines are tight, it's hard not to be a little sloppy. I fucked up. I was sloppy, and I suffered the consequences.

Contrary to what some have said, I did not leave Miso on bad terms. I was not fired for this incident, and I did not quit out of shame or something ridiculous. It's unfortunate the timing of all these events could imply that. I left for a better opportunity that was more aligned with my passions and interests. It was as simple as that.

Lastly. I did this knowing fully well what the extent of the consequences could be. Hiring managers skipping over my resume, notoriety in the start up scene blah blah. Some called me brave and courageous, but I am just as stupid. I'm stupid about standing up for my ideals even if it'd be smarter to just let this go. If this behavior is going to be shunned by some of you. Fuck it. Say whatever you will. I'm doing what I think is right, and none of you can take that away from me.


First of all. Thank you. I made this post with hopes that someone out there can learn something from this. Needless to say I got a lot more than what I was expecting. I'm humbled by the attention and support I've gotten from everyone. Strangers and friends alike. The 10k I'll be getting will be going to charity to celebrate the integrity, compassion and passion demonstrated by the community at large. 

I want to especially thank the Hacker News community for helping this get the attention I believe it deserved. The discussions it generated in the comments section was fruitful for everyone. Again, thank you all. None of this would've been possible without your help.


I'm not writing this in hopes to have justice served, nor am I doing it out of revenge. I'm simply doing a service to the rest of the Silicon Valley startup community by telling you my story.

As recent as a month ago, I was an employee at Miso. I was there for a year before I left for a better opportunity. During that time I had a coworker who was a personal friend that I had referred. I was entitled to a $10k referral bonus offered by the CEO through internal emails. However, the payout was contingent on said employee staying for a minimum of a 6 month period at the position. Reasonable so far. This friend started early September of 2011, meaning 6 months later, March of 2012, I should be paid out of my referral bonus. I wasn't, but neither did I remember to claim it at the time. A month later I left the company. It was then I realized I had forgotten to claim my referral bonus. Oops. Oh well that's fine. I'll just email them about it and have them send me a check.

Hey Somrat,

I forgot to claim the 10k referral bonus for J. If it's more convenient for you just give a check to J. Thanks!

Simple enough right? I'm only claiming what should be mine. Nope. This is when things got ugly.

Josh, let me talk to Tim.

After you lost our data and caused our entire company to scramble for 3 days, I am hesitant.

Before I go further I should explain this a bit. During my last 2 weeks at Miso I accidentally blew away one of the production DBs for a service that was launched 2 weeks prior. No, we didn't have a backup. Long story short the engineering team scrambled for 48 hours trying to rectify the situation, and at the end we recovered 95% of the data back. Nevertheless, it was my fault, and I felt extremely bad to have caused grief. However, that's another story for another time.

So. Employee fucks up at work, instead of docking his performance bonus (makes sense, but Miso didn't give out those) let's screw him out of his REFERRAL bonus. Impeccable logic. I had to read this particular email several times to believe it. 

To put things in perspective, I was employee #7 at Miso. I worked hard for the company. If you look up anything Miso has to show for right now, I had a hand it in one way or another. To put it simply I was a quality employee that was a key contributor to the company's success thus far. I'm not asking for a trophy, but I believe it's fair that I deserve some respect on a professional level from the founders. Instead, I find that they are willing to burn this bridge over a measly 10k. Bewildered, I replied.

Somrat, I fail to see how the two should be related. If you are going to deny me of a referral bonus based on that incident I'm going to be very disappointed. 

To which the CTO replied.

Spoke with Somrat about this.  You're right that the trouble that you caused has nothing to do with a referral bonus.

However, we only pay bonuses to employees.  The bonuses are discretionary and not contractual.  You and Miso never signed a contract that mentions bonuses.

As a policy, referral bonuses are meant to help build a stronger team based on existing relationships.  Employees bringing on employees that they've worked with in the past builds a stronger team.  This bonus is not simply about hiring.  For example, we don't pay people outside of Miso when they refer us candidates that we hire.

Because you are no longer employed by Miso, you are not eligible for this bonus.

At this point. You might as well just tell me "fuck you. you didn't sign a contract. boohoo.". This "policy" he speaks of was never mentioned to me is any form. Though, if you remember when the 6 months was up I was STILL an employee at Miso. Therefore, I should have been paid under this policy anyway. I figured, I probably should point that out. Even though at this point I was starting to feel like they were determined to screw me.

What? This particular bonus should've been paid out to me by March of this year in accordance with the 6 month employment period. J joined early 09/2011. At the time, I was still an employee at Miso. I'm just claiming what should have been mine in the first place. 

I'm very disappointed you guys are willing to screw me out of 10k. You leave me no choice but to take this public.

No. I'm not proud of threatening, but I was pissed.

I'm sorry you feel that way.  Our bonuses have always been discretionary and a means to reward current employees.


Ok? Not sure if dodging or just didn't read my email. The rest of this chain of emails consists of me double checking if he understood what I was saying, and him giving me some more BS.

Look. I don't even know if I can take this to court. Through legally means, I'm probably not getting that 10k. Frankly, at this point it's beyond the money. This is unethical practice. Period. I don't know anyone else that needed to sign a piece of paper for referral bonuses. It's given out of good faith. While I took this good faith for granted, I've never heard of anyone else being denied a referral bonus.

I had a good time at Miso. In fact, I loved my coworkers there. It was high caliber team that got shit done and was fun to be around. I learned a lot there, and will always be thankful for the opportunity. Despite what happened in the last few days I would not take that experience back.

With that said. I debated taking this public. It's not in my comfort zone to speak negatively about someone on a public forum. Still, I feel that people should know. I worry for my former coworkers that are still there, and prospective hires. Paying their dues so maybe one day their stock options will pay off.

If founders of a company are willing to screw over a former employee out of a small sum of money during the early stages when they should be trying to build a reputation, what is going to happen when the company gets big and goes IPO? Pull a Zynga? Who knows? This incident poses a lot of questions about their integrity, moral values, and character. I for one, will never ever work with those guys again.

Somrat. Tim. Was this worth the 10k?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

I like to keep stuff.

Nine cities, four states, and five countries. That's how many places I've lived in throughout my lifetime. Since 1998 I've moved every single year. Sometimes miles away to a different country, sometimes just around the corner to a different apartment. Either way, sometime in the middle of the year, I'm packing and unpacking. Today, I'm packing again. This time to move all the way across the country to San Francisco, CA.

I realized something about myself while packing these past few days. I'm very nostalgic. Until more recently, I've been terrible at throwing stuff away. I keep a lot of it. Why? Because when you move so much, the little things like a stuffed animal, personal letters, and birthday cards is you have left to cling on to after you leave.

So every year around this time I'd spend a lot of time recalling my past by packing. Flipping through old music scores, fingering through a stack of store membership cards I never use, rereading that birthday card my college buddies wrote, among other objects that really pose no significance to anyone but myself.

When you move around a lot, your memory becomes fragmented and non-contiguous. Your sense of continuity regarding a place, or person only applies to that specific time period. You go back to that place, or meet that person years later, everything has changed. When most of your life consists of memories of people in such a fragmented form, you get the sense that you don't really know anyone that well. 

It wasn't so apparent to me until more recently. When you start reconnecting with people you haven't spoken to for a decade, you start to wonder what happened since then. Is he/she still the same person you remember? What has changed? The lingering memories and impressions from the past all comes flooding back, except most of the time they no longer apply. What you thought did, soon prove to be an illusion. What you wish to have kept, is no longer the same. Baring a few memories, it's not so different from acquainting oneself with a complete stranger.

Maybe because of this I kept a lot of stuff. This way I have something that holds all these memories together. People like to identify themselves with a place, or a group, to have a strong sense of belonging. I have some of those too, just not to the extent comparable to what most of people have. I identify myself mostly with a box of seemingly worthless items representing pieces of memories strung together by various mementos. Pieces of which I'm becoming willing to let go of.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Musing over Ghost in the Shell's philosophical context

I recently had a discussion with a friend of mine about research efforts in optic neural systems. A lot of the research involved probing neural signals by inducing reactions via various inputs. The data obtained from these efforts brings us closer to understanding how our eyes work to encode information received through our retinas and how it sends that information via electro signals to our brains to decode and finally construct an image.

Conversely, if we were able to map out the entire neural system, organ functions, and logistics rationalizing human behavior, it's not entirely out of this world to theorize the possibility of emulating an entire human as a system through circuits, machinery and sophisticated adaptive AI. Of course, I'd like to emphasize that to accomplish this monumental effort within our lifetimes would be a far cry.

In Ghost in the Shell, an anime series, this theory was realized. Similar to many sci-fi films and games such as Star Trek and Deus Ex, in GITS cyber implants, cyborgs, androids are the norm in the year 2030. Apart from the plethora of cool advanced technology, what made this series such a masterpiece was their emphasis on examining various topics with respect to philosophical debates, particularly dualism, or the separation of the mind and body. One of the main themes of this series is the constant reference to the concept of a "ghost" and the examination of this phenomenon.

To explain the title of the series, ghost in the shell refers to an ethereal spirit that is common referred to as one's soul, living inside a machine. This references the fact that the female protagonist in the film is a full body cyborg. The technical term used in the series is full cyberization. So the theory constantly being examined and evaluated is the capability of AI based systems to possess a ghost. The very first installment of this series was in form of a movie and it examined the psychological impacts of the female protagonist being full body cyborg. She constantly questions and doubts the existence of a ghost within her, because aside from her brain she is nothing but a machine. The implied effect of being a cyborg is the sense of delineation of the two entities, her ghost and the shell. However, another aspect of this concept was examined deeply in the first TV series.

The TV series introduced AI tanks called Tachikomas. They were experimental combat robots which possesses highly advanced adaptive AI with the ability to reason and learn from experience. This has led to interesting episodes in the series where they examine the growth of their AI systems. These AI tanks were portrayed with children like characteristics. Ignorant, yet extremely curious. So throughout the series they slowly start to understand concepts that commonly alludes a machine through discussions within the AI tank circle. Such as life and death, god, and individualism. The rate at which they were learning became so alarming that these AI tanks were at one point decommissioned as they were deemed too dangerous to operate as weapons having acquiring that level of awareness.

Dabbling in plot details aside, the real food for thought is if we were able to engineer an AI with human-like sophistication, does "it" have the capacity to possess a ghost? Or is a ghost simply a term coined to explain the observed phenomenon of our behavioral complexities which makes us human?