Goldman Sachs the bully

Michael Lewis looks at the case of Sergey Aleynikov, a brilliant computer programer who was sent to prison after sending himself some of Goldman Sachs proprietary code before leavin the company. Although the code he took was pretty much useless to him, and not usable at his next job, Goldman Sachs reported the crime to the FBI, and had him arrested and prosecuted. Because it seems as if no one prosecuting the case understood what it was about, Lewis convenes a panel of Wall St programmers to act as a jury.

“If Person A steals a bike from Person B, then Person A is riding a bike to school, and Person B is walking. A is better off at the expense of B. That is clear-cut and most people’s view of theft. In Serge’s case, think of being at a company for three years and you carry a spiral notebook and write everything down. Everything about your meetings, your ideas, products, sales, client meetings—it’s all written down in that notebook. You leave for your new job and take the notebook with you (as most people do). The contents of your notebook relate to your history at the prior company, but have very little relevance to your new job. You may never look at it again. Maybe there are some ideas or templates or thoughts you can draw on. But that notebook is related to your prior job, and you will start a new notebook at your new job which will make the old one irrelevant. . . . For programmers their code is their spiral notebook. [It enables them] to remember what they worked on—but it has very little relevance to what they will build next. . . . He took a spiral notebook that had very little relevance outside of Goldman Sachs.”

The real mystery, to the insiders, wasn’t why Serge had done what he had done. It was why Goldman Sachs had done what it had done. Why on earth call the F.B.I.? Why coach your employees to say what they need to say on a witness stand to maximize the possibility of sending him to prison? Why exploit the ignorance of both the general public and the legal system about complex financial matters to punish this one little guy? Why must the spider always eat the fly?

And I'm still waiting for Liars' Poker to be made into a movie.

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