Coding From Prison

Prisoners could be the best employees for several reasons, I would imagine. They are constantly monitored by prison guards so you can always know where they are and what they are doing. They also are “free” at night and in the weekends. Not to mention that they don’t have holidays (as far as I know). In addition, you can let them work for virtually nothing and pretend that you are doing them and society at large a huge favor. We will outline a detailed proposal how to achieve this amazing feat.


I guess you still have some nagging doubts left. Most inmates are victims of the system or are in prison for political reasons. Yes, you have to train those convicts first, but almost all workers in the history of employment have needed some level of training. Give them a cheap computer with Internet access (chained to a desk), some books, point them to the best free educational websites and you are good to go. Choose the educated, young (or even kids) and smart ones. I recommend some kind of computerized aptitude and personality test to select the best candidates. Avoid the ex-hackers though if you can. You are likely not allowed to give hackers a coding job any way.


At this point, you are either convinced or you have found another reason, why this can’t possibly work. If the latter is true, we probably lost you already. Together with the couple of readers left we will continue thinking about ways to fine tune this gem of a potential scheme. We are doing it for the good of society and the prisoners themselves.

It’s quite hard to motivate somebody who doesn’t get paid, except with books chained to a desk maybe. Light paperback ones made out of flame-retardant material. So we will just apply the gamification trick of such wonderful sites as Reddit, Slashdot, Stackoverflow and Quora. We will hand out virtual badges, credits and karma. Our imprisoned coders will receive badges for commenting their code, good test coverage, low number of bugs, working long hours and other metrics we deem important. Credits will be given for worked hours. The diligent coders canĀ  get promoted too with associated increase in virtual credits and increase in work responsibilities. By the way credits will be just a status thing, you wouldn’t be able to do anything with them, except perhaps you could have some special perks like playing special video games. Of course, those video games will be used to brain wash the trainees even more. We want to make these computer games so enjoyable thatĀ  people would miss them when they leave prison. OK, maybe not that enjoyable.

More Motivational Gimmicks

Ranking lists are very important. We need to make a big deal of top 100 lists. Likewise for Coder of the Month or Coder of the Week awards. Continuously remind our employees that these skills are incredibly valuable in the outside world. Make empty promises of jail time reduction. Tell the convicts that they owe it to society to do their utmost best.

The Clone Project

Programmers coding from prison on our Google Reader clone project will have no access to the Cloud. They will only be able to visit websites, that are on a carefully compiled white list. At no time are the prisoners to be allowed to see actual user data in any shape or form. This means that we will still need some people who are not in prison. But as mentioned yesterday, we will have them working for us via an outsourcing type company to keep costs further down.

It will be kind of hard to keep this level of security going. However, I have worked, in the past, both directly and indirectly for banks and other financial institutions and I have practically never seen any customer information. So it can be done and besides RSS feed subscriptions are not much of a security risk. Sure it can be embarrassing if this kind of information became public, but we shouldn’t worry too much about it.

In an ideal world there would be no need for prisons. People would not commit any crimes. Nevertheless, the reality is that crime exists and people do, go to prison. The system is almost entirely to blame for this and a number of people get convicted for a variety of political reasons. In many cases convicts return to society with lack of job skills and suitable work experience. It doesn’t have to be this way. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that every prisoner should learn to program. That would be foolish and completely impractical.

Disclaimer: this entire text is based on random articles and books I read. The ideas mentioned here might be appropriate for testers too. Of course, being in prison is no joke. However, coding from prison might be.

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By the author of NumPy Beginner's Guide, NumPy Cookbook and Instant Pygame. If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to the RSS feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader.
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