The Perils of Stealing Code from Goldman Sachs

Ex-Goldman Sachs programmer Sergey Aleynikov is back in trouble for stealing source code from his ex-employer and made today’s WSJ. I had heard about this in passing over the past few years  but only today did I investigate.

He was arrested in July 2009 on federal charges for stealing source code  for what Goldman said allowed them to perform “sophisticated, high- speed and high-volume trades on various stock and commodities markets”. He was convicted in late 2010, imprisoned in early 2011, and later acquitted on appear earlier this year after a year in prison. The Manhattan district attorney arrested him again last month is now retrying under state law. The defendant does not deny taking the code with him as he went to a new employer, but he says he had only intended to use the portions of it that were open source.

The double jeopardy nature of this case is interesting, but that’s not was necessarily catches my interest. I know plenty of developers who take code they have written when they leave companies and consultants from reputed consulting firms that re-use their code time and again across clients. I guess in the high-stakes world of investment banking, these firms take all this a little more seriously. Since this is not commercial software, they would have to spend some significant time and money to prove their case.

I initially felt empathy and could see how it could have happened innocently. And it’s still not clear to me if the code he swiped was that which he had written himself, and whether it had been debugged, tested and used. Those factors definitely influence how nefarious this was. But reading further, I found he apparently uploaded the whole thing to a public server in Germany. That’s definitely the mark of a miscreant.