A lot of companies have moved to organizational chat systems like Slack or the late, unlamented HipChat. And, from what I have seen, none of those companies have ever dealt with employee transitions in a remotely rational fashion. Here’s what generally happens:

  1. Employee leaves.
  2. Slack / HipChat / whatever chat account is promptly deleted.
  3. I lose all access to ANY and ALL conversations with that previous employee forever.

What. The. Fsck*? This makes no actual sense. Chat has become the organizational memory for what happens in a company. Now let’s move to an actual, specific example. At my day job we just had a manager depart during a re-org. These things happen and I really don’t know the specifics. What I do know is that this was my damn manager and he was directly involved in the project I’m on. If I hadn’t, painstakingly copied every single slack message he and I ever had, all 20 odd plus pages of them, to a text file, I would have lost much of my knowledge of the project including important details like:

  • Who at the client I was supposed to speak with
  • The API keys that define connectivity
  • The schedule

Now I might have been able to remember the people at the client and I do have a vague memory of the schedule but a high entropy api key like this:

afdjklfdsaj294u324,asdfmafrwae6435%1 (not the real api key; I’m annoyed but not an idiot)

I’ll never remember that. And since I wasn’t ready to use it yet, I just left it in my chat client for the time being. Is this the right place for an API key? Nope. But in the real world, chat is often the communications mechanism for delivery of things like API keys.

In Closing, Email versus Chat

It is always interesting to me that organizations would never delete emails that were sent to me from employees who have left (I just confirmed that I have every email ever from employees who quit). So why is chat different?

*Yes this is a slightly more polite, much, much more nerdy way of saying “fuck”. It refers to the fsck utility which checks file system integrity and the fact that when you need to run fsck, you’re first word is generally “fuck”.