Do you see office life for what it really is?

I love this article on The Register about a man who was found to have secretly outsourced his entire job to China:

A security audit of a US critical infrastructure company last year revealed that its star developer had outsourced his own job to a Chinese subcontractor and was spending all his work time playing around on the internet.

The firm’s telecommunications supplier Verizon was called in after the company set up a basic VPN system with two-factor authentication so staff could work at home. The VPN traffic logs showed a regular series of logins to the company’s main server from Shenyang, China, using the credentials of the firm’s top programmer, “Bob”.

You have to admire the chutzpah of the guy. But the excellent part of the story is that his resultant work was not substandard.

In fact, Bob, the happy coders in China, and the employer would all seem to have benefited from the arrangement:

[Bob] was paying them a fifth of his six-figure salary to do the work and spent the rest of his time on other activities.

Bob is employing salary arbitrage, as made famous by Tim Ferris in his DIY freedom tome The 4-Hour Work Week.

Realising his company was grossly overpaying him for his skills on a global basis, Bob addressed the issue and pocketed the profits – both in terms of money and also in terms of time.

A drone’s life

That brings me to the first of two disappointing elements to this story.

Instead of using his time productively – maybe generating an ongoing passive income stream to pay his bills when he was eventually busted – it seems Bob spent most of his time goofing around on the Internet.

Here’s his typical day, according to the report:

9:00 a.m. – Arrive and surf Reddit for a couple of hours. Watch cat videos

11:30 a.m. – Take lunch

1:00 p.m. – Ebay time

2:00-ish p.m – Facebook updates, LinkedIn

4:30 p.m. – End-of-day update e-mail to management

5:00 p.m. – Go home

It’s a shame that once freed from the laborious constraints of typical hourly work, Bob choose to indulge in exactly the sort of Western slacking that’s giving the Chinese and others their opportunity. There’s only so many cat videos on YouTube that anyone needs to watch in a day.

Secondly, although it’s not explicitly stated in the article, it seems his company was concerned about Bob’s unorthodox approach to his job, given that it has had a report written up on him.

This despite the fact that it considered Bob one of its best employees:

In his performance assessments by the firm’s human resources department, he was the firm’s top coder for many quarters and was considered expert in C, C++, Perl, Java, Ruby, PHP, and Python.

Why didn’t the scheme ‘work very well’ for Bob’s employer, too?

Granted we’re told he was working on ‘critical infrastructure’, so perhaps there were security concerns. But in the terrorism-jumpy US that could mean a sewage farm in Indiana.

Apparently Bob had repeated the trick at other companies, too, so he was raking in thousands altogether. And that’s the crux of the issue.

The typical middle manager is far more concerned with what you are doing than with what you are producing. I personally find this attitude so galling and belittling that I’m pretty much unemployable. I can’t understand how anyone can not be at least mildly miffed by it, once you see what’s going on.

Bob’s deception was corporately untenable, even though he was achieving the work asked of him. Most companies can’t have workers questioning the system, any more than the machines can let humans run amok in The Matrix.

In a better reality, one of the companies scammed by Bob would promote him to head of Human Resources, and have him re-wire its entire operations.

The man is clearly an organisational genius in the tradition of Henry Ford.

Welcome to the real world

Bob’s achievements sum up why I am a freelance and I work for myself, from home, as much as I possibly can.

The time savings are extraordinary if you’re any good at your job, both in terms the productivity gains on the work you do, and the hours you save in schlepping back and forth to an office where most people spend half the day on Facebook anyway.

But there’s a further benefit of not aligning yourself too closely to the fortunes of any one particular witless company or another.

Put your head down, strive hard, but unless you’re curing cancer, you’re doing the job of your childhood dreams, you have a one-in-a-million leader, or you always aspired to sit in meetings to have long discussions about superfluous projects and initiatives that will arrive stillborn and be dissected in tedious detail while your precious life-hours are drained away in company-branded coffee cups – sorry, did I say that out loud? – then remember you’re always working for yourself.

You might also ask yourself: “Could my job by outsourced to China?”

If yes, then it could be prudent to take defensive action and seek a new job before a corporate Bob does yours in for you.

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