At least a decade ago, when I worked in IT, I read a story online that I treasured like those special Dilbert clips everyone posts in their cubicle. Supposedly, a software engineer making $90,000 a year outsourced his job to India, paying an engineer there about 20% of his salary (a handsome wage in India at the time) so he could split his workdays between online courses and video games. As the story went, the code he got back from the Indian engineer was so good that he had to introduce bugs now and then to maintain credibility.
I loved telling the tale, though I figured it was probably just a nerd urban legend. Today I found an identical case that is documented. Well, identical except for location and inflation: the country is China, and the US engineer’s salary is given as “six-figure.”
A “critical infrastructure company” in the US contacted Verizon security services to see why there were so many network logins originating in Shenyang, China. At first the company thought they’d been hacked. Later it turned out the VPN token had been supplied to the Chinese firm by an employee the Verizon report names as “Bob.” Bob was described as:
“mid-40′s software developer versed in C, C++, perl, java, Ruby, php, python, etc. Relatively long tenure with the company, family man, inoffensive and quiet. Someone you wouldn’t look at twice in an elevator.”
Bob showed up every day at the office. Here is Verizon’s report on how he spent his days ( http://tinyurl.com/ajm7oan ):
- 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.
NPR’s coverage of this story contains a link to the Verizon report, which notes that Bob had a reputation as the best developer in the company http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2013/01/16/169528579/outsourced-employee-sends-own-job-to-china-surfs-web
What’s just as interesting as Bob’s story is my reaction to it (and probably yours). First, I assume that if Bob had the smarts to engineer this deal, he got a non-disclosure agreement from the Chinese company. Such documents, to protect business secrets, are routine in all sub-contracting operations.
Beyond that, I found that along with humorous admiration for Bob’s escapade, I felt critical because he wasn’t “playing by the rules” – even though in the course of my own career, I watched all the rules change.
When I finally “settled down” and got a “real job,” I joined a technology company that boasted of never having a layoff. The first one came about 18 months later, and before I left, I saw scores of empty cubicles of people whose jobs had been sent overseas. These days we all know people who played by the rules and got screwed.
In the end, I wouldn’t want Bob’s karma, but his story illustrates something we hear again and again: nowadays workers are on their own. Company loyalty in response to employee loyalty is largely a thing of the past, and everyone has to take responsibility for their own careers, including use of the tools of the digital age. For anyone reading this post in a cubicle and thinking of Bob and tropical islands, here is some recreational reading, referenced in the NPR story – The Four Hour Workweek, by Timothy Ferriss.
As the sergeant used to say in the classic cop show, Hill Street Blues, “Be careful out there!”