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Could you outsource your job to China?

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.

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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{ 13 comments… add one }
  • 1 chris_moneyandi January 16, 2013, 1:14 pm

    Hi I,

    Amazing, this guy is a genius and an idiot at the same time. Genius for outsourcing his job and still completing his tasks to verizon standards and an idiot to waste his time doing aboslutely nothing productive….

    Great post!
    Cheers,
    C

  • 2 ermine January 16, 2013, 1:52 pm

    > and an idiot to waste his time doing aboslutely nothing productive….

    I dunno. Did he have a good time while doing it? The aim of life is to be happy and have a good time. It isn’t to do something productive. That’s Calvinist thinking at work. If he had a good time he was a genius, period. If cat videos do it for him, great. After all, many people’s idea of a good time is spending a shedload of money on consumer goods at the mall. Cat vids are pretty inoffensive and a light touch on the world compared to that.

  • 3 BeatTheSeasons January 16, 2013, 2:08 pm

    Great post and very timely for me as I have recently been reading 4-Hour Work Week and have also (as a direct consequence) just managed to negotiate one day per week at home.

    Let’s hope I can stay away from the cat videos! Seriously, I’ve decided to only allow myself to browse and comment on blogs at several specific times of the week, and I hope I have the self-discipline to stick to that deal I’ve made with myself.

  • 4 The Investor January 16, 2013, 2:44 pm

    @ermine — Fair point, though when you say “that’s Calvinist thinking at work” I’d note that he actually was at work. 😉 If he used his free time to secure his financial future, he could watch cat videos into his dotage without the Sword of Damocles hanging over him.

    @BeatTheSeasons — Please make an exception for Monevator… 😉

    @Chris — Indeed. All heroes are flawed.

  • 5 StrivingForFI January 16, 2013, 5:28 pm

    I love it!!
    Actually, I work as a programmer myself and after reading 4-Hour Work Week, I thought I could easily do something similar myself. However, I never dared to implement it because I don’t want to lose my high pay/low stress job. However, if I reach FI (my projection is to get there in 7/8 years), then I would not mind trying it out.
    I am sure there is plenty of people out there using such a scheme. Obviously, they want to remain silent about it!
    I love your site by the way!

  • 6 George January 17, 2013, 6:45 am

    Most employers in the USA make you sign something that says you are doing your own work rather than paying you to outsource it. If the employer wanted to outsource the work, they already know how to do so.

    USA government also gets annoyed because someone isn’t paying the correct amount of taxes. Contractors have to pay twice the social security that an employee does. Contractors are a business, so some jurisdiction is losing out on their tax share. And then there’s the whole healthcare thingie…

  • 7 ermine January 17, 2013, 2:25 pm

    > If he used his free time to secure his financial future

    We don’t have the backstory 😉 I read this post on here one dark day at work. And took the appropriate action before the afternoon coffee break 😉

    BTW in over thirty years of working I never explicitly realised

    The typical middle manager is far more concerned with what you are doing than with what you are producing.

    It got worse/I got more cantankerous towards the end, as I always favoured results over process, which made me stick out as a maverick. Doing it in the right way doesn’t automatically lead to doing it right, when did that assumption creep into the corporate lexicon?

  • 8 Peter January 17, 2013, 11:58 pm

    Hi,

    It really made me laugh when I saw this in the news. I’m sure I saw someone do this in a cartoon a few years back, possibly Dilbert. I do remember in the cartoon the guy who had outsourced his job had to get the engineer to organise an occasional foul-up, to stop people suspecting he had done it.

    Peter

  • 9 The Investor January 18, 2013, 3:58 pm

    @ermine — Rushing hither and thither today, but just wanted to say I really do appreciate it that you read and remember those old posts. Makes it all seem worthwhile (er, at least the times they came good… 😉 )

  • 10 The Accumulator January 19, 2013, 9:11 am

    I loved this story but so much for the worker’s rebellion. He got crushed and all he proved was that the company didn’t need him or his co-workers. I know who I’d be lynching if I worked with him.

    As for middle managers, we’re all social animals. The signals we send to the rest of the troop matter. If the signal we send is ‘I’m twice as good as the rest of you and I can put my feet up at midday cos I got all my work done, while the rest of you chimps have barely got your computer on’ well, the rest of the troop isn’t going to appreciate that implicit review of their labours.

    Either you have to toe the line, somehow turn your effortless superiority into a social good, or leave the chimps scratching their armpits while you make your way in a tougher part of the jungle.

  • 11 The Accumulator January 19, 2013, 9:12 am
  • 12 Pauline January 19, 2013, 10:38 pm

    Incredible. I’d love to outsource my job to China and spend lazy days like Bob although like you said there are only so many cat videos, I’d rather do something interesting instead.

  • 13 Chris April 10, 2014, 12:47 pm

    Great article, As rouge as it may seem I can’t help but admire Bob’s forward thinking attitude, He seen an opportunity and he made the most of it, no harm done to anyone else (Besides perhaps disgruntled co workers upon discovery and I am sure a few bruised egos left in his wake).

    Success is a combination of hard work and opportunity.

    @Pauline – I am sure that “watching cat videos” is likely in there in place of “doing stuff I personally find interesting” as lets be completely fair ‘Interesting’ is entirely subjective.

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