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Why you should never use Upwork (medium.com)
1175 points by shadlovesgrowth on Oct 23, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 264 comments



I once interviewed for Upwork pro. They sent me an Xcode project and I had to make some changes to it.

However, the required changes referenced features and files which weren't in the project and made absolutely no sense.

Even worse, the project they sent me was the "Photomania" project from Stanford's CS193p class: http://web.stanford.edu/class/cs193p/cgi-bin/drupal/node/289

But the copyright information (Copyright by Stanford University) has been ripped off from all the files and replaced with "Copyright (c) 2015 Upwork". No reference to stanford CS or anything like that, just copy and paste.

Which is very wrong in my book.

I wrote them a message and after some fruitless exchanges with 4 or 5 different support people, I've decided to just let it go.

The incompetence of the interview assignment, coupled with robotic support answers quickly convinced me not to waste any more time with this bunch.


Sounds like what'd you expect from Upwork clients


It is not Upwork clients he is talking about, it is Upwork themselves ;)


Totally agree with the article, and I am more than certain that such acts and extortionate behaviour are widespread on the platform.

It seems it is part of their business model to allow clients in developed countries to find people in developing countries (all with weak legal systems and corruption) to commit illegal acts (both violations of public and private law). Just look at how many jobs involve rewriting, scraping, penetration testing (really a guise for hacking others sites) modifying existing copyrighted content to circumvent laws.

Upwork as middleman profits -- and takes a blind eye to all this corruption - since cross border police investigations are so difficult to manage when dealing with corrupt countries.

In my case, I had my competitors procuring hackers off Upwork to take down my site. We found out because one person who was contacted on Upwork to bring my site down actually contacted me via my site and provided screenshots and other evidence. There was literally a job posted requesting contractors to take my site down.

We raised this with Upwork. They did nothing.

Guess what they said?

Their customer support asked if I had proof that my site had been hacked by the specific person who posted the job on Upwork and that if had suffered financial loss as a result of the hacking! It wasn't merely enough for their client to procure contractors on the platform to commit an illegal act. They wanted proof that I suffered financial loss!!

However, I can say that we are considering a civil suit against them. It would be interesting to see how this impacts their brand.

Note: Please forgive the messy and unstructured writing. I've been writing it while walking the streets of Central London shopping for X-mas gifts.


The worst thing about what you wrote is, as I was reading it, not a trace of shock or surprise passed through me.

It's like it's just now the norm for these things to happen.

If you'd like to, i'd be happy to post your story in an edit below mine. I know this isn't the first time it's happened.

If you want to contact me, it's shad @ the domain in my twitter bio.

Good luck!


You want to add you contact info to your HN bio. I thought you did a reasonable writeup and would consider contracting with you for this sort of work. I will avoid Upwork based on their appalling behavior here and lack of willingness to engage and accept their mistakes.


I emailed you


I'm not surprised in the least. One of the reasons I have avoided UpWork/Elance is that it seems like every other job is for something blatantly unethical (and perhaps illegal). I don't even have to ask for details for such jobs, anyone technical can figure out exactly what they're trying to do (rip off competitor, cheat Google, flout some service's ToS, etc. etc.).


Please do go through with it for all the obvious public service reasons on to 8 of your own recompense. IANAL but it seems there's a vase for criminal negligence there too.


Christmas gifts in October? Have I missed something?


Some people plan ahead / take advantage of sales.

Strange, I know. I don't get it either.


It is always possible to save a lot by planning ahead.


FROM THE AUTHOR, PLEASE READ:

Apologies for the capitals, ladies and gentlemen. Please can I remind all of you to be Civil.

I've just received an email from the man himself, suggesting that I'm getting people to give his FB page 1* reviews and to spam his email. He's threatened (implied) legal action directly against me.

Publicly let me say, for the record (Hopefully it doesn't get wiped), that I do not encourage any of the aforementioned behavior, nor do I condone it.

He's currently posting on reddit and generally acting like a massive douche over email to me, still. After all of this. So the above was quite hard for me to write, but remember there may well be a lot of people working at said company, that have families and lives beyond this.

So please refrain yourselves.

Appreciate all of the support and input, from everyone.


I don't facebook so don't worry about me. But looks like the douchebag still hasn't learned his lesson.


I think the worst part about this is that I wasn't even surprised throughout the entire story. Anyone who has been a freelancer has dealt with the random, uncalled for threats from clients to give you a bad review or try to suspend your account. It's the reason I gave up on working on platforms like Upwork and Freelancer almost immediately.

Building a personal network is way easier to find contract work and you'll make more money in the end while creating real relationships that will help you foster your career.

I'm sorry this happened to you, and I'm super glad you revealed this persons name publicly. Good form.


>Anyone who has been a freelancer has dealt with the random, uncalled for threats from clients to give you a bad review or try to suspend your account.

It's amazing, isn't it? These are people who require outside expertise (they're hiring you after all) and yet do everything they can to make you feel small and worthless. It's utterly backwards.

I wonder how many of these abusive people are "idea" guys?

Regardless, utterly embarrassing on the part of Upwork. Glad they're being called out. I hope the internet has its way with them.


This has more to do with low barrier to entry in any online platform. For any job there could be zillions of bids, going down spiral. All claiming they can do the job. It creates a sort of situation where people don't realise that their task is to find needle in a haystack

As someone who has worked on oDesk and made good money. You also need to do client filtering.

1. Check their total expense

2. Number of people hired, on hire

3. How much are they paying them

4. Feedback given

All this information is available.


>do everything they can to make you feel small and worthless. It's utterly backwards.

Backwards? That's a bizarre word to use to describe behavior that is NEVER appropriate. Are you implying that the freelancers should be making the employers feel small and worthless?

> I wonder how many of these abusive people are "idea" guys?

Honestly, I have no idea what you mean by "idea guys" and the implied correlation to "abusive people"?

From reading your comment, it sounds like you missed the point completely. This is not a freelancer vs. employer or developer vs. idea guy situation, this is a simple case of narcissist vs. victim.

The situation can be reversed and be just as abusive and horrible.

An outside expert doing everything they can to make an "idea guy" feel small and worthless!

The point is not whether the employer has the right to push around the freelancer, or the respect you think an employer should have when needing outside expertise.

The point is everyone is a human being that deserves to be treated with respect. It is too easy to not consider the other person when working through a platform like Upwork or on the internet at large...This is a cautionary tale about the importance of remembering that there is a human being on the other side of the screen!


> Are you implying that the freelancers should be making the employers feel small and worthless?

He's saying employers should show freelancers respect.


Shouldn't respect be a two way street? His comment implies it should be a one way, just the opposite way of this evil Kevin guy.

Edit: Just to be clear, I am drawing my assumption from the second part of his post that tries to correlate "idea guys" to "abusive people", almost as if he equates idea guys that try to hire developers as somehow "less than" him.


>almost as if he equates idea guys that try to hire developers as somehow "less than" him.

I used "idea guys" in quotes because I'm referencing a specific type of person who you may not be familiar with, but I'm sure many other people here are, especially in the freelancing world. If you read the post, you can spot the cliche.

Having an idea, no matter how good it is (and believe me when I say I'm not one of those "ideas are worthless" guys) only gets you so far. At some point you need talented, skilled people to help execute on it. And it's far easier for the execution guys to crib an idea than it is for the idea guy to copy the execution skills.

Basically, the "idea guys" like to place themselves at the top of the pyramid, and think everyone else owes them something.


Thanks for clarifying. I mistakenly assumed you were referring to "any non technical person with an idea (who can't build it himself),"

...as opposed to jerks who overvalue their contribution, thinking everyone else owes them something for just coming up with the idea.

In general, I think the bias flows both ways. Some developers think ideas are worthless and that idea guys/business and marketing folks contribution is somehow worth significantly less than a developers contribution. Other "idea guys" think their idea gives them the keys to the kingdom.

You really need both to succeed.

In reality, there are lots of ways for both sides to make significant contributions to bringing ideas to life, outside of writing the actual code or ideation.

It takes a village...

I think we were both coming from opposite perspectives, but share similar views. I was "lashing out" against the guys who undervalue business guy contributions, and you were against the guys who undervalue the developers contribution...

I just heard on a podcast that, "Every Mark Needs their Sheryl"


You're doing the equivalent of yelling "white lives matter too" at a guy saying "black lives matter".

Almost all freelancers respect their clients, and bend over backwards to please them, even if they don't get the same respect back. A client that understands and respects their freelancers is rare.


I disagree. His comment about "idea guys" is indicative of him saying "cops lives dont matter" not "black lives matter"

Had his comment not stuck in that tell, I would agree with you. But he certainly seems to be implying something more malicious than you noticed.


I wasn't surprised when I found out it was a law firm either. I've had the good fortune to work with some of the good ones, but legal marketing in general requires a very sensitive a-hole detector.


Bad clients are bad clients, but speaking from experience, it can be taken to an entirely new level when the bad client in question happens to be a law firm. Some of the less savory high volume practices can be especially bad, and they all go out of their way to project an air of competence and professionalism that disappears pretty damned quickly. Personally, I think part of the problem with those guys is a serious sense of arrogance and entitlement, as if their being a law firm will force you to go away despite not being paid. And if you don't, well, they can always play games to delay and string you along. After all, you're paying for representation directly. They can at least swallow the opportunity cost of dealing with you somewhat easier.

Nowadays, if I'm contacted by a law firm for work, I look into their reputation very carefully. In my experience, corporate law firms--regardless of size--aren't a big deal compared to some of the high volume personal injury/immigration/divorce/etc. firms. And yes, I realize I'm doing a lot of generalizing here.


If it's a law firm, then to me it is surprising that they would actively interfere with this guy's other professional relationships. If this really is as it appears to be, the potential damages both from interference with existing relationships and from defamation surely put this in "worth talking to a lawyer" territory in most places.


But do you really want to get into a legal battle as an individual with a law firm?


That's what you consult an actual lawyer for.

In my country, if they'd interfered with existing business relationships causing expected revenues to be lost, they'd made potentially libellous statements that caused a major source of expected future revenues to permanently block access, there was ample written evidence that they did these things deliberately and that actual losses were and would continue to result, and there was ample evidence that the victim had previously been well-regarded and able to command a certain rate for their services, I wouldn't want to be their position, law firm or not. Situations like this are exactly why defamation cases can result in such huge damages being awarded.


Well, maybe I'm just jaded by a recent experience with a former business partner who was an attorney himself. They guy had provably stolen over $100K from the company and our attorney basically charged us $20K to let him go. It was a valuable lesson to me to never go into business with an attorney again.


Not all attorneys are crooks. My daughter is attorney for business (Droit commercial, France) and she is definitely not a crook. In fact they spend a significant amount of work time trying to get the due money from clients. Please don't generalize.

The real problem is that there is no efficient system to weed out the crooks. There are no efficient pressure against them. Psychopats are king.


I know they are not all crooks. The problem is that you assume that somebody is not when you enter a partnership with them. If that partnership has to go to court you are at a significant disadvantage if your partner can represent himself against you, aside from the fact that he probably knows the law better than you do.


I'm sorry to read that. It sounds like you got screwed by not one attorney but two.

For what little it might be worth, not all legal systems are quite that bad.


While I knew a few who successfully worked full time at large legal firms, I once worked full time for a smaller firm (about 60 staff). Never again. I left after 6 months and vowed to never work for a law firm again. Life is too short and there is plenty of opportunity out there for talented people.

The ironic thing is that my experience was nearly 20 years ago. While so much has changed in the last 20 years (in Internet time, that's like 400 years, and I have more RAM in my phone than the Unix server supporting 40 users on serial terminals), some things haven't, especially where humans and the legal profession are concerned.

I don't intend to paint all attorneys with the same brush--I now have good relationships with several attorneys that I use for businesses; I still would seriously question any job working for a legal firm.


> Anyone who has been a freelancer has dealt with the random, uncalled for threats from clients to give you a bad review or try to suspend your account.

This. Totally. Several times, at 3/3 platforms where I've been working (for over two years now). Surprisingly (not), they (the clients) can do this and get away with it any time, but I (the freelancer) can't.


You know... Who has the money? Who has Upwork to please? The client.

So what is your role in Upwork?

Let me tell you what I have realised...

Do you pay to use Upwork? Not directly (you're not the one fueling the whole thing). Are you paid to use Upwork? No, because the money you get is a counterpart for the work you perform.

So... What is the your role in Upwork? Well, you're the product being sold.

In any case you will always lose. You are not putting money into Upwork, but the client is. And the customer is always right.

Plus, they have recently raised their cut, like a lot.


Exactly. I realised how true this is very recently. A AirBnb host decided to kick me out early without refunding anything and i escalated it. The swiftness that their customer service showed me in getting a refund without regards to the "feelings" of the host shows how i am more important to AirBnb.

This is because the Host is the product, while i am their Customer. and Apparently, the Customer is always right.


It depends on what sort of freelancer you are. What is your standing with it. If you are a platinum or higher contractor with $500K+ of money earned and 10K hours in your history, you can get away with a lot of things, and support is very nice to you. If some casual client tries to threaten you, you just send the screenshot to them and client simply gets banned (and there is a provision for that in their ToS, called blackmail by a customer).

Really, Upwork will block you only if you have provably scammed your client, or engaged in criminal activity like hacking - they obviously don't want to get into legal fights so they have zero tolerance policy against that, or if they have good reasons to suspect that you drive your clients off the platform, which is also explainable (and after recent reduction of commissions, that is also very stupid to do).

Re: reduction of commissions: obviously you don't try to circumvent Upwork with a new client, because you don't trust him yet and need payment protection which Upwork provides. When you know the client though, you are already past the $10K point earnings with him and your commission lowers to 5%. You don't want to get into trouble and risk losing your primary sales channel over 5%. 'Increasing their cut, like a lot' is a NONSENSE. 20% applies to first $500 only, so it is max $50 increase of commission per client. Is that such a significant figure? That also drew out a lot of spammers. If my sales funnel got widened by 10% (and it definitely did), i'd happily shell out $50 for that. It is optimal if client acquisition cost is over $500 - and in programming, if you can scalably attract clients for $500 a pop you are going to get really rich, quickly. I'd happily pay $1000 a pop to get clients like my average client, if you can get me a couple of those per week.

I thought of and actually suggested Upwork to remove any free contacts per month, so project bid is always paid (even if cheap). For the same reason: it will drive off spammers and simplify sales, and improve client image of the platform (being a customer myself a little, it gets frustrating how much spam you get)


Aren't people on this thread being too harsh on Upwork? I agree that there are problems with the way it works, but nothing is ever perfect. I happen to be from a country with a lower cost of living than US/UK and Upwork allows me to do remote freelancing and charge more than I would be able to charge for work in person. Also, the world is full of clients that won't pay for your work after you deliver it. I don't know exactly how helpful Upwork can be in such cases, but I bet it is better than if I was alone trying to contact a non-paying client 8000km away.

I guess you need to choose your clients carefully, whether you are working remotely or in person, always watch out for red flags and get out of the deal as soon as you see them.


you need to choose your clients carefully

Except he never chose this client. He exchanged a few emails with a potential client, saw a red flag, and then decided not to work with him.

He did exactly what you suggest, and now cannot accept any work through Upwork, has lost all existing work, and will not be paid for already completed work. All from declining one client.


Actually, while I generally agree with everything i'm reading - this one part I don't quite agree with. (He exchanged a few emails with a potential client, saw a red flag, and then decided not to work with him)

The moment he accepted the username/password he engaged in a transaction - upwork rules or not.

He "should" have had the price and work agreed before accepting anything, and if they sent it unsolicited his immediate reply should have been "you need agree before I touch this".

Not The client eventually gave me login details, alas, still no job.

Then

After 3 weeks of sporadic talks, the client trying to get me to work without actually giving me the job.

->The client was incredibly unprofessional (but not unprofessional enough to be named and shamed I see), but if you are taking login details without a job assignment you are asking for trouble.


While I agree with you in spirit, there are two points to consider

1) it may have been unsolicited (you mentioned this), and 2) humans tend to be very "fuzzy". Maybe he should have towed the line, and now he's learned his lesson about why you always cover yourself.

But 99/100 times the human being on the other side just wants to get you the information you need and is just too trusting. We've all had those clients, and it's up to us to be trustworthy and not be the one who teaches that client what can happen if you don't protect yourself [1]

[1] Obviously what I mean by this is that you shouldn't be fucking over your client, educating them is another matter.


Its probably worth pointing out, that in either 1 or 2, the correct/professional way to do it (if the client wants a fixed price but providing one requires additional work) is do a go/no go first.

in this case, a hundred or so $ to work up a spec, deliver that to the client along with an estimate of the time that should be involved. They can either give it to you, someone else, or abandon it.


>I happen to be from a country with a lower cost of living than US/UK and Upwork allows me to do remote freelancing and charge more than I would be able to charge for work in person.

This is part of the problem for freelancers who do live in the US/UK. They're expected to work for less than they could charge in person because they're competing internationally with people who live in areas with much lower cost of living..

In addition, as the article mentions, a big problem is the amount of dishonesty. The fact that someone could have their livelihood shut down overnight by one abusive client is ridiculous.


> In addition, as the article mentions, a big problem is the amount of dishonesty. The fact that someone could have their livelihood shut down overnight by one abusive client is ridiculous.

Once you are out there and have your website/blog, anyone can hassle you really, but I agree that Upwork may make it easier.

As for the other point, aren't we in a global economy? When you bring the freelance business to an online marketplace you are competing with the world, there's no way around it. I mean, I buy things from China on ebay because it's cheaper than buying them in a store. I also buy clothes from Zara, H&M, Primark, etc. that are made in Bangladesh by a family earning $1 a day. Remote contracting of people in cheaper countries is inevitable.


You're selling the wrong product if you're just looking to sell on the bottom dollar.

I meet clients in-person and focus on quality and consistency. Yeah sure you can save a few thousand by having someone do it on a site like this, but you'll lose many more times that much the first time a deploy gets botched, the site goes down, they can't help you get what you need as opposed to what you asked for, etc.

I stopped trying to beat on price long ago, wasn't worth it, just meant I had to put out lower quality code and slap stuff together sloppily to compete and I didn't like doing that.


> ... always watch out for red flags and get out of the deal as soon as you see them.

...and keep your fingers crossed that the client doesn't leave a negative review for you - or that s/he doesn't do worse, as it happened in the case of the OP.


What's the costs of living? Or what country are you from?

The NY/SV are expensive, as-in the most expensive places in the world. People there can only be paid the money they are paid because they are in a crazy place. It's understandable that remote work worldwide doesn't match up with that.

Anywhere else is cheaper, the range goes from half to 10x cheaper. So, what country are you from? what's your rate?

The point being. If upwork can only pay enough for the bottom 20% income bracket in the world. It is indeed terribly inappropriate for most of HN readers.


What did they do that deserves praise in this case? All I can see is terrible support and questionable practices.

Seems like they deserve it


I am pretty sure that the client sharing salesforce login information was against salesforce agreements. That should be made clear to upwork and hopefully they investigate. Whether developer works with upwork anymore or not IMO it is very important to set the record straight even if this takes a while.

On the blog post, my 2c (not as a criticism, but as an opinion with 20/20 hindsight).

1. Shadi should have moved away from the client cleanly and quicker. When he heard that they are not going to pay at his rate / "not even our CEO makes that" and as he already had strong indication that it is not working out it would be better to apologize and move on (use "sorry, my rate is fixed" as a perfectly good excuse).

2. Give more time to upwork to investigate. They obviously value clients more than developers, so first reaction is to go with the client in a dispute. Escalating to the people who do not have to follow a standard script can take weeks. By posting "upwork sucks" too early he burned the bridges and made any real investigation highly unlikely.


I suspect that upwork received threats of legal action if they didn't terminate the account. They took the easiest path. Well the path they assumed, was easiest.

Anyway, this shows poor crisis and damage control management.


From the Upwork FAQ: "You'll need to download and use the Upwork Team App—this tool includes the Work Diary, which ensures you are guaranteed payment. By taking work-in-progress screenshots every 10 minutes, it provides proof to your clients that you are hard at work."

Screenshots every 10 minutes? You mean... screenshots of MY SCREEN every 10 minutes? That was what made me close their website and totally forget it until I've seen this submission on HN today.


As a long-time UpWork user, this has saved our butts a few times, especially with technical hires.

We've had times we had hires billing full work weeks but seemed not to be getting much done. But how do you know if it really ought to take 10 hours or 40 hours to complete a task? I've done enough research, writing, and coding myself to know sometimes the thing you think will take 10 minutes ends up taking 2 days instead.

In these cases, we can look at the screenshots, and usually rest easier seeing yes, he's working, every screenshot (just about) is on the assignment.

Sometimes we will check the screenshots and notice the guy just opens his computer up, opens a document up, and then leaves it there for an hour or more with no work. Maybe he scrolls midway down the page at the half hour mark. So then we confirm he's milking the clock and can boot him for someone who isn't going to suck us dry for nothing.

And in a few cases, we've checked screenshots, only to see that almost none of his time is spent on our project. In one case we discovered a freelancer was billing us for time he spent surfing a website called "Boob Forest" and googling instructions on how to hack the CD player in an old Honda.

Generally we will allow freelancers we've worked with for a while to use manual time. We know what their productivity is like and we established enough trust earlier that we don't need to monitor them as closely. But it's pretty important from the client's perspective to make sure you're not getting screwed with this new hire you know nothing about. And especially if it's a new task you don't have a good metric for what the productivity / turnaround time should be like.

It'd be nice if there was a reliable way to know up front who the bad apples are and who are the totally trustworthy folks, but no matter how good your hiring instincts are you'll still get it wrong some of the time. Screenshots, while perhaps an annoyance for the freelancer, are a significant downside reducer for the employer.


Are you confusing "programming" with "typing"?

How does taking screenshots let you know that the person is thinking?

Okay, yeah, the guy who was looking at "Boob Forest" wasn't working, but just because you don't see a constant stream of keystrokes appearing on-screen doesn't mean a programmer isn't working.

Edit: this famous story comes to mind.

http://www.folklore.org/StoryView.py?story=Negative_2000_Lin...


Do you really think that he didn't do anything visible for hours and then had a magic spark that led him to delete 2000 lines? GP was careful to only point out strong negative signals.

Even if you do a lot of work on paper you're going to look stuff up online or in the code base, which is visible on screen.

That doesn't mean that this tool can't be abused in both directions, but it seems like an unfair critique of the GP post.


"Do you really think that he didn't do anything visible for hours and then had a magic spark that led him to delete 2000 lines?"

OP said something about "not seeing anything on the screen for an hour or more". Not multiple hours. I would almost guarantee that Atkinson thought about the Quickdraw problem for more than an hour before coming up with his insight. I know he wasn't "looking it up online" because, you know, that didn't exist in 1982.

If I'm thinking about something really hard while working at home, I go in my bedroom and close my eyes. That looks just like I'm sleeping, but, you know, I'm hard at work. Sometimes I take a shower.

I think the attitude that "typing" = "programming" has much to do with the popularity of languages like Java that encourage the production of reams of code with very low semantic content.


You're assuming that the OP doesn't know whether the specific task he set the freelancer to includes the possibility of a lengthy amount of planning and preparation outside the computer, without even referring to any material on the computer, or not.

That's a fairly strong assumption and your subthread here would've gone a lot better if you'd started it by asking whether your assumption is correct or not.


"You're assuming that the OP doesn't know..."

He is quite clearly incapable of making an accurate estimate of the amount of time, planning, and preparation involved, or he wouldn't need to spy on the programmer to assure himself that the programmer was "working". He'd know just from the number of billed hours.


You're jumping to conclusions and assuming that good programmers are losing their jobs because of inept bosses making rash decisions. While I've no doubt that does happen, in this case you're allowing a bias to fill in blanks in the story for you with incorrect assumptions.

In this case, this programmer did good work for a few weeks that we had no issue with. Then his work largely wrapped, and he announced he would continue to monitor our server for errors. He also continued to bill 40 hours a week for several weeks, which surprised me, but at first I thought (as a non-technical guy) perhaps that was necessary.

After a few weeks of him billing 40 hours a week yet not saying anything to us, I began to get suspicious. When I checked his screenshots, I discovered only one or two screenshots per entire week were actually spent on anything related to our server.

As a test, I decided to see how long it would take me to do the same monitoring he was supposedly doing. It took me about 5 minutes to log into the server and run the command the first time I did it, and perhaps 15 seconds to scan the results that came back. We only needed to do this a couple times a week.

It may be he was a totally honest guy who was just extremely, extremely slow. Far slower than a non-technical guy like me, despite his experience (and he was experienced). But it looked a whole lot like a guy who'd completed his project milking the clock to keep getting paid full-time until such time as the employer figured out what he was doing, to me.

The next programmer we brought on simply fixed the error we were monitoring for so we didn't have to monitor it anymore.

I'm obviously a lot savvier about hiring programmers and developers than I was back then (this was one of our first technical hires). The point of sharing the story was to shed some light on what the value to employers is of having this technology. Without the damning screenshots, this guy may have milked the clock a lot longer, and we likely would've been a lot more sour on hiring devs in the future. You may not care if any one individual employer gets burned, but multiply that by tens of thousands who are now less willing to pay good rates for developers, more suspicious of those they do bring on, and keep their devs on shorter leashes, and there's something to be said for employee's side too of monitoring enabling employers to get the bad apples out fast and make sure the good ones have free rein to be fruitful.


I can understand where you're coming from but surely the work done should speak for itself?

I've logged hundreds of hours on Upwork as a remote worker and while every screenshot and all the keystrokes logged, etc, were relevant to the job it does completely prevent you from (for example) checking your normal inbox in case that gets screenshotted and you don't want your client to see that.

Okay maybe you don't want your time being used by the worker to check their email, or respond to a Facebook comment or pop onto Ycombinator for 5 minutes every hour but I just found it made me feel untrusted completely.

Working for well established clients that trust one another is the way to go, I personally use Toptal: https://www.toptal.com/#employ-only-on-the-ball-software-fre... and it can employ tracking if the client desires it for hourly jobs, but it's fully optional in part and full time jobs.

Though with Toptal you have a rigorous process for the freelancers to actually get into the system which no doubt solves much of the need for the additional screencaps as proof of work.


Not being a coder myself, I have hired freelancers from Toptal on two projects. The entire experience was pretty good. The contact at Toptal took time find the the match.

On the first project we got a pretty good front-end-dev. I will say that I've learned a lot about project management in the process. On the second project we got a very skilled front-end-dev. We're still working with him daily.

It's not exactly cheap. At $70/hour I think it's fair. Don't know how the devs feel about Toptal or how much they charge but, from my point of view it's not all bad in the freelance market.


Upwork is far from perfect, but if you apply some rules of common sense and also have decade+ of tech experience, it can be useful.

I always allow manual time, but restrict the hours to 5 or 10 per week. If the hire does not meet my expectations, I move on and accept the lost money as a learning experience.

I don't give a negative review, I know that I won't rehire, but I don't think I know the person well enough to tell the world they are bad.

There are some great people on upwork. The best advice is to be really nice to your hires and if possible, have interesting work for them to do. Nobody wants to freelance for a jerk.


> There are some great people on upwork. The best advice is to be really nice to your hires and if possible, have interesting work for them to do. Nobody wants to freelance for a jerk.

I'd hope I'm one of them (albeit my profile's disabled to use another site now).

Coming from the other perspective it's really difficult to actually wade through the hundreds of "gotcha" clients that are just horrendous to work for, if you even get to the stage where you're working for them!


I've never used Upwork but I've used DeskTime for several clients and jobs and it made taking screenshots unnecessary as it tracked how much time was spent in each program and website which could be categorized, which I could then make aggregate stats of for the client for billing (and if the employer owned the master account they could make their reports).

Screenshots seems like a privacy issue unless the worker can disable them for checking email or whatever as long as that time wouldn't be billable, but it seems like Upwork could have some better ways of tracking productivity.


I can understand why some would not like this, and maybe it's because i'm german, but i do not mind this at all. Here's why:

If i'm employed in an office and working at my work pc, not only is the machine often administrated by the company i am doing work for, and thus may have additional software in there, even if it's as simple as a VNC server. It is also on their premises and the screen plainly visible to cameras or other employees that may be around. In the case of open plan offices or offices separated with glass walls, usually straight across the entire office. When i'm in the office i'm supposed to be working, and the machine is supposed to be used for work purposes. Not for entertainment or other personal things.

Similarly, when i am billing hours in the upwork client, i am supposed to be working, not playing around. So the machine does not have private things running on it at the time i am working. The things on screen are work-related and ok to be seen by my clients.

In my view, using my past work experiences as a guide line, same as in the office, if there are things in the screen that i would not want the client to see (or my coworkers/bosses in the office to see) it means that i am doing something wrong and not separating work/private properly.

Mind, if it does happen, it is easy to delete the screenshot even before it is sent on the wire, though that forfeits 10 minutes of billing, which as explained above, is to me exactly as it should be, since i was doing private things on client time.

So i don't see it as an undue burden. It just ensures that i am actually doing what the agreement between the two of us says i should be doing.

And this has a vital advantage to me:

The client can simply look and quickly see that i was working actively on his work, and i don't need to field questions like "This is taking a long time, are you slacking off?", which i then have to answer with "this particular bit is hard and complicated, just trust me on this".


This is an admirably clear statement of a position I find almost impossible to relate to. I'm not sure I can be as lucid as Mithaldu, but I'll try to put it two ways:

1) The notion that one is "doing something wrong" by not being able or willing to enforce a strict separation between work and one's private life seems almost sociopathic. When one sells one's labour his mind and emotions are - like it or not - part of the sale. It's simply the human condition. To absolutely abrogate all of one's interests, in the service of a "boss", requires an austerity of mind that perhaps Mithaldu and some others can perform without difficulty, but which for many is impossible.

2) One could (well, I probably couldn't) make the case that the degree of exploitation that characterises all relations between "boss" and employee is sufficient to permit the importation of at least some safety valve - some kind of relaxation, be it 10 mins personal email, facebook, whatever - in compensation. Indeed if you want to take the employer's POV, it's surely a good thing.

I don't think I've been particularly accurate here but it's a fuzzy approximation of the beginnings of a response!


In both my office and self-employed work regular short breaks for various purposes are part of the norm. (Particularly in places with high percentage of smokers.) This may include short chats or phone calls outside of work purposes as well, but those are not done on work hardware, optimally, though in emergencies that's fine too, as long as they're kept appropiately short.

Note that upwork isn't running a continuous stream, but only taking screenshots every 10 minutes.


Your clients are not your bosses though, they are your clients. In your traditional office environment, for example, it would be unusual for the business's clients to require visibility of the business's computers.


In my particular area of work (programmer to hire by hour) the differences between a boss and a client are neglible.


Does your boss stand behind your back every moment of your work day?


No, but for example in my last office job the 3 company founders tended to be walking along the main hallway of the office a lot for various reasons, and my desk was behind a glass wall along that hallway, and in one gig i was in an open plan office where people were moving around me and everyone else all the time.


You are very accepting of severe authority and surveillance


Working in an open-plan office where people expect that it looks like you are working is "very accepting of surveillance"?


Welcome to Germany.

On a more serious note: No, i am not. Only in my work life.


I'm from Germany too and as far as I can tell this isn't the truth for every company here. When I find clients/employers behave like that, I warn them and then I quit. This is what everyone should do. If you accept such horrendous conditions it's your fault people begin to think this is "normal".


You're quite privileged.


Maybe, I don't know.

But, I lived in these conditions the past. One day I said to myself, I don't want this anymore, and quit.

What is preventing you to change your life for the better? :)


As i said in my post, i don't mind having upwork's program send 6 screenshots an hour from my work machine while i'm working, because it keeps me from being hassled by nontechnical clients who're otherwise fine people to work with.

So i guess the only thing keeping me from making things even better than they already are is finding technical clients with Perl work that pay on the level of ~100$/h.


Hm okay, if it works for you. It's just sad that it perpetuates the idea that this kind of stuff is okay.

I had problems with non-technical clients as well. What helped me was calling them 2-5 times a week, depending on how insecure they feel.


That would be utterly horrible to me and i couldn't stand it at all.


I see, okay :)

It was horrible to me, too :D

I just noticed that people were more douchy on chat/email than on phone, so I started to call them when they started to rage online, haha.


> When i'm in the office i'm supposed to be working, and the machine is supposed to be used for work purposes. Not for entertainment or other personal things.

I don't know one engineer who actually does this. The company doesn't own you. They can't dictate your life, thinking anything else is wrong. You own the labour, ergo you own the company, if their business process can't fit itself in your life, they can fuck right off.


Maybe cultural differences. I know a lot of people in Germany who do, and refuse the siren call of throwing Marx' books down in their bosses' offices.

Then again, workers here also enjoy a lot more protections than in other countries, so maybe it's the lack of feeling at odds with the company so much.


A footnote: Germany is notorious for its policy of keeping workers' wages down. This obviously doesn't apply to programmers, but it's worth at least adding parenthetically to your statement that workers "enjoy a lot more protections than in other countries".


> Germany is notorious for its policy of keeping workers' wages down.

Really? This is the first time i've ever heard that. In fact just recently minimum wages have been raised here and many shops complained bitterly.


It's one of the chief causes of the country's economic success. I don't have time to look up the references now. You're right about the recent rise in minimum wage though.


Maybe it's because a lot of Germans are renting their homes which creates insecurity for the unemployed and protects employers from such antiauthoritarian actions.


Compared to home owners that have mortgages to pay? (If you're the kind of person that can pay for a home with cash, you also can buffer a few months of rent easily)

+ German workers have a lot more protections from actual surveillance compared to many other countries (video surveillance, E-Mail and Internet monitoring, ...).

The actual implementation still depends on the company and the job, as probably everywhere. People that have to be there certain hours to be reachable by customers etc have different attitudes than people who can do their job and leave once they are done for the day, some people mind disruptions more, some people don't care or feel under-paid, ...


There's no insecurity for unemployed people. They're guaranteed to have a roof over their head paid for by the state. In fact employees usually have 6 months firing protection as well, further reducing insecurity.


What if you accidentally revealed a private key on the screen during the screenshot? Are you willing to forfeit 10 minutes of time to keep your SSH or whatever else uncompromised? Or are you going to trust Upwork and your client to not somehow leak it, even accidentally?


> What if you accidentally revealed a private key on the screen during the screenshot?

You replace the private key with a new one that hasn't been compromised.

> Are you willing to forfeit 10 minutes of time to keep your SSH or whatever else uncompromised?

Too late, it already is.

> Or are you going to trust Upwork and your client to not somehow leak it, even accidentally?

See above. You've already leaked it, it is now compromised and needs replacing. It sucks, but if you adopt a different approach, you're risking a lot of trouble down the road. Private keys are private. The moment you leak it, accidentally or otherwise, it's no longer private and should be replaced.


I delete the segment and enter manual time with an explanation of why i did that. Manual time isn't protected by oDesk in disputes, but in that situation it's fine to use and low risk.


That's fair. What if you didn't notice that it happened?

It seems like dealing with checking for sensitive onscreen information every 10 minutes could be kind of flow-destroying.


There's a fairly noticable popup, that you can also configure to make a sound; and if you're really worried you can review the screenshots in your work diary at the end of the day.


As far as I know all screenshots are available for clients right away.


I believe it gives you something like 10 seconds to click "delete" before it uploads it, but even then you can click the screenshot from the Upwork client and it'll take you to the work schedule where you can then delete it (removing the time worked / money paid for those 10 minutes).


Or what if you view personal information? Under data protection law, would that could as a data breech?


If you're dealing with personal information you should always handle with conscious care and ensure it is only handled in a way that no data breaches are possible. This does include notifying your client that you'll be doing manual time for a task, or doing it on different hardware.


>I can understand why some would not like this, and maybe it's because i'm german, but i do not mind this at all.

Well, remember where this attitude took Germany in the previous century....

(tongue in cheek)


I'm from the deep east so i know exactly what you mean. :D

The difference here is of course that in the DDR you weren't asked if it's ok to listen in on you. ;)


Thanks for taking it lightly, sometimes people are touchy :-)

>The difference here is of course that in the DDR you weren't asked if it's ok to listen in on you. ;)

Yes, but if enough big companies get away with this, then having a choice of "not using Upwork if you don't like it" wont matter much, because you'll be missing where most of the clients are.

In other words, you could still take the principled stance, but it will cost you.


Well, included in not being asked is also that you weren't told when you'd be listened to. With oDesk you know exactly when since it only happens when you push the button. There are no surprises involved, as opposed to the DDR where you could wake up to your door being kicked in because a week ago someone two tables over in the pub heard you gripe.


This reinforces the impression that you have a very low bar for autonomy and freedom from the panopticon.


Nah, just your lack of knowledge about private/work life separation. :)


It happens, my wife send me emails during the day. I wouldn't like somebody see it. Or I want to check my personal email, even if I got an email from my other client (well, imaginary - I don't work as freelancer) why somebody should see it? A task can be done or not dene or NN% done. Why does it matters how exactly the time spent? If something didn't work, it should possible to request actions were taken, work plans, code (even not working) etc.


Even when I don't agree with you (I may receive a mail notification with some private content) the system is totally useless as I can have an iPad next to my main computer and use it to spend all the time I want doing other stuff. Or just work with two computers. Or whatever.


The time segments would have indicators of low user activity in that case, plus you'd have the exact same screenshot for a long time in a row.

Yes, you can game it even so, but it would be at least inconvenient for you.

Besides, if you do keep the stuff you don't want your client to see on another machine, then there's no reason to worry about being "spied" on. :)


I often take 15 minute walks to think about thorny problems or use a pen and paper to sketch out designs. Either of those would yield "low user activity" indicators.

It's been years since I've been an employee on any sites like that, but I still think the system is pretty bad. Just start with small projects and then scale up for high performing freelancers and don't offer repeat work to low performers.


I do the same. It's fine. :)

Each snapshot is accompanied by a note of what you're working on as well (if you make one). If you're dealing with a client who'd question that, AND not accept/understand explanations, then you'd be dealing with many more problems from them as well, particularly without a work diary.


It's not that I worry. It's just that I don't think it's correct. Same way as I don't have anything to hide in my email inbox but I don't like the idea of NSA (or anyone) having reading access to it.


You don't want them reading it if you're working for them, but if they're paying you to do mailing they'd have a right to ask to take a peek in, i think.


> and i don't need to field questions like "This is taking a long time, are you slacking off?"

A screenshot taken every 10 minutes in no way proves you aren't slacking off. Your assertion that it protects you like this is specious.


To be more clear on this:

It doesn't mean that IF i get the question, i can say "just look at the log".

It means that i have gotten questions like that and similar before (think "keep a regular logbook of what you're working on") in other jobs; and have never gotten anything like that on Upwork.

You might argue my clients are simply different, and it's possible, but i think i simply don't get things like that because they feel comfortable enough with my work and are mollified by the logs if they have worries.


This. Not only that this approach does not really fit remote development work, you are basically forced to install spyware on your machine.

What a crazy idea.


It has pluses and minuses.

I moved from Freelancer to Upwork and my initial thoughts were that the freelancers (and thus clients) on Upwork were better because of the tracking software that basically guaranteed your worker was doing what was necessary.

But in hindsight the clients are basically just as bad and the tracking software just makes remote workers feel spied on and untrusted.

I've moved on now and have repeat clients as well as Toptal where there's mutual trust involved. (Toptal: https://www.toptal.com/#employ-only-on-the-ball-software-fre...)


It's just that I know how I work and it would not fit my model. If I have a problem to be solved I sometimes just go for a walk with my dog thinking about solutions. The client knows about that and is fine with it.

> TopTal

I had my bad experience with their application process as a developer.

I also have the other perspective as I have hired some devs from their and they do great work!


It's trying to protect people that want to hire bottom-dollar work, but not get bottom-dollar quality.

If you're not happy with the rate at which I'm getting things done, you don't need screenshots of my desktop, feel free to hire someone else and let me know how that goes.


It is bad from a client data perspective as well.

If the freelancer has more than one client and they are "multi-tasking" by working on multiple projects and have apps like email, chat screens , web pages open etc and forget to shut them dowm before the automatic screenshot is taken, information will "leak" between one client and another.


I’m OK with that requirement.

Before starting to log time for an hourly contract, I close all browser tabs esp. HN and Facebook, close MS Outlook, set “DND” Skype status, close unneeded applications, etc.

That reduce distractions and helps me focus on the software I’m building.


Here's the link to close your account if anyone is interested:

https://www.upwork.com/UserSettings/profile/close-account


Done. Thanks for posting. Can't believe this guy's experience. I used UpWork for a few gigs earlier this year but stopped browsing for gigs when the new fee structure was implemented. This is enough for me to say no thanks to ever using it again.


even funnier is that link doesn't take me to anything resembling a page where I can close my account. Almost like they don't want me to or something.

Literally no button or link anywhere within the profile settings that I can see obviously leads to closing my account.


Absolutely disgusting behavior by Kevin. I'm kinda hoping that it's just incompetence at UpWork that caused this, and not that Kevin actually knows someone at UpWork, but in all cases that's why I stopped freelancing through UpWork and similar, and started building a solid client base which know that I'm always there to help, for the right price of course. Plus I write somewhat technical and topical blog posts about the technologies I work with (mainly video encoding, processing, P2P CDNs, etc.) and that seems to pull clients in easier than it would be using UpWork.


Absolutely disgusting behavior by Kevin. But thats par for the course - some people are pathetic.

More interesting, is the behaviour of Upwork. With such a clear trail of abusive behaviour from the said "Client", Upwork still decides to terminate the guy's account. If you use Upwork, you are a sharecropper. And the landlords are capricious and have no loyalty to the replaceable tenants.


Building a solid client based has to be the way forward. I was very hesitant to actually make this post, as I don't know how it'll reflect to future employers of any kind.

I think your way of doing things is far better and something I've actually been working.

Appreciate the comment buddy, have a good Sunday


Some new developments (in comments of the original post)

Rich Pearson

1 hr ago

Shadi, I work at Upwork and your post about your experience makes us feel terrible. We’ve reopened your case and are investigating it much more thoroughly. We hope to have a response to you quickly — if you have any questions or want to provide more details, please email me at rpearson(at)upwork.com. We care very much about our freelancer community and want to make this right. Rich

1 response

Shadi Al'lababidi

16 mins ago

Rich, it shouldn’t take a post like this for you (Upwork) to give someone special treatment. I know there are thousands of others like me that rely on your platform (most, far more than myself, for much larger %’s of their income). In some cases this can very literally mean the difference between putting food on the table and not. They may not be able to spread the message like I, or speak English in such a manner. They may not be able to drum up enough attention, so they go unnoticed. It’s no skin of Upwork’s back, until it turns into a PR mess. Hence why you’re commenting. Let’s cut the shit, Rich. I’ve got 2 tickets open and have been messaging everyday for the last 11 days. Nothing, nada. Just, ‘We’ve banned you and you can’t know why’. (For those reading this, yes, they do say you cannot know why.So as to not to let on to why they ban you). I’ve tweeted at you, nothing. Now, I have roughly 75% of a months worth of Upwork money stuck on there. If I were someone else, or someone without other income streams, what would I do? What could I possibly tell my incumbent clients? Shit, what am I even going to tell my incumbent clients? you’ve just left me without a months worth of wages and a big ‘fuck you, there’s nothing you can do.’ So, I do not want any special treatment. I will not contact you via email. This is an integral problem with Upwork itself and I will highlight it as much as I possibly can, even if that means losing the money and my reputation on there that I’ve been building up over the last year. And please Rich, I’m a bloody marketer for Christ’s sake. Don’t come at me with that standard company mumbo jumbo ‘it makes us feel terrible’. You’re just being patronising.


Looking at some of their responses to reviews on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/wiperecord/reviews/) it would appear the attitude is part of their company culture. Amazing, for a company that bills itself as trying to help people overcome their past, it appears they are simply in the business of taking advantage of a vulnerable group.


Also, if Kevin is an attorney, he's remarkably free with what is arguably libelous speech to third parties.


True. I was curious and did look at their site and didn't see a Kevin in the attorney list. Not to say he isn't one, just he wasn't listed on the site. I would have ventured to bet he was a rogue IT employee, but with some of the responses to complaints on Facebook, it does somewhat appear that if you question them they get defensive and argumentative.

I run a site that helps ex-offenders find jobs, resources, etc.. and it is always frustrating to see companies that take advantage of a vulnerable group. Not to dismiss the OP and the evidence against them is pretty overwhelming, but there are always two-sides to every story. I have removed the link and references to them and their parent firm as a resource from our site. While we aren't a huge player in the industry, we are growing fast simply because we provide personal help if we can and try to treat everyone fair. I refuse to risk that reputation on a potential bad apple. It's easier just to remove them now, and if down the road this comes out as a simple misunderstanding or whatever, I am happy to add them back. But for now, to me at least, it is better to be safe than sorry and not risk my users paying some greedy company to be treated poorly.


[deleted]


I wonder if that is the same "Kevin" who left a Yelp review for the company?


We edited a small bit of identifying info out of this comment. Not that you meant any harm by including it, but we want to strike a balance that protects individuals from mass internet effects while also protecting substantive discussion.


Background wipe would be a good brand name for toilet paper.


  Apparently he's the director of a company called "Background Wipe"
Wondering if he would need the services of "Background Wipe" now ...


I am a lawyer/coder and "legal tech" is the festering ghetto of my profession. The people who peddle technology solutions to lawyers (or worse, to clients) are usually one step below car salespeople. Try popping your head in to a legal tech conference sometime if you doubt me. It's almost all e-discovery shills talking shite about AI. There are a few exceptions, but not many.


Similar thoughts exactly. This company appears to be a subsidiary of a larger law firm which tells me it was created solely for the purpose of doing "production line" legal services. It is a sales/marketing tool for the one-off that comes along and requires additional legal services. Unfortunately for expungements/record sealing/pardon customers they are more often than not the ones that require personalized legal services. Every case and every state are different. How you plead your case today has a direct impact on what, if any, options are available to you down the road. In no way should these types of services be "production line" services in my opinion.


It's a truism in freelancing that lawyers are terrible clients in multiple ways, so it comes as no surprise that the tech industry devoted to their businesses is not filled with the best people and/or solutions for their needs.


So - I have to ask (as a Graduate AI student, but no specific familiarity with the e-discovery domain) why is this the reputation? Like the applications don't work well? The salesmen don't know what they are peddling? I guess basically - could you extrapolate a little more on this group?


Someone else said it: lawyers are the worst clients, especially law firms. Too many know-it-alls who think the world should bend to their will. When I left my big law firm, there was a partner down the hall who made his secretary print his emails every morning and dictated his responses to her. Try dragging him into the 21st century and you'll see what I mean.


Am I the only one who thinks it's weird someone would hire a law firm to expunge a record and than publicly comment/review the service on Facebook? whats the point of wiping a record and than publicly sharing you had a record?


It is interesting. There are several factors at play. The chances of a random review on FB showing up are much lower than a background check when applying for a job. The "returning citizen" community is large in the US and while not a "tight" community, it is tight in the sense that they do talk and recommend companies that positively help them. Many also have a feeling of being wronged by the "system" and when someone takes advantage of them they have no problem letting them know.


Maybe I am a little to suspicious but is it not strange that their 5stars reviews comes in bursts at https://www.trustpilot.com/review/wiperecord.com

Months with nothing and then a couple of good reviews. Like: Oh! We haven't given ourself 5stars in a while, lets add some.


Welcome to the cesspool that is online reviews of anything.


I've read through these reviews- pretty wild how they openly attack anyone who has a negative experience with them, instead of demonstrating drive to fully resolve issues. Being sympathetic, positive and following through are customer service basics, and they are just flailing here.


Long time user of Elance and then Upwork here. I can attest, what occurred in this story is common.

The problem that Upwork doesn't realize is that without an active and happy freelancing demographic, clients will go elsewhere. Historically, Upwork has made it a priority of catering to the client. This is evident given their JSS. For those of you who are not familiar with JSS, it is a score that companies / clients use to hire freelancers. Now, one would assume the score is based on past work with clients. This is not all the score accounts for. Timeliness is responding to invites, the number of long-term clients you maintain, the number of clients you hassle (yes, Upwork actively goes out and tells it's freelancers to hassle their clients to leave them feedback - the responsibility falls on the freelancer and only the freelancer), etc.

Thus, when clients don't leave feedback (for whatever reason), you are dinged. Upwork won't tell you by how much exactly so let me give you an example.

12 months ago, my score was 92% (Top Rated). A client hired me. We went over the terms of the contract (# of revisions, not working on the weekends, etc.). 2 weeks into the project, the client started to deviate from the terms of the contract. I let them know and they began to get pissy. This happens all the time as Upwork has created a platform where the clients hold all of the power, and they know this.

A week later the contract wrapped up, and I managed to make the client happy as they left me a 4.7/5 on my profile and a positive review. Clients are able to leave private feedback the freelancer can never see. When the JSS score updated (every two weeks I believe-mind you, I had not worked any other jobs since that job) my score went from 92% to 71%! A 21% drop.

Suffice to say, for the past 12 months, dozens and dozens of clients later (most with positive reviews); I am now only sitting in the low 80's for my JSS.

In conclusion, Upwork is the worst example of an online marketplace for freelancers who have a backbone and are not afraid to tell a client how it is. After all, we are hired for our expertise and when a client proceeds to tell us how to do our job, it poisons the freelancing community.

edit: spelling errors.


We had a similar incident with a freelancer recently. We left them a 5 star review, a nice written review, marked the job as successfully completed, and left no private feedback.

They wrote us immediately after we reviewed them to tell us their score had gone down from our review and we must have done something wrong.

I asked them to send back to us; nothing in there I could see to fix. I asked them to escalate to UpWork; UpWork support gave a non-answer. So I escalated it myself.

The reply I got from UpWork was essentially this: we're happy to see your concern for your freelancer. You gave your freelancer a 5-star review, you marked the job successful, it's a perfect review. The way UpWork gauges freelancer scores is on a rolling #-of-month period. Past a certain number of months, older reviews stop counting toward a freelancer's score and only reviews within that #-of-month period count. So a declining rating is most likely due to older good reviews aging out of the scoring.

So this could be another possibility, if you have better older reviews dropping off the chart and a few more recent reviews that weren't as good, and now are weighing more heavily without the better older ones to offset them.


You summed this up with far more articulation than I could muster, please may you lend me your words for the article as an edit?


You are exactly right. Same exact thing is happen to me too.


Apropos nothing:

"$100 an hour is more than our CEO makes so I'm not sure we can budget $1500 for this".

Don't bill hourly! I know this sounds like a very silly example (it's not even logically coherent) but reasoning like this gets deployed all the time, even with sophisticated clients. People have anchoring price points for hourly rates that they don't have for other billing structures. Fixing this to make more money is literally as simple as "switch to daily billing".


Just thinking out loud here (haven't tried this) but maybe a better approach would be to not mention time. Simply ask for project specs and break it down into priced components if need be.

$1500 at $100 an hour sounds expensive if you're comparing to the CEO's salary. But $1500 for a piece of sales lead infrastructure that has to be built but can't be off the shelf bought. That sounds reasonable.


Heading off the objections you'll get to this: the downside to fixed-price billing is that it maximally exposes the worker both to errors in their own estimation and also to errors in specifications provided by client, and to scope changes. Fixed-price bidding forces the consultant to shoulder a lot of risk.

That's fine, if you're sophisticated. Certainly I think fixed-price bids are smarter than hourly billing. In a fixed-price bid, you get to describe the business impact of what you're doing, which can be huge even if the task is relatively simple, and then put a dollar figure next to that impact. Almost any number you come up with is going to at least sound sane in that context. It's the more favorable setting in which to present the comparison of value and price.

What I like better though is the hybrid approach. I still remember someone on HN saying that this was the first original approach they had heard to pricing consulting work --- which blew my mind, since it was simply the way I was taught by my partners to bid projects, and presumably the way they were taught as well.

The approach is this:

Come up with a fixed price for the work you want to do, and simultaneously an estimate of the number of days you believe that work will take. You can divide the former by the latter to arrive at a daily rate. In your bid, focus on the total price of the engagement, but "show your work" in terms of the number of billable days and your day rate. Include a clause stating that overages will be billed at that daily rate as well.

To most clients, this is the moral equivalent of a fixed-price bid, and they'll treat it like one. But it de-risks the project for you.

As you do more projects, you'll get a better sense of what your real daily rate is (it's higher than you think it is now). You can tune your bids so that you keep a fixed daily rate but still value-price your engagements. By the time you're routinely employing this kind of finesse, you'll have enough traction to easily figure these kinds of things out for yourself.


This is definitely a way better approach than hourly billing, for sure.

On the flipside, stating daily billing is not much different than hourly since the client will just divide by 8 (usually). I stated my daily rate after hearing it from you and Patrick and Brennan Dunn, and one client just said - ok so your rate is "$xxx" per hour?"

My point is that daily billing is an improvement over hourly, and with your approach of an overall fixed price and also daily that's a great approach, but the client still knows a daily rate is essentially hourly. A better approach is retainer pricing if not a fixed one-time project!


Even if your client does the division --- and many won't, because, remember, it's usually not their money they're spending, so what really matters is whether the number you presented fits into the abstraction of their budget --- if you're going to negotiate, you're better off negotiating in a frame where a $100 difference is insignificant to your outcome than one in which a $100 difference is devastating.


On a side note, a few years ago I worked with a company (as a project owner) that only works on a daily rate base. However, what they offered is that they created an estimate, that contained, among others a 30% 'risk buffer' and their offer was that if they use that up (in addition to the base bid, of course) then they'll reduce their price to their cost (0 profit) level. Which basically means that it only covers the salary of the developer (plus the office space, supporting staff, etc.).

That meant a 33% reduction at that time from their prices, which is nice to in case of a project overrun, and of course is a kind of a warrant for the client that the company will do its best that the project is on time and that the estimate is accurate.

I still use the same idea/format when rarely doing estimates for potential clients, but I'm not sure how well it works with freelancers. Whether they can figure out a '0 profit' reduced price for themselves. (Maybe that could be calculated based on the 'if I work 8 hours per day, without any holidays/sick leave/spending time on new project' assumption.) The point is that it should be convincingly low for the client, but not extra cheap.


Thank you for this tip. I've always steered clear of fixed bids because it seemed simply unrealistic with software engineering. The suggestion of adding a daily rate after the fixed bid makes sense and seems to solve the aforementioned concern. I'll try that out next time.


I'm not sure I get the point (besides using days for the estimation, which is a good practice). So in the end you are doing it on a fixed-price term, but you're stating a daily rate as well, for scope changes. (Which you'll still have to argue about, and you're still left with the estimation errors and the arguments about the specification errors.)

Or did I miss something? (Or maybe there are a lot of people, who will not state a rate for the out-of-scope work and then they'll get into trouble when trying to ask money for that?)


>> "$100 an hour is more than our CEO makes so I'm not sure we can budget $1500 for this".

> Don't bill hourly!

Also, it's not $100 per hour, it's likely $100 per two hours or more. It's not like a freelancer has constant work inflow at 40 hours per week.


Well... coming up with the hourly rate is easy when one knows the price tag and the time it takes to finish the job.


I think that the freelance marketplace is not good for the freelance economy as a whole. A lot of the time, it creates a race to the bottom as far as pricing, and you have to compete with workers overseas undercutting you at every corner.

When I first got started freelancing, I used eLance (which is now UpWork). I had a similar experience with a client, they suspended my account for 2+ months, and I won the dispute at the end. If I didn't have my own clients outside of eLance, I would have been screwed and not even able to pay my rent. After that, I stopped using the service and haven't looked back 4 years later.

I have a friend who actually does know someone on the executive leadership team at UpWork, I just emailed him with your article - hopefully something positive can come of that. I really hate it when all around bad human beings go around and try to make people's lives harder.


I'll slightly disagree with the view about "the race to the bottom".

Most of the market is always in the bottom, whatever the market is. Upwork/elance/whatever just make it stand out.

Most of the work is low paying shit by shit clients who have no clue what they are doing. (Nothing special. It's the same with physical companies to physically work at :D).

As a decent freelancer who wanna do decent work for a decent client, you've gotta filter aggressively.


Hmmm, interesting:

"Thank you for using Upwork.

At this time we are unable to close your account. Please call our concierge team at 1-866-676-3375, select option 3, and we will help you close your account.

Please note: For security purposes, you will not be able to change your username, or open a new account with the same email address.

If you need help, please contact Support Services."


Got the same message but somewhere I read it was due to the fact multiple users where present in my account (long time since I last used it).

I was able to remove the other user (under Settings - Permissions) and, subsequently, close the whole account.


No multiple users for me though. Will give it another try later on. I was already fed up with how Upwork works and this article just pushed me over the edge.


Shameless plug: I run a new company, CodeGophers, that competes with Upwork. We get a lot of unhappy Upwork customers.

Unlike Upwork our service has a quality guarantee, so clients aren't forced to manage freelancers, and deal with low quality work. It's kind of like a product manager and freelancer combo, and overall it's much easier for the client.

If you're unhappy with Upwork, please give us a shot. You can see our site at https://codegophers.com, or start a task by writing in at:

    start@codegophers.com
We're able to handle most small tasks in a matter of a few days.


I took a look. Main feedback is it's just an info page with email addresses... You need a webapp, a platform, signups, etc., if you want people to consider participating. Something that can be put up in a couple hours does not instill confidence that it's a serious thing. Just my opinion.


Thanks for the feedback! We're actually working on a lot of improvements to the site, and we'll be pushing them out within a week or two. Please check back soon :)


From your landing page:

> Anything from $100 to $1000 is fair game. If the project is too big, we won't accept it.

I know many people who use Upwork for long-term hourly billed projects that last months if not years.


Does not having huge amounts of experience matter? I am a college student interested in doing side work like it appears you offer. I'm fairly skilled in the technologies I know but probably less so than a full-time freelancer or developer.


Hey Marcell,

I really like the idea. Do you code simple iOS apps in Swift?


Yep! Please write in to start@codegophers.com and we can figure out a more detailed spec. Looking forward to helping you. You can also contact me directly at marcell@codegophers.com (I'm a founder)


Damn, that's rough. Hard to believe customer support is this ignorant, but if it really directly comes from the CEO, I doubt they can do anything.

I hope this gets some traction through HN to bring it to the attention of the right people.

I am currently looking for a Freelancing platform and also looked at upwork. Thanks for that, will avoid them!


I mean, it's being handled by 3 different customer support staff, so I don't know what that actually entails.

My advice, get a blog. Write about your experience within industry. My best example would be a man called Simo Ahava, whom writes about GTM and GA. Join Slack groups and communities and just network.

I highly doubt he knows the CEO and even if he did, would said CEO actually act on such an inconsequential thing. I mean, imagine the PR meltdown from such an act.

Anyway, time for some tea and a chillout. Have a good Sunday :)


OK so I have spent the last month trying to make it on Upwork after seeing some of the "$1000 a month income on my side project!" posts here on HN and decided to start doing some side projects while building a rep on Upwork to try to get some outside clients.

I have had absolutely no success with Upwork at all and had been reaching the point of walking away from it and what should I see but this post.

I want, actually desperately need, to be working outside my day job. I'm out of my element. I realized I had to start a blog and have done so and am writing a series of articles relevant to my knowledge and experience.

Aside from that, how might you recommend I make contacts to have long term work with good clients? Your comment is the first I've ever seen about "join Slack groups" - where would I go to get started doing that?

A million thanks if you bother to read this, a million more if you reply :)


Never, ever give a price break without a scope change. Apart from the obvious $/hr benefits, it's great way to figure out if the person on the other end of the line is an abusive psychopath. A professional will understand that you're trying to help them achieve a realistic value for their budget. A psychopath will take it as a personal affront and become transparently manipulative and/or abusive. This is a great time to cut off contact before it escalates to the level shown here.


The real problem is: the conflict resolution process at Upwork is utterly Kafkaesque.

Even if you have a perfect five stars reputation for two years, all it takes is one upset jerk and you are done at Upwork. Eventually you will step on someones having a bad day if you stay there enough.

After you make a good reputation in those market places you can command a higher fee - perhaps they want you out at this point so they can get work for other skilled professionals that are undercharging in order to build reputation.


UpWork is simply a joke now. They were a bit better when they were oDesk, but now the sheer incompetence is hard to understand.

They keep inviting me to jobs that have no relationship to my declared skill-set.

They keep inviting me to apply to jobs for clients who have no intention of actually hiring.

They invite me to apply to work for them, and then fail to show up at the agreed upon interview time, several times

Whenever I reach out to support about an issue, they invariably, without fail, make the issue worse.

I'm seriously thinking of just deleting my account so I can focus my efforts on local freelancing


Brave of you to put a write-up ! Fuck you Upwork !!

When I started my consulting company, I decided I will not rely on this Upwork - Freelancer.com shit!

I use various aggregator services -

1.) StackOverFlow Jobs

2.) No Mad Jobs

3.) PDX Startups

4.) Slack Groups

5.) Domino Slack

6.) Meet, demonstrate your services

Everyone can teach WipeRecord service a lesson - I will be giving them 1 Rating on Facebook, Yelp and all other places with a write-up.


Another avenue for picking up some work and potentially new client or even full time {remote} jobs is signing up for email list at place like http://nextspace.us/ and other coworking shops. I don't know about others but nextspace.us has (or used to have) a members-only internal email group where people (founders and such) ask for some one off help with scripts and such for a fee. It seemed like a good way to get some small work, but most importantly, business contacts.

Because it's not a totally anonymous place, the groups seemed to have much less douchebags.


Actions of one (presumably) manager guy doesn't reflect company as a whole. Yelp/facebook/etc. isn't for rating how company deals with freelancers. Don't be childish.


Unfortunately it looks like this Kevin guy is the company director, if you look up his full name.


Sorry to hear about this Shadi. Kevin is one hell of a asshole. I try to refrain from using profanity but this man utterly deserved it. Will do my best to let every other freelancer know of this and recommend them to stay away as they can from Upwork.


I also tried to refrain, but, as Medium seems to be the only effective medium for myself to vent my frustration, I had to let a couple pop.

Yes, it really is one of those things which you say to yourself 'Oh, it'll never happen to me', then actually it does. I'm the 3rd person I personally know of that's had this happen to them. So I think it's more prolific than it seems.

Hope you're having a good Sunday Erklik


What I learned from this is not to ignore the warning signs of a psychopath client. Because you can easily get sucked in to a bad situation regardless of your good intentions, and you can't rely on the marketplace to resolve these disputes in your favor. This scenario can also play out on other freelancing sites, and it can also happen if you solicit clients directly and they turn out to be well-connected.


yes, and always stay courteous even when they are total asses


I have to disagree. This is not how the business world works. If a client is being an ass, you have the right to fire them. Upwork doesn't afford you this opportunity unless you want to see your JSS drop by dozens of points.


yes fire them! just act like it's your fault, not theirs


A freelance marketplace is very much against the idea of freelancing. You are basically working for the marketplace with little freedom to design the actual work processes your way. Everything is geared towards getting positive reviews and thus getting more work through the marketplace. A vicious, underpaid circle.

Sure it works great for building contacts when you are not really visible yet. After you land a few gigs and have work, references and talent to show for, you should really abandon it asap. Better even, not start with it because the gamified nature will lure you in to do more gigs.


> A freelance marketplace is very much against the idea of freelancing.

Exactly. The point of freelancing is working for yourself, not as a vassal of a third party. That is why etymology is important, even when the initial meaning of a word has changed. A "freelance platform" or "marketplace" only makes sense for you as a freelancer if you own it (i.e. your self hosted site, portfolio or blog, etc.)


Very sorry to hear it. I've employed many on oDesk then Upwork over the years and almost always have great experiences with freelancers. In a rare case when I did have an issue, customer support wasn't very good from the hiring side either, fyi.

Also I think they shot themselves in the foot with the big price hike. Previously freelancers and I would just keep using their platform throughout working relationships. Now we use it like a dating app, meet a freelancer, work a project or two to build trust, and then leave the platform to handle payments on our own.


pay attention, this is against the agreement. you are free after two years from the start of the relationship

just for your info to avoid possible bad things


I'm not sure how this agreement could be enforced. How could Upwork possibly find out that a freelancer has made a deal with a customer outside of their site?


for example if the freelancer or the client publicly discuss it on HN...


Convinced me, just closed my upwork account.


To make it easier for others:

> Click Accounts menu, choose Settings, then Contact Info

You may have to add a missing security question before it shows the form with the "delete my account" link.


As another freelancer who has been there, done that (not quite at Upwork, but at three other platforms namely Freelancer.com, PeoplePerHour and Fiverr [yes, Fiverr - and unlikely as it may sound, I found individual clients who placed thousands of dollars worth of work with me there,]) I can only and totally identify + sympathize with the OP here.

Of the three platforms above, I've found PPH to be the best in terms of overall mix/quality of clients as well as the platform's fairness (such as it may be) towards me (the freelancer).

After over two years of doing this almost full time, here is my takeaway:

The platforms have no love lost for the freelancers. Their first and foremost loyalty is (almost exclusively) reserved for the buyers, even to the point of being downright unreasonable in terms of favoring the buyers.

While I've been fortunate enough not to end up with the terminal outcome (yet), I have come close a few times and every time that happens, it is such an emotionally upsetting and disappointing experience that I feel I could write a whole book about it, but then lose the inclination after a while.

Such then, is the state of affairs and I guess there's little anyone (well at least I, at any rate) can do about it.


I use Upwork for projects and after reading this I wouldn't mind moving away from them. What are the best alternatives to Upwork for python and data science assistance?


I've had good experience with Toptal for high end software contractors.


Look into Codementor.io


Just so you know, you inadvertently included Kevin's email address in one of the screenshots. You blurred it out from the "from" section, but it's also showing in a "flagged as spam" yellow box. I'm sure this wasn't your intention.


His surname is also visible in one of the screencaps.


Shadi, please also post this on https://reddit.com/r/freelance.


Closed my account.

Interestingly there's very few reasons for closing you can select from the closure page. You can't even choose an 'other' category to write in the reason.


I noticed that. They should at least add an option that mentions their fee structure changes. I stopped using upwork the day those were announced. This story was enough motivation to officially close my account.


It's so sad to see that.

1. People that try to hire freelancers don't have the decency of considering that freelances have to pay: fees, taxes and other markups (transfer fees for eg).

2. The usual you quote me X but my budget is X/2 tops, and the failure to realize that an Z for hour = x, or i can give you z/2 and double the number of hours and still get X.

When an experienced developer in his field gives you a 15 hour quote, it doesn't mean that it's an easy job that can be done by anybody in that time frame, since if that's the case you would have done it yourself already.


Even before the threats made to Upwork, I feel the 'client' was trying to trick the freelancer.

- Snag a freelancer without providing spec up front. - Once some desperate freelancer signs on, flood the freelancer with tons of work. - If the freelancer tries to back out, threaten that you will file complaint with Upwork. Since freelancer was desperate enough to sign on, the client probably assumes the freelancer will be desperate enough to suck it and finish the work. - Repeat. Hence 40 previous jobs.

I think some call this 'client' a shrewd businessman.


I think UpWork deserves the negative PR now... They will be more careful from now on..


I don't know; they get bad reviews pretty much daily on r/freelance, but who knows; maybe the front page of HN will be more persuasive.


Until it mysteriously fell off


Any publicity is good publicity so I don't think it will help.

We need more people like Peter Thiel. With these many years of work, there must be a few dozen lawsuits that could be funded to take these shitheads down.


With so many tales of "terminated my account; KEPT MY EARNINGS", I can't help but wonder if a class action lawsuit isn't appropriate.


Thank you for sharing your experience, I am closing my account. But do you have any similar (or not) service you recommend me to use ? As a student I work with a company through this platform. Thanks by advance


I think going through a more niche platform that has better quality clients and respect for both sides is the way to go.

For example, for WordPress development, Codeable.com is really good - they take care of both clients and developers

For writing, TextBroker or CopyWriterToday might pay more to writers with a better quality control and escrow system.

Designers - if you can get contracted out by Lightboard or others, you'll do much better


It clearly seems better for both sides. Here is a recent thread talking about similar options you gave me https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12775983


Nobody else has said it, but I guess I should then...

Does anybody else find it odd that this mans real name is: Shadi Al'lababidi

However, his UpWork profile is: Shadi Paterson

I've seen this done quite a bit when companies (especially the American kind) ship their support overseas, but are either too embarrassed to let their workers use their real names OR justify such actions by saying: "Some Americans will find it difficult to say your name" (or in other implicit scenarios, because your name is Muslim-sounding - or X-sounding - will associate you with terrorism/other-ism).

Imagine the world we live in, where in order to do a job (or get work), you have to literally change your REAL name to appease to the demographic.

Whether Shadi did this of his own accord or was instructed to by UpWork to 'passively appeal' to the hiring-clients, it is quite a shocker to see it YET AGAIN.


Hey man,

I'm actually English born n' bred. I have Arab roots on my fathers side. My Full name is Shadi Al'lababidi Paterson

I act on my own terms. I just found that when interacting with certain clients (Basically, Americans), my Muslim sounding name definitely reduced my opportunities.

Like, it was truly noticeable.

To be fair, this is the same for East Asians as they seem to value 'White names' more.

I'd like to see Upwork do pornhub like stats on all demographics. Including skin colour and gender. I think as a global society we'd be very surprised to see what a 'True free market' produces.


Do you have a problem with Chinese adopting a "western name" (https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Chinese_name#/Western_name)? This has been going on for a long time, the basic idea is neither new nor has anything to do with Muslims. It should still happen voluntarily, but I consider it OK to actually help people pronounce your name correctly.


It can be difficult for people to pronounce and after them asking the third time as to if they are pronouncing it right. I decided it was just better to Anglicise it and make it easier for me and them. :)


Useful to know, will steer clear of Upwork in future, thank you.


I'm sorry to hear that this happened to you. I just closed my upwork account and I will spread the word.


I had similar feelings about Upwork. I am closing my account very soon as well.


A major theme of the story is using third parties means you have less control. So why post it on Medium?


I am really sorry you are wasting your talent on marketplace like this. Wish I could help you get better work.

Behavior like this, from this dude Kevin, well that is normal on marketplaces like this. If you are experienced, you should always steer clear when you see people talk random stuff.


I purchase talent from upWork on occasion. But less and less. On the buy-side I think the personal network works better. And, with so many jerks on the buy-side it scares the talent away. Death Spiral.

Is it possible to have a community like this without the BS? How to stop it?


How is this falling off the front page?


I really hope there wasn't any manual intervention on a request from Upwork...


I was wondering too. The results of HN algorithm are really strange sometimes.


Terrible story, all my support to you. It is completely true that the protection we have is very limited and that we must be VERY VERY selective with clients. Also if this means to reject offers. Also if this means to not earn money. I try to give qualified answers and i ask for qualified customers able to communicate and competent to discuss requirements. Otherwise i let them go away “Too busy on other projects thanks” is my mantra on Upwork It needs discipline and will but to be entangled in a poisonous relation with someone who can harm you… far worse. Push this story around, it is the best vengeance


Sorry this happened. Closing my account now -


What's the alternative to UpWork for a skilled computer programmer who has fairly good English but has no formal education and lives in a poor country?


Make a trip to the nearest capital of a country where there are tech events. Don't forget your business cards. Stay there for a week and come back wit projects.


Upwork seems to always take sides with the company/client. It is terrible practice and very scary for freelancers that use upwork as primary income generator. I had few challenges with upwork and it took weeks to resolve. Seems as freelancers have to walk on eggshells around upwork support or clients when issues arise. I guess there is a huge opportunity for the next upwork.


It's a real shame. I used Elance for around four years (as a client, not a freelancer). This was before Elance merged with Odesk and became upwork.

I'm sure elance had issues. But I noticed a marked uptick in problems when the upwork migration became. The Elance interface was old school, but very functional.

Upwork was confusing. The migration was a mess and made me a freelancer by default, as I had also had a minor freelance profile on elance that I had never used. Took weeks to resolve.

The desktop app....actually, I don't remember the issue, but it led to me leaving the platform entirely. I think messages took ages to load.

I will eventually look for new freelancers, and I'll need to figure out a replacement when I do. It sounds like Upwork is not a great place to be for a freelancer now – and that means the quality ones will be elsewhere.

As a client, I want freelancers to be able to make money, and to denounce bad clients. By catering excessively to clients, Upwork is going to select for toxic clients.


Although sites like Upwork make money from both sides (probably more from freelancers), they are likely to support those offering work.

Perhaps their line of thought goes like: Freelancers would always outnumber those offering work. Even if some walk away or are forced out, it doesn't matter as long as we manage to keep those offering work on board.


Well, shit.

And I was about to try out some freelance work just to get some income going.

Best of luck. You got a raw deal on that one.


Another fine example of when you should ask yourself, "Am I the customer in this deal or am I the raw material that gets rendered into the 'product'?"

With upwork, not only are freelancers raw material, they are so plentiful that waste is free for upwork.


The goal here should be to sue, not just making things public. Why don't you get a lawyer the moment your account won't be reopened? Upwork owes you over $1000. A client is seriously trying to harm your public image, which may result in losing customers/business. Both points themselves would be enough to talk to a lawyer. Together they are clear suing material.

If you go public you actually open yourself up to get sued. Also cheaters and bullies will see that you didn't sue and therefore see you as an easy mark. Normal schoolyard logics apply, just that as a grownup you don't hit them in the face but sue.

(I'm not a lawyer)


I had a similar experience; used to have 4.8+ rating on Upwork, then accepted a job which went bad largely due to poor and inaccurate spec provided by the client. He actually went to my company website, found out the team members' emails and sent a message to everybody castigating me. I basically begged to him to stop doing any further damage. Upwork always give their clients the benefit of doubt because they know they'll always have a cheap source of freelancers from countries where living cost is low.


From the employer side. We're a platinum employer on UpWork with probably close to $100,000 spent on the platform and maybe 70 completed jobs. Tons of reviews calling us one of the best employers on UpWork.

Right after oDesk merged with eLance to form UpWork, the platform rolled out its new "job success" score and sidelined star ratings (which was how it'd previously determined employer and contractor quality).

We typically hire multiple contractors to small test jobs, and let them know these are test jobs. We then keep the best one or two on, and the rest we thank for their work, give them a good review (assuming they at least tried), and end the project.

In this case, right after UpWork rolled out its "job success rate" score, we had a few trial freelancers we brought on who simply did not even start their projects or respond to communications. So we ended those jobs and marked them "unsuccessful."

Within maybe a week, I received a "letter from the principal"-type email from UpWork letting me know that we had too many unsuccessful jobs and UpWork would be monitoring our account to make sure we were following sound hiring principles.

I assumed this was probably a situation where we had 3 job success ratings and 2 of them were unsuccessful, or something like this, since they'd just rolled this out. Whereas we had something like 70 five star ratings (and a couple of four star ratings) built up over the years.

I wrote to UpWork asking what this was about, pointing out that we have tons of five star reviews and this job success thing was brand new, and we just got a form letter back saying, in effect, "just be more careful."

So, now, we make every job "successful" when it ends, regardless how it ended, and are very careful to end jobs in a cheerful way with freelancers and tell them, "Okay! Job 5-starred and marked 'successful'!" in hopes they'll be inclined to do the same. It's not about accurate information. It's about not losing access to the platform.

We do hiring on other platforms as well. Guru, Freelancer, PeoplePerHour. Freelancer and PPH are comparable to UpWork in terms of fees (UpWork's a little bit higher). The PPH interface is pretty good; Freelancer's is not as good, and the quality of contractors on Freelancer leaves something to be desired compared to UpWork (though PPH is pretty good here too). Guru has great contractors and its rates are almost half of UpWork's (12.5% instead of 22.5%), but its interface is something out of 2009 and employers aren't even able to end their contracts with freelancers. It's just a downright byzantine system to use.

So, like it or not, we seem stuck with UpWork for now, and UpWork can run a crummier service than it used to in the oDesk days and charge twice as much for it because, well, they're the only game in town, and that's the market economy. We've moved what work we can off it (e.g., we use 99designs for design stuff now, and have found some terrific contractors we've gone back to repeatedly from them), but UpWork's still the best general place.

Maybe someone else will come along with a better service, cheaper. I kind of hoped PPH would be that, but they charge comparable rates, so maybe that's just what the market rate is for the middle man service between employers and freelancers. Wish they'd plow some of the new capital into better tech though. The new site design is worse than what it was before the upgrade, and often gets stuck loading in the browser. Still better than Guru though.


Upwork rate is 22.5%? I think when it was Odesk (before merging with Elance) it was 10% - last I checked, some time ago. And when Odesk started it was 30%, IIRC.


It's 5%, 10% or 20% depending on the amount spent per contract. They also charge a fee to the employer now for paying by credit card instead of ACH (2.75%)

https://www.upwork.com/blog/2016/05/upwork-pricing/

I'm not against the changes overall (in my case, it will mean more money in the pockets of the people I hire) but it seems to bias against contractors who specialize in one-off smaller projects. IMHO anyone with a successful history of doing that type of piecemeal work should still be charged a flat 10%.


Good point, there shouldn't be that bias.


> "Okay! Job 5-starred and marked 'successful'!" in hopes they'll be inclined to do the same. It's not about accurate information. It's about not losing access to the platform

This reminds me of my experience with Uber and pretty much every 5-star system I have used (which includes Uber and UpWork and not much else).

Also reminds me of the recent Black Mirror season 3 episode 1 "Nosedive" where nearly every personal or professional interaction generates a rating.

But anyway, the basic concept of systems where you are rating someone between 1 and 5 stars seems to not work, because for whatever reason(s) (structural to this type of system) it tends towards giving everyone a 5 unless you are just new and don't understand the 'real' ratings or giving them a 4 when they did a poor job. A 3 is pretty much a vote to remove someone from the system.

Uber drivers have told me (if I remember correctly) that if they get down to something like a 4.6 they get a warning or something and if they can't raise it they may be removed.


Back when Elance was a separate site, I created a script to automatically withdraw funds from my Elance account to my bank account. I posted it to their forums and promptly had my account locked "after a routine review". They unlocked it after I jumped through some hoops, but I think the same shoot-first attitude clearly survived the merger with upwork.


Yeah this is pretty grim - also shows someones true character when they are willing to act like this from behind the safety of a screen miles away from the person they are interacting with.

Not sure if you have posted on data tau but it might be worth posting there too @shadi....

http://www.datatau.com/


Unfortunately corporate bullying is a new trend seen more and more frequently. We should be very careful in our choice of companies we choose to interact with.


Why did he censor Kevin's name in all exchanges except for one? Was that an intentional "slip"? Or was revealing his last name an accident?


Probably at the beginning Shadi didn't want to disclose the name, or wasn't sure in himself (possibly because of thinking about the possible legal consequences?), but as he was writing the article he pissed himself off so much, that he decided to disclose it anyway.


All these posts make me think there an amazing opportunity to create a new platform with a big focus on revenue sharing and amazing customer experience.


What's interesting about the timing of this story is that I have recently been playing around with Upwork for some freelance work and the issue I am having is actually a different one.

I have come to realize that there is a fundamental problem with the marketplace itself. I don't think it matches clients to freelancers properly.

I did two exercises. I posted a few positions as a 'buyer', and I got a lot of spam (i.e. non-personalized, crap postings to my position/gig/job that was obvious they never read it). I got more than I expected, which makes it difficult to weed through and find a freelancer I want to work with. Granted, I didn't want the typical "low-ball" freelancer. I was looking for a freelancer that knew what they were doing. Alas, I was unsatisfied with the results and ended up not finding what I was looking for.

I also responded to gigs as a Ruby developer. What's remarkable is that it is literally very, very difficult to get any work, much less the type of work I would like (high-value work with a handful of clients, potentially doing on-going work).

I first started off with a relatively high-ish hourly rate for UpWork ($80/hr for someone with 8 years of Ruby & Rails experience and 15+ years of web development experience overall). Because I had no 'history' with the platform, that didn't work. I filled out my portfolio, and responded to each job in a very custom way detailing the specifics of how I would tackle each job I was submitting a proposal to. This took much longer than just spamming, and was more mentally taxing, but I figured I could make up for my non-Upwork-track history by putting more into my proposal. No dice.

I then dropped my rates (down to as low as $40/hr) just to test, still no dice. I didn't even get responses.

Then, I assumed that maybe my proposals weren't robust enough or maybe I wasn't communicating my capabilities in my portfolio properly enough, aka I was being hit with a 'portfolio tax'.

So to get over this, I decided to actually bid on fixed budget tasks that were very specific in what they want and overlapped with specific stuff I have done in the past -- specifically "B2B Lead Discovery" or "Website Scraping" for something.

I recently have been playing around with scraping websites for different types of leads, particularly B2B, and so this suited me perfectly.

I then started applying to some of these with not just the specifics of what I have done, how I would tackle their specific task, but I would even send them sample results for similar leads to what they were asking for. So say someone was looking for wedding planners from each state (an actual job posting) where they would need the $CompanyName, $Website, $Email, $PhoneNumber, $Address. I replied telling them I have experience doing exactly this....in fact, I recently did this exact thing for accountants, so I replied explaining what I have done and how I can help them and I sent them a CSV file with a list of sample accountants, along with a picture of my script producing those results.

In one case, I crawled the specific website they wanted crawled and showed them pictures of the script doing that and then I gave them a suggestion based on what they were looking for and what I found. There was a disconnect between what they wanted, and what could be technically scraped from the website (they wanted email addresses for all users on MySpace to be exact). So I informed them that unless MySpace has an API that gives out this information, and unless you are looking for email addresses that people post within comments on the music throughout the site, this is a waste of time and I provided proof from my script.

Suffice-it-to-say, I did a lot of work on each proposal. I did about 7 - 10 of these specific proposals for scrapers, and about 15 - 20 other specific but not as specific proposals. I also didn't change the price they asked. So if they said their budget was $10, I replied with all of the above with a $10 budget. This is crazy, I know...but I did it just to experiment.

The results? Not even 1 reply. Not even 1. You can see screenshots here [1].

Yes, my portfolio on Upwork could be weak (although I doubt it because I think it looks pretty robust), and my profile could be a deterrent (because the language I use is a mismatch to what these clients are looking for) and my rates could be high relative to the rest of the marketplace, but the real issue is just an overall non-response from ANY of the 20+ proposals I submitted over the period of a week.

Something feels fundamentally broken with that, especially when considering my experience with the other-side of this experience.

I believe that there is some middle ground between the "elitist" Toptal and "broken" UpWork. So, I would like to try an experiment.

Do you have any high value ($30K+ -- note this is a floor, just to weed out inappropriate clients) development projects that you would like done? Either generic projects where no tech stack is specified or Ruby and Rails jobs for starters. I won't specify the types of projects, but something where you would prefer a "high-quality" developer help you see it to fruition rather than the cheapest developer you can find. Perhaps you have tried other developer services/gig boards and are unhappy with the process.

Do you want a product manager to help drive the entire process for you, from beginning to end?

If this sounds interesting to you, please send me an email to: marc+hnexperiment@mymvpblueprint.com.

If I can find a pattern for how to find these types of projects consistently, I would love to work with other developers to fill these needs. Until then though, let the experimentation begin!

[1] - http://imgur.com/a/MjHYk


How many jobs completed total do you have? Does not matter if it's $5 or $10 jobs.


None...which is the same number as the number of interviews I have gotten.

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