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Forgotten Employee (2002) (sites.google.com)
520 points by jxub 5 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 166 comments

I inexplicably love this story. Often if I'm at work and I feel like there's not much work for me to do and I feel like I'm being paid to do nothing, I'll read this story.

I recently found it posted to this wiki, which contains a bit more information about its origins and legacy:


They also reference another semi-related story which I also found entertaining (Cubicle Jungle):


I haven't explored the rest of the wiki, but it looks fascinating.

The Bibliotheca Anonoma is a research task force archiving, documenting, and safeguarding Internet Folklife.


So many good stories that I thought were lost to time are on there (especially after shii took down his site). Thank god for the bibanon wiki.

The P-p-p-p-owerbook story is pretty entertaining as well: https://wiki.bibanon.org/P-P-Powerbook

How did you first found it?

guess what I'm reading before bed....

Just to add probably the millionth example to this, I currently have a nothing job where I show up for work every day, read the news, play on my phone, network, and generally sit around doing very little. It was not always this way, I used to do work as a developer, then I moved several times, now I work in a special projects team that have no defined remit. The team had a remit when set up and has existed officially for 2 years but the original head was fired 8 months in, and since then the team has had no purpose. We tried for a while to revive the team and have the original remit reinstated, but efforts of myself and others were in vain. For probably the last 9 months I have had no defined job to do, so I swan around some days trying to be useful, others trying to do nothing (depending wholly on my whim) but always trying to look busy (which I am not). The company is massive so I contribute to internal open source projects when I want to, and have recently started looking for another job in company time as I am mind-numbingly bored. Reading this story was like reading someone living the life I've had for the last 9 months, but with them actually seeking to prolong it (which I don't want to)...

While it's nice to know others are in this boat, it's depressing that any company lets this happen, particularly when I see people working hard at much less well paid things: the cleaners are working much harder than I!

I just can't understand how this happens. I know it does, since I have a friend to which this did happen, but it was a govt job and they are known to be wasteful with budget.

For a private enterprise, the budget can't possibly be this free!?

The idea that private enterprise is more efficient than government is a myth. Waste scales with any organization.

It's similar to how Florida seems more messed up than other states, but it's only because of the state's public information laws. There's probably a term for the bias where something seems more prevalent only because information on it is more accessible.

Even a "public" company only shares so much with the general public. Much less than even the smallest government.

It's like when a mainland Chinese student sneered at former lady Korean president for being some brainwashed cult puppet, and proudly exclaimed the superiority of a single party centralized architecture.

I found it sad that he thought Tianmen Square was just a nice park after seeing nice censored pictures in the search results (he didnt know what it was before so he had to baidu it).

This made me wonder, what other fucked up shit are they hiding from naive citizens?

This made me wonder, what fucked up shit is being hidden from me?

Some version of the Streetlight Effect.

On the contrary, private enterprises lack the external visibility that lets people see the waste. In a private business, in a "cost centre" like development, this kind of thing can happen very easily.

It can also easily coexist with stupid cost saving measures like cutting the free soda.

I have the same situation. Not quite as severe but I'm in management yet have no reports, no projects, no budget and no accountability. I've invented a few tasks for myself but I could drop them all and not get in trouble. My VP sits 6 feet away and the last feedback cycle he gave me a raise and said I was doing fine. The whole situation just causes me massive anxiety.

So if you ever wondered, this shows you how random reviews are and how little attention they really pay to them.

Every other place I've worked for took reviews pretty seriously. I think that for me in my current role, my boss would have egg on his face if he admitted to having opened a very expensive job req for a role he didn't need.

It'd be so interesting to try run a side business during your "work" hours!

Presumably it would be grounds for legal trouble once/if they realize.

Open source contributions might work though. Do them under an fake name/alias (so they can't correlate with the hours you're supposed to be working), using your own machine and internet access (so it leaves no trace as far as the company is concerned).

Depends on what type of business, nothing is stopping you from say, writing a novel or something.

Can confirm this does happen more often than not, especially in very big companies.

As of now, my team of 5 + a manager is basically doing nothing (mainly because the manager is an asshat and I think higher ups have given up on him but cannot fire him for some legal reason). A big bunch of budget was devoted to this team, but when the expected ROI doesn't pan out higher ups just give up on the team and would rather force you to resign rather than fire you - at least in my country, getting fired also means getting a nice compensation, and I think they want to force us into boredom and resigning just to not pay us even more when leaving.

I'm honestly considering a master's degree at this point, corporate life really is awful.

One major problem is that managers tend to be judged by how many people work for them. You'll often get paid more if you have a 20-person department that accomplishes nothing than if you have an extremely effective 5-person team.

Combine this with the fact that most people hate firing someone - it's just an awful experience - and most managers won't fire anyone unless they're actively destructive.

The owners or CEO would want line managers to fire do-nothing employees, but they're not the ones making the decision.

I make a point to work toward some tangible goal so that I always have something to point to - although I've never actually been in a position where I'm asked, "justify the time you've spent here", I go out of my way to make sure I do have a good answer in case somebody ever does. However... nobody ever really asks. Instead, they always try to put a "process" in place to automate that; Scrum, the unholy beast that "agile" has spawned into is the ultimate automated "are you doing anything" checker. I can't help but notice how infinitely gameable it is, though - story points and sprints almost _invite_ abuse. I do get useful work done in spite of the time that's wasted feeding the "prove that you're doing something" beast, but it would be trivially easy to spend all my time making myself look good on paper while not actually producing anything defensible.

A company of significant size will always have cracks that can be fallen through, and accounting and payment systems are often so automatic that no central authority will ever notice unless it’s brought to their attention. Such places usually assume middle management’s responsibility is to flag cases that need attention, but if things shake out such that a person winds up disconnected from the broader org tree like in this case it’s entirely possible that nobody notices for months or years.

You'd be surprised. I just left a Fortune 50 company for the same thing. I'd never worked at a company that large before and it was, in many ways, more wasteful than the government contracting gigs I had years ago.

As for the how... At this particular company it seems like the core issue was middle management was not evaluated based on the ROI they delivered for their given budgets.

God! I couldn't stop reading this it was so entertaining

but it's also similar to my experience.

The type of jobs where the incompetence of your superiors creates the absence of responsibility due to the sheer number of hierarchial and useless processes and departments. It's ironic that it's at these type of jobs where the bar is ridiculously low, like you really have to seriously put in an effort to get fired.

If you are thinking this is the life, please don't, the boredom from not having intellctually stimulating work and responsibilities is very real...

but at the same time you are not doing hard labor and making minimum wage so obviously it's a very good deal for most people....I just didn't feel like I can do that for long because of the boredom is too much.....

I've never actually been forgotten, but I've definitely spent months unutilized. Once was as a consultant through a third party. Job was a 1 year contract to help implement some APIs. they had enough work planned for about one month, then nothing for a loooong time. I worked on some load testing busy work sporadically during this period. It was the type of situation where the on site manger knew he didn't have anything for me, so we just sort of mutually agreed to not discuss it.

I was offered to convert to full time by the same manager. I said "Seriously? I haven't done sh-- here?" He replied yeah but I contributed more than a lot of the others. I declined as I had another job lined up already. But I was stunned, still am when I reflect on it.

I've been doing contract work for the past 3 years and I've learnt to avoid such situations like the plague.

At my last job I ran into the situation where I completed a project but my manager was lazy about asking for the next project. I don't like disturbing people so I only asked about the new project 3-4 times during a week and my manager always told me to have patience. At the end of that week she actually had a 2 week vacation planned so I ended up not doing any meaningfull work for 3 weeks.

My manager had to sign my bill with detalied work. It just sucked making up "work" for 21 days and then billing for it but my manager signed off the work; 3 months later when the project rand into some delays my manager arranged a meeting where se stated that she feelt the project was running late because of my slacking off.

Anyway, I'd never do that again -- I'd just email the manager about not having any work and clearly bill my time as "waiting for work".

If you can afford it, it’s a lot better to have too many people (although your case sounds a bit extreme) than too little. I’m working at a startup where we have too little, and we are rushing to get stuff done without really thinking it through long term. Our tech debt level is growing each day.

In your case it sounds like you - and your experience - really helped other members of the team work more efficiently.

This is where a retainer agreement can come in handy. The company is explicitly paying you to keep time free in case they need the extra workforce, but you aren't expected to even show up unless there's work to do.

I value myself more than to sit around for months so that the company may feel secure.

I usually start looking for a new job after a month, since I'm not needed here and I'm bored (I also can't talk about this with the manager, or at least whenever I tried nothing fruitful came out of it; doing opensource or just reading tutorials were usually dismissed - the best managers can come up with in these situations is that you "document everything").

Having too little people isn't too bad, in my experience. There's a lot of things you could do, that you won't be able to do, but nobody will have hurt feelings when you don't do their thing when you don't have enough people to do it. If you've got too many people and you're still pushing back on features, you're going to have a lot more hurt feelings.

Plus, at least in my experience, if you know you're not going to have time to redo something, you do it right the first time :)

hahaha, that is similar to my case except I was a full time employee that was hired from what I can see a sporadic last ditched sales campaign.

it was a weird experience, culturally too. like there's only ~100 ppl yet you have so many middle level managers that just seems to parse email contents from customers or phone calls and applying some generic risk reward decisions based on some cliche-immigrant-to-riches story of some giant American corporation.

Large glassroom conferences very similar to the one from The Social Network....a manager that loves to use the whiteboard any chance they can get to show off their flowchart or maybe more in the vicinity of "adding value when the ceo walks in".

One time a visitor pointed out why the person sitting across from me didn't know my name, which panickly corrected by saying oh we are a large company....100 ppl and you can never even make eye contact or even say hi...what in the fuck

this is starting to digress into a similar style from the submission article but I really like his usage of smaller sentences to really bring home the edge of your sit moments....also I see ppl are upvoting which I will automatically take as a positive feedback to continue.

so I was at this job was kickin ass an engineer then I realize the whole product and 1 hour sales cycle that we used to torture naive prospects and saavy ceo's who figured out how to get months of free consulting by dangling a carrot - 14% commission on a 400k quota. One sale would mean another quarter to prove you don't suck at sales. So not much demand but really enthusiastic c-suites keen on jumping on 1 hour calls to squeeze every value they can. This meant the entirety of the company strategy was to focus on very large accounts which ultimately resulted in disaster as you can see.

I learned that each sales process is a lot like buying OTM options. The payout is truly great but most of them turn out to be worthless. A bit like European options in that you can't exercise before or after the expiry date. I mean they are the same thing at the core, they are both contracts between parties. Except the company paying you can cancel anytime if you didn't put it in the clause. Well there goes our annual revenue target.

Portfolio risk increases when you are too biased...the tragedy in this case being the unwillingness from the executives to accept cold hard facts not incomplete information....when you get angry or use fear to motivate your subordinates, basically creating a negative feedback loop, you increase opacity of information which in turn fuels decentralization making it harder and more costlier to acquire trivial data because people like to not hide but discouraged from putting it in directly infront of someone who gets angry when results are not met. This is the definition of a petulant child. put all the bags in one basket, or one large account, everything slows down. The whole sales revenue target for the quarter depends on this account. Literally make it or break it type of situation that repeatedly gets sold by the executives as a 100% deal.

In fact I can't count how many times I heard that a deal was literally waiting to be signed only to discover how far away from what was actually announced company wide.

So basically tl;dr, focusing on large enterprise account created a lot of unutilized time, not just me but I personally saw an account executive have a nervous breakdown. You truly have to be strong inside to do enterprise sales I feel. Even tougher when your AE is sitting across you berating developers as [derogatory word] he feels is conspiring against him. In one incident he used a very degrading picture of a gay effeminate Asian male that he "randomly" found while searching for an appropriate image that fit his company wide show & tell on "analytical trends". Also more uncomfortable is that they would sit an Asian co-worker in the same room and ask who the fuck gave 0 for diversity amongst the Caucasian workers. Literally felt like standing before a Soviet military tribunal before permanently being shipped to Vladivostok gulags found in 80s Soviet Pioneer songs.

    " Рыба c головы тухнет, Игорь ! "
Absolutely abhorrent conduct by the HR but the fish rots from head down as they say over in Rossiya. But probably the most fucked up shit is being called a derogatory reference by an AE and being ditched on the way to a company party, btw a deal that I quickly pointed out as being very risky due to the engineering miracles that were being promised. Truly fucked up and you can see given the conduct one has to make a call. "Make 100k browsing reddit 9-5 with no supervisor in a toxic and failing B2B startup that is over a decade old in a highly 420 friendly office culture" vs "employment insurance". I didn't have to choose because they were not mutually exclusive. but here was a sure way to stop possibly the highest dollar to output of cash printing quantum machine (you have to show up once in a while to let them know you exist).

So yeah I don't feel bad about being underutilized, it was the boredom I had to save myself from and what was a toxic environment under the veil of a highly reputable articles and "fake it till you make it" culture.

Along with the boredom I'd image you have the anxiety of getting fired or laid off if someone realizes you don't actually do anything. Then when you go to get your next job you won't have anything to show for the last n years.

Well when your CEO is convinced you have product market fit when you dont, raise millions and burn it all in a few years thinking you can hire your way to a robust sales pipeline, it doesn't feel as bad.

Especially when the best sales ppl are leaving and you cant hire new fast enough so they stick with whatever they have, even if their book rate is at the bottom.

Basically sales teams are for selling but they cant sell products which have no demand and so eventually you are "that" company in the expo with nobody coming to the booths since your marketing involves using shady eastern European seo backlinks and believe repeatedly spamming CEOs and partners. In fact, when your partners turn on you, it's a sign that there is problems at the top level.

Usually these type of CEOs are egomaniacs with no discernable skill other than walking around the office taking up conference room to meditate, and thinking he is at TEDtalk...

> If you are thinking this is the life, please don't, the boredom from not having intellctually stimulating work and responsibilities is very real...

Like most software jobs these days? :/.

The single joy I got was a burst of shell scripting I did...out of my own volition to create tools to help AEs as many quarters went by without booking any deals.

The tool was very successful and all I did was just receive messages in slack to hit the up arrow key and press enter in my terminal.

I guess I could've just did it manually then I'd have a steady supply of repetitive hand eye coordination exercises but I automated it in about a week of concentrated coding at the office because it just felt so good to code and produce something of value after months of redditing and growing fat from all the food and beer at the office. I relished it, it was the single most proudest feeling to announce the tool to the company.

I can see software jobs with peers who are self concious about imposter syndrome and other senior egos scrutinizing your commits day after day can add a toll. It was such a relaxing environment to be left on my own to produce such a specialized tool with tremendous productivity and revenue boost. It was only after I introduced this ability we started seeing some bookings. Not many software jobs I experienced had this much freedom and it was exactly the environment that gave rise to such high-multiple value generating tool.

Many years ago I (a USian) was hired by a massive Indian company famous for outsourcing that had begun "insourcing": Hiring US labor for jobs with US companies within the US, but managing these hires through their offices in India. The job didn't start for months, but the weirdness started immediately.

I had filled out all the onboarding paperwork, but as there had been almost no vetting I assumed this was all still preliminary and my "actual" hiring would hinge on another round of interviews (possibly with the US client company). Then I checked my bank balance one day and found it to be significantly higher than expected due to automated deposits that continued for the duration: The hiring process was over, I was now a full blown employee as far as the company was concerned.

The original position was in Chicago (a city I was not in) however after a month or so of waiting this seemed to fall through and I was asked to select from a short list of other cities I would be available to relocate to. I chose New York and eventually was given a weeks-away start date that I was expected to begin work there, however no hint of a corresponding salary bump.

Being unwilling to relocate to NY for a Chicago salary, I patiently explained to the management in India that I would need to know my new salary first. After they blew through a few soft deadlines while continuing to insist that I was expected to be at work in New York on the same start date, I finally got my direct supervisor on phone at the beginning of his workday and made it clear that I needed this number before his close of business or else.

When that deadline was also blown, I followed through on my promise and quit immediately (a move that seemed to surprise him). During these three or four months I had shown up at no office or been assigned any tasks.

I had an eerily similar experience subcontracting with a massive Indian company that was itself subcontracting for an American contractor for General Dyanamics. They spent a bunch of money on a background check and I was hired but weeks dragged on without a start date.

I kept explaining to them that I had to give notice to my previous employer and would need to know the date in advance. After several more weeks of "soon", I told them that if they didn't give me a start date by EOW, I would be resigning at the close of business day Friday. This was before ever actually starting even though I'd been hired.

They blew the deadline and I quit on the spot, and they immediately countered with telling me that I could start the following Monday. Clearly they did not understand a single thing that I was trying to tell them or did not care. No regrets walking away from that one.

This reminds me of a practice in Japan, where employees who can't be laid off (for legal reasons) are sent to the "Boredom Room", to essentially do nothing until they're motivated to quit.


In some cases it is worse than doing essentially nothing: you're made to, e.g., perform some data processing task on a newspaper (e.g. write the readings of every kanji in this newspaper; that will take you about a day) and then, at the end of the day, your work product is checked for ~15 seconds to verify that you're not slacking and then shredded in front of your eyes. See you tomorrow.

Ancient version of proof of work! Difficult to perform, quick to verify, completely useless.

“Writing lines” was (perhaps still is) a common punishment in British schools: copy something out 100 times then the teacher would tear it up in front of you with a big grin on their face. Not sure it actually taught anything other than “don’t get caught next time”.

If we got a deans' detention at my high school in New Zealand, we had to write numbers for 1.5 hours on a Friday, starting at 1000 and going up. There was a minimum you had to write too, if you took the piss and didn't write anything you'd get another detention.

I always thought these kinds of busywork are completely useless, and don't do anything to stop you from getting into trouble again, they never did for me at least.

There's always been an element of sadism in commonwealth country's schooling systems. We had to wear shorts to school until 5th form, even in winter when it hit sub zero temperatures (at least it didn't snow).

At least they got rid of the privilege of prefects being able to hand out detentions after the entire school collectively told them to fuck off.

As someone who has issues with authority, high school was a very difficult time for me.

I wonder how important the ritualistic effects end up being. If you get in trouble, for presumably large classes of trouble, you face detention. That's better than suspension or expulsion or something else that could have far-reaching impact. That people then actually show up for detention is also quite remarkable, especially if the threat of missing it or not doing the numbers is just...more detention. The waste of time reinforces the idea of "doing the time" for your crime, afterwards things are square again, like a ritual cleansing. It lets you know you can make mistakes bad enough to get detention, repeatedly even, but you can still come out of it ok in the end.

Don't understand the shorts thing in winter though.

Don't understand the shorts thing in winter though.

It is usually for “character building” so they say

That is how I learned cursive. Trying to write one line hundreds of times, the only efficient way is cursive.

My trick was to write the first word on each line, then the second, and so forth. I don't know if it was truly faster, but it sure seemed that way.

Teachers also felt like that wasn't in the spirit of the punishment so it had the added fun of sticking it to "the man!"

>My trick was to write the first word on each line, then the second, and so forth.

You basically used Taylor-esque division of labor with yourself. Doing the same task a lot usually you become faster and more efficient at it. If you only have yourself it still might be faster if the task is repetitive enough and your context switching time is less than the time you save by writing one word so many times.

I learned to write on a blackboard with both arms at the same time (an ability which has had me labeled a freak!). In this case, it worked great so long as nobody saw you do it, and, the phrase wasn't two long.

I knew simultaneous ambidextrousness wasn't that unusual.

Still yet to tackle that one (after I learn ambidextrousness).

my high school math teacher could - write perfectly on the board while looking at the class - write a complete sentence starting from both ends meeting perfectly in the middle

More things to aspire to with tentative hopefulness! :D

(Said as someone whose hand-eye coordination could do with some serious tuning)

We had a cool trick of attaching 4-5 pens/pencils together, and then writing. Took a little practice but then a big time save.

I was beginning to wonder if my friends and I were the only ones who figured this out :-)

I made a couple of sheets in advance once, as my teacher always said to write 50 lines before you could leave for recess. The look on her face when I just pulled one out of my desk... to her credit she let me go!

negative reinforcement encourages negative behavior in subjects with varying results but systematic abuses you'd find with the likes of British boarding schools where a theory suggests homosexual power dynamics often found in such environments void of women produces predators (Jimmy the SAville) or the horrible Ceauşescu's Natalist policies that resulted in the ban of contraception and abortion in hopes of an increased economic output from an increased population (wtf) resulted in an entire generation of unwanted children growing up under state apparatus....

positive reinforcement I think is better.

It reminds me of Japanese prisons.


I feel like this level of systematic dehumanization should be banned as it inflicts unnecessary suffering with no real benefit to society.

but Japan has the lowest crime rates because the prosecution has a track record of 99% conviction rate. You might be thinking oh fuck thats fucked up but it actually deters Japanese citizens from deviating from the law. Because no matter what they are going to throw the book at you with only 1% chance of not going to jail. When it's that biased the return on criminal action at an individual level is negative.

And as a result Japan has a thriving organized criminal economy and it makes sense, when you have a lot of disposable soldiers, don't need to pay severance (they do with their fingers), unregulated labor workforce, suddenly you've created an enormously profitable criminal enterprise that reaches into every aspect of Japanese society-pornography, brothels, stock market, celebrities, media.

Japan's justice system isn't all it looks like on the surface.

They have a habit of forcing confessions out of suspects [1], sexual assault and harassment is massively unreported, and murders are often ruled as suicides if there are no clear suspects.

[1] https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-20810572

This isn't quite the whole story.

Typically (not always), if someone goes to prison, it is because of them using up many chances to avoid going -- or they did something particularly heinous. Japanese prisons are not flooded with minor drug violators like US prisons are.

First, the police I've met in Japan are VERY willing to look the other way rather than convict someone on a serious-but-relatively-minor offense (e.g., drinking and driving while not "drunk"). I have also known them to handle delicate situations in very diplomatic ways (e.g., appropriate but definitely illegal street justice).

The stories I have heard of people going to jail involved that person breaking the law repeatedly and with multiple warnings (usu. with accompanying letters they had to write saying that they would not continue to behave in a criminal way).

In the more provincial areas (even the small cities), the police actually have a pretty good feel of what is going on in their towns -- the speed of gossip is impressive. If anyone is acting up, it would not be surprising for the police to find out and just go have a friendly talk with that person reminding them that doing $CRIME is, well, a crime that might have very unfortunate consequences. That discussion usually puts a lid on it.

I will also add that for a very large portion of the population, the peer pressure to conform goes extremely far in discouraging people from doing things that would put them in prison. The idea of prison itself is just a foreign idea for most people.

I haven not recently updated my reading on the Japanese criminal justice system (most of my knowledge is 10+ years old), but I don't recall reading much that made me feel like there were many prisoners were in prison unreasonably. A few were, but just a few, and completely different than the US where it's obvious that quite a few people are in prison for things like minor offenses, getting framed, not being able to afford decent representation, etc.

Japan is also a unique case in that they have a 99% conviction rate in criminal cases. The best research I’ve seem explains this in terms of extremes of prosecutorial discretion: only sure-win cases are taken to court. If you end up in a Japanese prison, you really really fucked up, broke the law, and provided the government with an open and-shut case.

As a result the “low crime rate” and “high conviction rate” are both somewhat artificial. A lot of crimes go unreported, or at the very least unprosecuted. Japan does have a relatively low crime rate, but the criminal element can often get away, especially if the victim is homeless, another criminal, or in some other way an outsider.

The U.S. has a similar rate in the federal court system, still lots of crime. I don't think it's the punishment.

One aspect could be crime recording. A 99% conviction rate says two things for me:

- High risk of false positives

- Only straight forward cases are being tried, so presumably police are memory holing cases that they can't clean up quickly.

This is so funny. Because this was how teacher disciplined us in high school. We had to copy a document for several times by next day where it got shredded in front of our eyes.

Detention at my school made us copy encyclopedia articles. What I would do is find an article about an author, then write my own sci-fi or fantasy short stories, claiming they were by that author. It was really quite fun, as I enjoy creative writing.

> at the end of the day, your work product is checked for ~15 seconds to verify that you're not slacking and then shredded in front of your eyes. See you tomorrow.

Wow, that is incredible (in a very negative / brutal sense). It's like forcing burnout on a person to motivate them to leave.

If you want to see this dramatized, there's a French film called _Stupeur et tremblements_ (_Fear and Trembling_) that is very well done.

That reminds me of the story of Nazi officers telling Jews to carry big rocks from one fence to the other each day. The work was so meaningless that the prisoners couldn't take it anymore and started to jump onto the electric fence to kill themselves. I think such a practice where you make someone feel completely worthless is inhumane.

Welcome to the wonderful world of modern capitalism.

Don't know why you are being downvoted. That's an excellent point. Hell, even Albert Camus made the same comparison calling Sisyphus the proletariat of the Gods.

I'm sure you're just summarizing your view or making a joke in a really bad way. But does having a restriction on firing employees even coincide with capitalism?

Pure capitalism can literally never sustain useless work.

Of course it can. Capitalism is not about being the best or most effective, it's about having the deepest pockets. And being the best is by far not the best way to get those pockets.

Oh, I know plenty of people who do IT at a local big (US) university and promoting someone downward (i.e. into a role designed to be so boring they quit) is absolutely a thing.

I find it interesting how many people on the linked HN threads for previous discussions say they've been in similar situations. I've never had a position where I didn't have anything at all to do for an extended amount of time, though I've only worked for one really large company.

I did work at a pretty reasonable pace on projects that were obviously not a practical idea and would probably never amount to much, while numerous good ideas that could have saved substantial money got ignored. But I didn't really know of anyone who really didn't do anything. Though there was one guy who had less than a dozen commits in a year, all just a couple of lines. But after trying to work with him on something for another project, I think he really was just that bad at coding.

> I think he really was just that bad at coding

Count your blessings, bad coders that work hard screw up the entire codebase for everyone. They also seem to get promoted for their hard work.

That is literally the Dilbert Principle: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dilbert_principle

This exists. I've been in situations where doing development is seen as risky and not doing anything can earn you a promotion.

Eight years ago I was an intern(actually a budget filler) in a large corporation.

My tasks included:

-Translating table columns(results of this were thrown away)

-Preparing "use cases" (actually training a real intern who majored in business administration so she had no idea how to do this)

-Reading a 900 page Tibco product API reference.

I took two weeks off - arranged with my manager. I was told that after a week someone finally asked "Where's <my name here>?"

I noticed that other employees had Eclipse opened at all times so I downloaded it and started learning Java - after all my position was "JAVA intern".

No one bothered me during these three months after which I had enough money to buy a laptop and get a driving license. I was also offered a position but I declined on the grounds that I was yet to graduate back then.

> I noticed that other employees had Eclipse opened at all times so I downloaded it and started learning Java - after all my position was "JAVA intern".

I've had several trainees through my team in the last year or so, for 3-6 months each. If they come to me with a problem I'll move heaven and earth to help, they get invited to various meetings, introduced to various customers, but otherwise I'll give them freedom. If they use that freedom to proactively find a problem and try to fix it, or badger us to help until we give them a small problem that they then come up with an attempt at a solution, they get a job

If they sit there playing Galaga, it's their loss.

I'm not interested in their hard skills, I don't care if you're a whizz at python or perl or go or whatever - those can be learned. I care about your work ethic, your ability to understand what the customers need, and your ability to solve those problems. I don't have time to micromanage, nobody in my team does, if you can't make yourself useful then you're not. If I wanted someone to micromanage I'd get a contractor.

> numerous good ideas that could have saved substantial money got ignored.

I see a lot of that, too, and have in the past two and a half decades. It took me a while to catch on to the difference between what got worked on and what didn't: the things that are measurable are the things that get worked on. In fact, the things that are most trivially measurable are always the things that get the most love. I think that some of the really big, really successful places like Amazon and Google have managed to get past this and actually put some effort into "speculative" projects, but most organizations spend all their time on the lowest hanging fruit, no matter how rotten it actually is.

It's not always large companies where this happens.

I had a similar situation in my late 20's at a very small company. Having fewer than a dozen employees, they (obviously) knew I was there, but I literally had no work to do for months. I was the only engineer and there was no engineering going on, so my days were spent basically learning new skills. Eventually I got bored enough to look for a new job, but the company went out of business before I jumped ship.

Here's one that most people here could do: I was a college computer lab 'technician', which was like a librarian for the computer lab, and my only responsibilities were:

- Shutting down the computers after we closed

- Setting up a projector or two daily

$20/hr to sit and chill on the computer for six hours is the college nerd's wet dream.

We've just had an experience where:

- it was made very clear that we should not start on work items that weren't ready or approved - there were no ready or approved work items

Although that only went on for two weeks.

I've had this go on for about four months: we were acquired, and although some of our code would be integrated into the acquirer's offerings, our roadmap was of no interest to them, but since we hadn't been legally integrated yet, we couldn't be assigned to new teams or given new work items.

This information wasn't communicated to us directly, though, so everyone but a few very senior people just noticed a gradual drying up of tickets and tasks. There was a lot of looking for things to do and looking busy for the first couple months, though as we started to figure out what was going on there were more and more spontaneous frisbee games and slacklining lessons, culminating in the whole of our satellite office leaving the office after lunch to go on a hike one day.

Reminds me of the legend of a guy who realized his job was so unaudited and lacking in responsibility that he got a second job... at the same company.

Ditto, I'd love to read that story! Tried googling something, nothing relevant came up.

Please if you can find this story written down somewhere online I'd love to read it!

Got a link to that? Sounds amazing.

Redditor claims this happened to them in 2018:


To be honest, that sounds like it would be way more stressful than just working.

Only if you actually just browse baseball scores and play snake. Think about what kind of open source contributions you could make in this job.

> Think about what kind of open source contributions you could make in this job

Probably nothing important due to copyright issues, company time + company resources means the company owns the work.

I do wonder if this is the origin of a lot of fun projects like "HN command line client" though.

Not "nothing important", but nothing at all. All my work contracts around here clearly stated that what you write in your worktime is the company's intellectual property.

It doesn't matter that you are not writing a thing.

Ok, but that's a loyal employee's perspective.

If you're doing it on your private machine over which you have full control then how can anyone prove it was done during work hours?

Yes, that's possible, it still feels bad though (not to mention that most of the time sysadmins can still access my not exactly private machine) - why not work at a company that values me as a resource?

I can sit bored (with a couple of hours worth tracking in the timesheet software) for a month or two, but then I usually start looking for something interesting.

If you are sitting at the office, then you are a company resource, and the code you write must necessarily belong to the company...

You're missing the point. If the rogue employee is already taking advantage, what's to stop them from doing so in a manner that also defrauds the company of any proof of ownership over a pet project?

Dude was a manager who reported to nobody. Pretty easy to authorize yourself to release your work.

And soul crushing.

Only if you let your soul be immovably coupled to a fragile and exogenous variable like your job.

You are sitting on your ass (conidering you are a dev) for eight friggin hours. If you include commuting, lunch break and the time you sleep, this is more time than you can spend with your family, hobbies, recreation etc.

You don't need to like or "couple your soul" to your job, it's part of your life and life shouldn't suck because there is a very good chance that there isn't another one.

If your soul isn’t in some sense coupled to the thing you spend most of your time doing, I simply do not understand what you tie your identity to...

If you have no scruples about getting free money, you can use the time to do whatever the heck you want. If you want to feel like you earned the money or you're not allowed to do anything outside of your scope, then yes, it's probably soul crushing.

If you do anything using company resources on company time, they own it. Anything you create during that time, the company owns. Do you really want to do something on the side and have the company legally own all the IP to it?

I don't think the company would be able to take knowledge out of my head, though. Paid, uninterrupted training for anything I want? Sign me up!

I was thinking about this - going down to a random employee and over a couple weeks trying to get them to let me help them out with their job. Learning over a couple weeks the practical principles of say 3d modelling, Marketing, etc. Sounds like something I would be down for. I guess at the end of it you'd end up being relatively popular in the office too if you occasionally help out where teams are struggling.

Wow, I had no idea this was of SA-origin. Crazy how influential that website has been for internet culture

It says SA in the first sentence, and mentions it several other times, even addressing "SA friends".

Also mention of the phrase "do you have stairs in your house"


SA is something awful forum apparently. We should define these terms!

pc86 4 months ago [flagged]

One of the great things about the internet is you can search for the meaning of things you don't know. I know everyone on HN loves to use these[0][1], but not everything needs to be cited.

[0] meaningless footnotes

[1] you're not writing a term paper

Nobody asked for a citation, and good luck googling two-letter abbreviations unless you're lucky with guessing the right context words.

Even duckduckgo knows that 'sa forums' is Something Awful. Also TFA writes out Something Awful several times throughout and doesn't exclusively use the abbreviation.

Thankfully somebody said forum. Googling "SA forum" will have correct top result.

It's also here for safekeeping: http://archive.is/SNn1i.

> I am a monster of the corporate world. Within twenty seconds I can tell you the capitol of Madagascar.

That line struck me as oddly brilliant. It wouldn't take 20 seconds if you knew it off the top of your head, so it means that you can have someone drop everything and give you that information.

I think that maybe you missed it -- it means that he can find it on his Management Globe within 20 seconds.

But globes don't have capitols...?

What do they put on globes if not political maps including capital cities?https://www.duraglobes.com/media/catalog/product/cache/3/ima...

Capital != capitol.

I'm pretty sure the use of capitol was a mis-spelling in the original article.

I think this is a mistake in the original text. It's an easy confusion to make.

Depends on the printing, some would.

It means he has a globe

I really enjoyed the story, but it really scares me that I might end up the same way.

I am a CS student, but I have had a lot of student jobs related to my studies. At most workplaces, they appreciated my skills and abilities, but being able to only work 1 day a week, the tasks I get assigned are not of any real value to the company, and I suspect my managers never really cared if I finished them. Since nobody cared about what I did, I quickly got demotivated, and I usually ended up browsing Hot Questions on SO, IRC, and HN. These sites look somewhat relevant, and did not cause any suspicion, like Facebook or Twitter.

Now I am soon to finish my degree, and get a full-time job. However, I am really anxious whether I am actually able to work for 8 hours in succession every day, 5 days a week. University is a lot of work, but it is scattered throughout the day. I am not sure if I have ever programmed for more than 2 hours in succession. Programming 8 hours a day seems like an incredibly burden, and mentally unbearable...

Nobody has to program for more than 2 hours at a time (unless you want to). In practice, actually, your time is half coding (or less) and half meetings, design, testing, writing documentation... as you gain experience and motivation, you may actually come to desire opportunities where you can write code for 2 hours without interruption.

I spent half of my first 6 months working as a full time dev fretting that someone would find me out - as I couldn't do more than an hour or two of proper dev in one day, I couldn't make my brain do more and a lot of time was wasted.

But over time I spoke to my colleagues and _nobody_ does more than that really. We end up spending the other time doing less intensive, administrational stuff where possible, or just slacking off. It's fine, if the work output we were doing wasn't enough they would have fired us forever ago.

In a broad sense, 40-hour weeks can be pretty draining, but welcome to modern work in the US. ;) (We meet at the pub at 6:00.) But more specifically, it’s not eight solid hours of coding. Sometimes it’s meetings, sometimes it’s code/PR review, sometimes it’s design, sometimes it’s documentation, and sometimes it really is coding. But it all depends on your role, your team, and your company. And even if you get a good mix, it’s not necessarily evenly distributed. Sometimes I have days where I pretty much do just code, and other rather painful (but not unnecessary and not unwelcome!) days that are all meetings and emails.

I hope that’s somewhat reassuring. And if it doesn’t work out, hopping fairly frequently isn’t that big of a deal. But do try to limit that because outside of the Bay Area, a few year-long stints starts to not look good.

Oh man, I so miss slow times at work.

  * Flight simulator (on a Pentium Pro)
  * Reading Red Dwarf scripts
  * Posting on Slashdot
Nowadays it's all I can do to keep up.

I would love to see a short movie based on this story:) It could be hilarious...

It’s certainly not dissimilar to the plot of Office Space.

So we were wondering if you could tell us, what exactly do you do here? :-D

Only if the cast Tom Hanks as main character

I miss the good old days of Something Awful, their threads where people would share stories of that sort were priceless. A combination of it being a gated community, no filters, anonymity and encouragement of long form writing made for one hell of a combo. I tried logging in a few times recently but it didn't quite feel the same.

If you are a trusted senior employee then of course you can abuse your trust.. but why would you?

Seems unlikely you'd get fired for asking what to do... And if you don't want to ask just find something and expand responsibilities..

At an old job, I automated my job, asked for more responsibilities, automated my little team's work, asked for more responsibilities, then automated those.

Then Legal said I had too much access for a level N employee, and essentially revoked my ability to work on anything new.

My manager was great, and did his best to promote me to level N+2, which should have given me rights to access that data. This took 6 months, during which I taught myself Lisp and Machine Learning. Then I automated all the new stuff I had access to within 2 weeks (including solving a project that had been estimated to take 11 people over two years.) Then I was told it would take another 6 months to get access to anything else.

Four weeks later, I left for my first ML job and never looked back.

It's most likely fictional. It starts out entirely believable, but slowly gets odder and odder.

But probably written by someone on the clock with no work to do.

In my previous company I had a friend who worked on production support. His main task was ensuring that whenever a ticket landed in the support inbox it was redirected to someone. The maximum number of tickets he had to redirect in a single day was 20. Each ticket took around 5 minutes to redirect.

So the maximum he had ever worked in a single day was just over an hour and half. On most days it was half an hour of work out of the 9 he had to be available.

It continued for 3 years. No one bothered him since he was a billable employee.

In a fit of frustration he resigned one day. Although his job was very unskilled, there was no one else who wanted to do it, and to retain him he was given a pay hike. He accepted the hike and continued for a couple of more years before resigning for good.

He now teaches at a school and is very happy.

Never get tired of reading this story.

Is this story true? The part about mid-life crisis VP sounds too good to be true.

To me it's pretty obviously fan fiction from the Something Awful forums. It's written in typical fan fiction style and it references SA over and over.

The beauty of Kafka and Kafkaesque stories like this is that they're so genuinely rooted in reality that they're essentially a form of magical realism.

Searched thread for "Kafka", was not disappointed. Magical realism with a dark sense of humor..

This story and stories like it are not rooted in reality. They're rooted in what we dream reality might be, or what we wish reality were. They are wish-fulfillment fantasies.

I personally knew a guy who did nothing all day, and actually started practice shooting with an air pistol inside the office (when he got the night shift, when the bosses weren't around). He kept this up for at least two years (I lost contact since the person I knew at the company was fired for trading shifts with her colleagues, despite the recognition that she was a top performer in her group).

The details (meetings, etc) might be fantasy, but the core fact that people get paid for doing nothing isn't.

In a similar vein https://kenrockwell.com/business/two-hour-rule.htm

I don't really agree with this, but it is an interesting symptom of modern business.

My guess is the guy worked for a Tier 1 auto supplier. It's probably the biggest reason why any company would open a field location in Detroit that's large enough to warrant the presence of several director-level staff.

Also, it's quite typical that an auto OEM would contractually require a supplier to have safety inspectors at each site, so he may not have been as forgotten as he thought.

Just a theory.

I lost a job in November 2001 that was sort of the same types of feelings. Management was incompetent a new HR manager was appointed to downsize. I got sick on short term disability so it made me a target when I returned. I was fired for taking too many sick days even if I had doctors notes and an excuse. They lost them so they had to fire me.

This is why you never give HR your original documents and only your copies.

Sort of similar sort of story: https://imgur.com/gallery/iJD8f

I think this is what Eric Schmidt’s life must be like.

I am hungry for this kind of writing, what else can I read that is somewhat like this story?

- BOFH series

- Google Ultron story from 4chan

- "Escalation" I think it was called, a story about nerf gun wars. Can't find it now.

- Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect

How depressing. Is there really nothing better he could do with his life than read some crappy forums? Even if there's nothing beneficial for the company, surely there's something else he could do other than play snake - learn a foreign language perhaps.

I see it as a sort of purgatory- you don't want to do anything too involved because real work could intrude at any moment and make you lose your place, but doing nothing at all is too boring. You end up doing the equivalent of consuming brain junk food.

Can anyone verify if this is fact or fiction?

here's a newer one:


>This is in Texas.

>About a year ago I was "fired" for something I did not do. Basically they thought I was stealing from the company and had me fired in the system before they informed me in person.

>When they caught the real thief, literally 5 minutes before I got the axe, I got called into HR where they apologized to me profusely and told me they would be working to reinstate me without losing my tenure or my vacation time. They asked me if there was anything they could do in the mean time. I asked for the vacation right then and there which made HR real happy because me being gone for 2 weeks made it easy for them to unfuck the situation.

>While on vacation I broke my leg and was wheelchair bound for a month. When I informed HR of this they offered me the satellite office for temporary use since it was literally one block away and I could get there safely using my wheelchair.

>The company had a satellite office close to my house that was basically just 2 rooms. One had a desk power socket and internet access and the other was the bathroom. The office was purchased for an exec who was wheelchair bound because of cancer. The office stayed empty for a few months when her cancer went terminal and eventually she passed on. When I was offered it they moved my PC and everything out there getting me set up.

>That was the last time I have had any face to face with anyone in the company. Even after my leg healed I did not return to the normal building. I stayed in the office until HR wanted to move someone else in.

>Well that never came. Five months ago my department was shuttered. My boss, several employees, and a few other management people were quietly let go. Some kind of thing happened at the top that caused a lot of people to be let go. By this time I was pretty much using the office as a second home and had not had any real contact with anyone outside of emails and the occasional phone call.

>Once this happened I was just coming in to work everyday completing my tasks until they stopped coming. Then I just came in every day waiting until the hammer fell. It never did.

>I have been coming in every single day, walking since its only a 5 minute walk unless its raining, hooking up my gaming laptop and hopping on discord with my friends to play. Sometimes I will bring my ps4 or xbone into the office and play that too.

>I have been using this office and collecting a paycheck for the last 5ish months with no contact other than the company wide emails and former coworkers of mine calling me asking how things are going. To put it into context of how much I have stopped caring, when I told my girlfriend about my job situation she came to visit me at work. I will keep it G rated here for you guys and will let you use your imaginations as to the nature of her visit. I do not state this to brag but merely to pain the picture of how things are at my current "job"

>All of this brings us to today. I have been using my free time to also study for several PC certs and have finally acquired them. I am getting job offers for a few places that will be a pretty big step up from my current position.

>What are the pros and cons of taking the new jobs without "quitting" my first job? I know that technically I am currently in the clear legally. But I want to know if that changes if I start working at another job and collecting two paychecks? I am guessing very much yes but wanted to know more. Does the situation change if one of the companies allows me to work from home and I use my office to work at both jobs?

>Yes I know I am being incredibly greedy but I am legitimately wondering here cause its like a very lucky situation I find myself in and it would be a complete waste to throw it away without a good reason. As in I could get in legal trouble is a very good reason to throw it all away and work at the new job.

Thank you.

That was a really fun read. Reminded me a bit of when I used to read Bukowski and friends back in college. I should start reading more non-technical stuff again.

Magic stuff!

Classic read. I thought most people had read this already?

I'm seeing this for the first time. Probably a case of "10000/day": https://www.xkcd.com/1053/

This reminds me a lot of the Bastard Operator From Hell stories (BOFH). Another classic


Actually sad its a fake story cause its fun :(

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