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Ask HN: What is the worst bullshit thing you were asked to do at $JOB?
23 points by sylvain_kerkour 7 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 30 comments
Hi HN,

I just started "Bullshit jobs" by David Graeber, so I though it would be fun to read your best anecdotes :)






Green energy project in the western US, on ancestral tribal land so we were advised to keep our eyes out for historical sites, and to let tribal advisors/inspectors know if we found any.

Well, we (my group was a subcontractor, and some of the first out pioneering through new areas) found some ancient hunting blinds on either side of a saddle through a ridge, complete with trash pits/stone knapping shards and even some paintings on the walls. We advised the General Contractor as the tribal rep wasn't onsite that day. The GC told us to forget what we saw and they'd send a bulldozer over to wipe out the site, as the blinds were right in the planned route of an access road and they didn't want the hassle of a redesign.

Hell to the no, we got hold of the tribal rep outside the chain of command and let them know what was up. They rushed to the site issued a very stern stop work order (either you stop your equipment so we can assess this find, or you will load your shit up and get off our land) and went through the proper processes. A realignment of the road did happen, and the GC got annoyed at us, but fuck them.

Later, the same tribal inspector gifted my boss with a hand-knapped obsidian spear head as thanks.


This story warms my heart. Thank you for doing the right thing.

Something tells me this is not the first time the GC took such an approach.

Nor the first GC to take such an approach.

It was the 1980s, and I had just started working in the stock room at the local Montgomery Wards (A department store similar to Sears). Less than 2 months in, most of my co-workers were arrested and taken to jail, (they had been stealing by the truck load!) leaving me to handle all the pickups (the dock at the back of the store where you get your TV, etc) by myself on the Friday before Christmas.

I did the best I could, as I still didn't even know where things were... but everyone got pissed as I got up to 2 hours behind...and took one insult too many, so I left.

I have a bit of regret, and I believe I could have handled it better had I managed expectations, etc... but I was a kid thrown in over his head.


Interesting. My dad worked for Montgomery Wards in a warehouse and has lots of stories about Montgomery Wards setting up various traps to tempt employees to steal. Usually it was something like leaving high priced jewelry in a seemingly unwatched area, but there would be a security worker nearby hiding in a refrigerator box or something along those lines. This was in the late 1970s.

Maybe they had some sort of insurance scam going? Interesting

Had an interview at Company A, which in itself was a bad experience. 5 people crowded into an office with printouts of my response to a 20-question tech challenge, implying I'd had help with it/cheated.

I was invited back for an "extended interview" on a Saturday, "compensated, of course", where I did sysadmin stuff including setting up a work email for myself.

Taken out for lunch by the guy running my "interview" who bought me a burger, and said "He (the CEO) is a bit cavalier in making promises, so I want to make sure you get something out of today".

So basically I was paid a burger to onboard myself on a Saturday. A week later I'd received an offer from elsewhere, informed Company A, and got the saltiest email from their CEO about my unethical behaviour.


I used to work in a laboratory that performed sampling, analysis, and outfall structural monitoring all under one roof. I led a new LOB for this lab where results, reports, imagery, etc., could be retrieved online in their state/federal/auditor-provided formats. Essentially, the only task most clients had to comply with their ancient reporting requirements was download, print, and throw these in a filing cabinet. Yes, I know, horribly wasteful, but energy industry and explicit legal text.

I was working one morning, and received an urgent phone call straight for me, not the support personnel or anyone else as usual. Uh oh. It was a client’s environmental compliance manager, and she was whispering on the call and frantically speaking. I asked her, “what’s going on, why are you whispering?” ... “My auditors showed up by surprise and I don’t have any of this year’s reports! Can you guys upload them to my personal Dropbox?” Oh boy. I asked her to hold, let me get the GM to her, and we would take instructions from there.

Literally, this large client had signed a contract, paid for a service that displayed sampling, results, and structural inspections within a GIS solution. All she had to do to comply with audits was once a day/week/month, take a few clicks to export all the reports to one big PDF or ZIP archive. I got curious and checked the audit trail, she’d never even logged into the web app. This was like 6-8 months into the year, and we were her only lab vendor. Had she even been monitoring her sites?


At one job, the order came on down from on high that we had to do timesheets, but we had to log precisely 7.2 hours a day. So I made a little emacs lisp function to adjust my times proportionally. Hot key was C-M f (for Fraud) :)

"Hot key was C-M f (for Fraud)"

Hahaha that's hilarious


First job, support technician on a years work experience from college. That was the year the great storm brought down trees and power cables over half of southern England. The office where I was working was without power for three days. Boss still insisted that I came into work (a journey of several miles over roads which only passable on foot) to "provide support" for users who were not there on computers which were unusable.

Happy days.


Maybe they were trying to keep you employed/paid.

We had a slowdown in a manufacturing warehouse due to a computer issue. In order for us to get paid, they had us work to peel stickers from and wipe marker off of the previously used plastic bags so they could be reused. It would have been more efficient to just use new bags, but they could only justify paying us if we were doing something.


I was asked to defend myself against accusations of theft of hundreds of pounds of copper cable.

My immediate supervisor was loading his pickup truck in the morning and carting it down to the scrap yard down the road before anyone got in.

It took one of the truck drivers for the shop arriving early one morning to notice it before upper management even checked the security tapes which showed him loading his pickup for weeks while aiding in rumours that I was responsible. Meanwhile I was poised to be fired and charged.

I didn't own a car, but somehow was making off with piles of industrial 4/0 power lines.

Not a great experience. Would not recommend. I quit, found a better life.


Sounds like the security company/guard was useless in their job.

There was only a night watchman. When they see a familiar face doing something on the grounds, especially one of authority, they don't question it.

Not at the time, but it seems pretty bad to accuse someone else without checking the tapes and, you know, investigating.

I’m with you there, my friend.

We were three weeks away from the release date. We were probably going to be one week late. On a six-month project, that's not bad.

At the start of this project, product management didn't have time to decide what the requirements were. So the engineers spent a couple weeks interviewing customers and finding out what they needed.

So, yeah, we're three weeks from release, and now product management shows up. They said, "We like what you're doing. But we need these additional features. Oh, and you can't change the release date. So you're all going to work 68-hour weeks until it ships." Of course, we still couldn't do it in three weeks. It took three months. It would have taken three months without the overtime (everyone got slower as they burned out).


Worked as a gas station attendant with a small store. They were supposed to have two on staff—one on pumps and one inside—but instead only willing to have on person on the shift, so people would fill tanks and take off without paying when you were inside the store ringing up customers. If your register came up short, as it always did, they docked your pay the amount missing (from stolen gas). So they put the cost of their undermanning on us employees. My solution was to take payments in the store without ringing up the item on the register. At the end of my shift I was always ahead. They couldn’t figure it out. I never stole, but I wasn’t going to be taken advantage of.

Worked in tech support. The finance director brought her laptop to me for troubleshooting. The issue was that her children were complaining that Age Of Empires was running slowly.

I can't remember the details of the actual task. A couple years ago we got a request from the business analyst to make a change to the system. Whatever the change was I remember objecting to it, saying we would create issue in the system and there was a better alternative that wouldn't involve constant prod issue fixes (but was a substantial lift and probably not worth the effort). They decided to do it their way and assigned the story to me. Nope, I'm not going to be a part of breaking our system with some BS. I told them I wouldn't work on it for the reasons I stated. They assigned it to someone else and implementated... briefly. The business realized their mistake and rolled it back. They never tried the other implementation because it wasn't enough return on the effort, like I said. If I had been wrong I probably would have been fired. Because I was right, I kept my job but my relationship/rep with the business was shot.

I had a second issue on that same team where the business analyst wanted me to implement an accrual. The requirements didn't match with the stated intent- basically they were calling it an accrual but the requirements wanted snapshots of what would be paid later. I brought up the discrepancy and asked for some clarification. I was told "build it how the I tell you". So I wasted 3 weeks building it out. Then they again realized I was right and had me rebuild it as an actual accrual. No "thanks", no "sorry". Just "We need to build it this other way now".


1. Be CEO's personal tech support during off-hours, at my own expense (fuel, time, etc).

He lived in some rich person's castle that was a long drive from my downtown dumpy apartment. Never even offered any sort of compensation. I was an hourly employee at the time.

I (and others) got the then new-fangled Caller ID on our landlines, because of him.

2. Physically removing hostile/out of control/drugged out people who were in our office.

I am a network/system engineer.


I worked for a company that manufactured and applied a hybrid sealcoat/asphalt product. The product was transported in 10,000 gallon tankers. During the winter my co workers and I would have to clean out the residual product inside of the tankers with pneumatic air chisels. It was freezing cold dirty ass work, I'm very grateful I no longer have to work that job.

Being called by the CEO to check the flight schedule (not work related) at the airport because he was sure I had access to an internet browser. I quickly changed my phone number after that.

Built a chart that was accurate (it had correctness). The business didn’t like that the chart was showing the truth (the numbers are the numbers). Was asked to just put the real numbers (since you can’t lie about the numbers), but ditch all chart functionality and have it render in such a way where the numbers don’t represent the truth (50% needed to look like 30%).

Shoveling arsenic into barrels to clean up a warehouse after the roof collapsed wasn't one of the safest things I've done, but clearly it didn't kill me. That stuff is very heavy, though.

I got layed off and was told if and only if I do another 20 hours of work to finish documentation would I receive 2 weeks of severance pay. I tried to explain severance shouldn't require extra labor but I did the work anyway and received ZERO severance. I knew that outcome was a possibility.

I had to clear snow off a newly framed roof. If I slipped and fell, it was about a 15-20ft drop onto concrete.

Really class the most dangerous thing I do now is worry about carpal tunnel.


Document a big system from interviews and not from source.



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