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Time Millionaires (theguardian.com)
59 points by ccity88 12 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 75 comments

A lot of the HN are familiar with balancing work for employers with time clawed back for side projects and startups. We do this a lot more on the level though, by only taking a enough contract work to make ends meet rather than what I can only argue is somewhere between contract violation and fraud.

This person is to be despised. Not because they don't want to work, but because they want to cheat the system. They want to have their cake and eat it too.

They're making it worse for everyone that would like to work from home rather than a crowded office post-pandemic every time they get caught (or flaunt it in a news article). This article will get pointed at when managers want to bring employees back into the office.

If you want a better work-life balance then that's a fair decision to make, but not at the expense of everyone else.

how did the Guardian get Gavin as a source? Why would he want to reveal his secret to anyone? How did he think to contact someone at the Guardian to say hey should you be writing an article on me? How did he become a software engineer from these other jobs.

These other jobs seem like a weird combination to me, how long did he last in them? What does his resume look like that he can get employed. How does someone who likes to shirk off consider getting a job as a software engineer considering the extra hours of interviewing, take home projects etc. you have to do? When and why did he learn to become a software engineer, it was only after he started working as one that he realized he could really shirk off?

Finally how did he manage to stay employed when pretty much everywhere nowadays does some sort of standup where everyone sees you had a ticket that was supposed to take 2 hours and then you took a day, and then the next, and then the next. At some point fairly quickly it becomes obvious you real slow.


I learned very early in my software career that software at giant employers is half decoration and bullshit for people who need patterns, frameworks, and toys to do their jobs. That is a tremendous amount of unnecessary fluff that wastes people’s time. I also learned that by not dicking around with all the bullshit you could finish your entire days work in less than 2 hours (often producing a more durable and better performing solution) freeing up the rest of the day for scenic walks, side projects, self-education, and leisure reading.


I fondly recally the HasThisTypePatternTriedToSneakInSomeGenericOrParameterizedTypePatternMatchingStuffAnywhereVisitor


My concern is that this is only a temporary state, a symptom of employers who have not yet been well calibrated to WFH yet. When they become more savvy I fear they will find ways to make you work for the full 8 or 9 hours while working from home by giving you more tasks to do.

> how did the Guardian get Gavin as a source? Why would he want to reveal his secret to anyone?

I recently fired someone because they had 3 engineering jobs (all full time). He got fired from the other 2 jobs, too.

He found our company from “Who’s Hiring” on HN.

The CEOs of the other companies he was working for said to me on a number of occasions “this would be a great story for New York Times”.

>He found our company from “Who’s Hiring” on HN.

hmm, a feat I have not as yet been able to match.

From the article:

> When he worked in a call centre, he would mute the phone, rather than answer it.

Call center employees are heavily monitored, and have a lot of metrics, like number of subscriptions or whatever is relevant. Color me skeptical.

Yes, I did wonder about this. The call centers I've been exposed to would notice in a heartbeat if you weren't picking up the phone at all.

I also get a distinct whiff of BS off this part of the article.

Sounds like some miscommunication, I think he meant he would put the caller on hold.

"How does someone who likes to shirk off consider getting a job as a software engineer considering the extra hours of interviewing, take home projects etc. you have to do?"

In some areas, and at lower compensation levels, there's such an extreme shortage of "computer scientists" that people will take a weekend course and then start sending out their CV ... and land a job. Or else, why would there be so many mediocre code boot-camps?

>why would there be so many mediocre code boot-camps?

I would assume for the same reason there are so many ads that say send for my amazing money making secrets book and learn to become rich! Or on the other hand because there is no real connection between the ability to get people in to take your course in the hopes of getting a job and the actual ability after the class of those people to get a job.

> how did the Guardian get Gavin as a source?

Typically it's a friend or acquaintance of the writer, and that inspires the writer to pitch the story and they're incentivised to do so to get paid.

> Finally how did he manage to stay employed when pretty much everywhere nowadays does some sort of standup where everyone sees you had a ticket that was supposed to take 2 hours and then you took a day, and then the next, and then the next. At some point fairly quickly it becomes obvious you real slow.

Yup, that's a surefire recipe to get onto a PIP within a few months. But maybe he doesn't work in tech companies but at some large corp doing some silo function and the expected work is just low enough for this to fly under the radar.

I think it's plausible. That list of jobs was probably just a hyperbolic account of his student years. He may have studied CS, and then got a job somewhere, moved to WFH, and realised there he could cheat. You would get found out in a serious work environment but there are many places where you can get away with it.

ok so - hyperbolic means basically you shouldn't completely trust the Guardian in this story about someone you completely shouldn't trust. It has a nice symmetry to it I guess.

You definitely should not

so another thing I felt was off but couldn't quite explain why when I first read it that just clicked this morning - in order that his work not get suspicious due to computer inactivity he watches long running youtube videos; this implies that his computer is monitored / uses company vpn maybe.

So a company suspicious enough to monitor computer usage but not suspicious or concerned enough to wonder about why this guy is watching youtube all day long.

Whenever I've experienced computers going to sleep on me at inopportune times I've found the system settings that control that and turn it off.

on edit: I just find it weird that this experienced shirker of tasks who is working in tech didn't think of this or that his chosen solution evidently didn't get him fired.

Are you talking about the laptop monitoring? I find employers who watch the clock or other "activity" as a measurement of your output to be far worse.

Focus on the results. Set the timelines and goals, and let the employee work however they want. If they deliver as agreed upon then what's the issue?

No, I'm talking specifically about the first example in the article in which they describe a person that is deliberately shirking.

I'm not interested in the technical solutions to this, they're abhorrent also. With regard to results, timelines and goals all of those are incredibly hard to measure accurately in a product delivery context.

If the persons contract says "will deliver X by Y date" then by all means work the hours required and no more. What this persons contract actually says is "Will work 8hrs a day, 5 days a week, on whatever tasks are assigned. Will be paid $$$". 'Gavin' is not doing this, and he's not even just being a bit flexible. He's actively pretending to work when he's not -- that's fraud / contract violation.

> Gavin' is not doing this, and he's not even just being a bit flexible. He's actively pretending to work when he's not -- that's fraud / contract violation.

The fact that Guardian used this example simply causes them to lose credibility.

Any half wit can see that Gavin’s case is not one of people opting to choose work where they have more time rather than money.

This is yet another clear example of people trying to sell ads by creating “engagement” via content that causes outrage, even though it is nonsensical.

I cannot solely blame the lack of journalists’ integrity, as I cannot imagine dealing with the challenges of a business model that got nuked in the span of 10 to 20 years.

The rest of the article does go on to talk about more reasonable examples of people deciding not to go back to jobs, but I agree the Author would have been better served without 'Gavin' (from a credibility perspective).

Sure, that's understandable. My perspective is that those agreements should be changed from "X hours per week" to just "accomplish tasks by their deadlines".

If no tasks are assigned then how does blocking those hours benefit anyone? And if tasks are assigned, then what does it matter beyond the deadline being met?

Software engineering is a process of design/discovery. So it is often very hard to say how long something is going to take. For example a 'simple' change could unearth a bug in a third party library that ends up taking days to work around.

I know. So what? People weren't actually productive for 40 hours in the office either, it was still based on timelines. Nothing has really changed here, other than trust actually being tested to a much larger degree. And perhaps people on both sides are finding out just how much trust there is.

Okay, I want the whole project by the end of the day. /s

It just doesn't work. Complexity of tasks, scope, resources all make for something that is very hard to measure.

I agree with your sentiment, but it's hard to execute.

However, the high-functioning teams I've been part of are certainly not checking if you're sitting in your seat at 9/5. They're not even worried if you take a long lunch, because they know that you can't cram every second of the day with programming work, but doing so 'in secret' is not okay.

I agree with you on the "in secret" part, but where we differ is that I see that as a symptom of micromanagement by the company. It's not isolated to remote work either, there are plenty of people just sitting on social media at work until it's time to leave, and usually being overall less productive because of these forced hours.

Whether there's trust (on both sides) to effectively make progress is an entirely different issue. Remote work just makes it more explicit.

> Set the timelines and goals, and let the employee work however they want. If they deliver as agreed upon then what's the issue?

Ah, but timelines can be influenced by how quickly something can be delivered. Scrum does this and encourages this as well. How many tickets are allocated to a sprint is dependent on the team velocity. If an employer sees that you can do more in time interval X, then he’ll put more on your plate. Many employers abhor a time vacuum and will fill it to squeeze out the most value.

So one defense is to take your time. The more you bust your ass, the more you have on your plate. Another is to place strict limits on the time at work. Bust your ass all you want, but check out at time X every day.

I agree, and it's a much larger topic on time and expectation management.

My point though is that many people are both overworked and have no work boundaries, which is the worst of both. Taking control back so that work serves their life instead of the other way around is much needed and good to see.

> This person is to be despised. Not because they don't want to work, but because they want to cheat the system.

So what is a person to do, when the system cheats them? Seems reasonable to cheat back.

How does the system cheat them? I can guarantee you work is a lot more pleasant for myself and my peers than it has ever been. I have more options than ever and I get treated much better by my employer than my parents ever did, not to mention my grandparents.

Yes but do you have to work? Does your livelyhood depend on it? Does it define you as a person? Does society shut you out if you stop working, even temporarily? There's the concept of the modern slave. While technically your employment is voluntary and you are receiving a reward for it, the system appears as if calibrated to siphon back everything given and more.

Entire armies of people are employed to extract as much wealth from you as possible. They bombard you with advertizements at every opportunity on the street and in your home, pushing you crap you don't need while conditioning you to equate having them with power, status, sex and success.

Scientists and engineers construct the most technologically elaborate optimizations to have unsupervised black box AI machines make whatever moves legal or novel to take everything you have and make your life miserable without justice or recourse.

You did read all of the EULA before accepting, right? Oh wait I was born here I never signed the constitution!

> take everything you have

Everything I have was created by other people. This can’t work if everyone takes more than they give.

Strange. I have lots of things created by plants and fungi, no people involved.

I don’t know that we have enough arable land for the entire population to subsist on farms with no large-scale technology, and people seem to opt for sweatshops rather than that life.

>This person is to be despised.

He is just a symptom of the dysfunctional economic system we have created.

You mean one where employers respect the individual worker, try to give them comfortable working conditions and trust them with being honest about the work they do?

I completely agree. The article makes it seem so extreme. There's a way to do this without stealing from a company.

We are born into a system we didn't choose. We can however choose to embrace it, to reject it or to manipulate it to our own ends if we spot inefficiencies to exploit.

This may not seem fair to those who embrace it, but Gavin's point is that the system doesn't present him with a fair choice.

We may not agree, but philosophically this seems to be a sound position, especially since the cost of rejecting the system is extremely high.

If you go to a store and don't feel the prices are "fair", is it okay to "manipulate" the system by stealing?

> We may not agree, but philosophically this seems to be a sound position, especially since the cost of rejecting the system is extremely high.

Why doesn't he just work a part time job if he wants more leisure time? He's a software engineer. He could easily make enough to get by with a very light workload without being dishonest with an employer

It seems a lot of people are filling in blanks left in the article. This is an important quote

>And his boss? “My boss is happy with the work I’m doing,” he says. “Or more accurately, the work he thinks I’m doing.”

This indicates that Gavin is accomplishing all of the tasks that his employer expects him to accomplish. If he's able to do this between the hours of 8:30am and 11am then how is it different from someone who takes from 9am to 5pm to do the same work? It sounds to me like Gavin has already taken an easier, perhaps lower paying position that is not very demanding on his skills and so he is able to complete all of his assigned tasks in a short amount of time and then play hooky for the rest of the day.

If he instead were to work the whole day it's likely he could complete 3 times as many tasks, do you think his employer would willingly pay him 3 times as much though?

You're still being dishonest. If someone pays you to work 9-5 and you don't work those hours you're being dishonest and in breach of contract. It's especially true since he goes out of his way to pretend he's working by playing a black screen video to keep his computer on.

He can try to negotiate something based on output, but what he's doing is a dick move

Lord knows the rich manipulate the system as they choose.

He can opt out of the system and go to the middle of the forest and plow a small field. Most of the good patches are taken, but he can go to another country with less population density. Anyway, I don't expect this solution to consume less time.

I'm not surprised. I've rejected quite a few job offers over the years because the company had very precise expectations of how much I should work and at what level, but when I asked for a fair compensation of my time, they weaseled out and claimed that it would disturb the balance of salaries within their company.

If someone asks me to work at 20% of a fair salary, I have two options: a) laugh at their face and reject the offer or b) accept and only work 20% of the time.

I always went with a) because I never had a shortage of work offers. But I can understand why someone who needs the money will choose b). In a way, this is a fight against the immoral behavior of big corporations.

I used to be a Software Engineer, but after only a few years sitting at a desk I realized I wanted time a lot more than I wanted money. So I made a choice and left that life.

Since then I've spent 5 years driving through 55 countries (Alaska to Argentina and Around Africa). I've gone on week-long wilderness moose and bison hunting trips near the Arctic Circle, I've played a lot of disc golf, snowboarded many 100 day seasons, hiked for thousands of hours and generally enjoyed a huge amount of "free" time. I've poked lava with a stick, climbed a 20,000ft active volcano, gone skydiving, got lots of SCUBA certificates, had to veer off road not to hit lions and elephants and met all kinds of interesting people all over the world. I've also published a couple of books and achieved a few life goals like speaking on stage at major events, getting published in magazines I highly respect. All of that was only possible because I had the time.

Of course, I have way less money than I did before. I've spent 6 years of my adult life living in a tent. I've never owned a new phone (actually I've never really had a phone), no tv, basically never buy anything new at all.

I'm also about a thousand times happier than before.

We all have a limited number of hours we get to live, and how you spend them is your choice. I find it's most heavily constrained by how you choose to spend money. If you choose to spend less at every opportunity, that means you'll be able to work a lot less. Find ways to find enjoyment and fulfillment that don't cost money - i.e. a walk in the mountains or throwing the Frisbee instead of a day at Disneyland or going to the movies. These days I "work" something like 10-20 hours a week on my own passion projects, which provides enough money for the lifestyle I want to live (for the last 8 years I've earned around $15k-$20k a year, total)

Don't get me wrong, but in most of the situations, if you are not a Software Engineer, you would not be able to afford to both "leave that life" and "snowboard many 100 day seasons".

That's a very common myth.

I volunteer at the mountain as either ski patrol or a snowboard instructor. I do 13 days of work (almost always before the mountain even opens - setting up signs, fences, shovelling snow, etc.) and then get a free season pass and have no other responsibilities for the year.

Even when buying a pass it's $900 for the year... which means I just pickup 2 weeks of some odd jobs to pay for it.

I bought my snowboard gear around 7 years ago (used).. so at this point it has cost cents per day.

I have no money from "when I was a software engineer", so it's not like I'm living on some big slush fund or something - I just make smart decisions now about how much money I spend, because that directly dictates how much I'll have to go to work.

Ah, yes. The eternal dilemma of "time, money, energy, but you can only choose two at a time".

What about children, if I'm permitted to ask? While there were many who did exactly this with 0-2 year olds (starting with Tony Halik!), I have trouble imagining this for appoximately 3-14 y.o.?

My brother is doing it now very successfully with a 1 year old and a 4 year old. Kids love spending time with their parents - take them to the park, take them to the beach, walking, playing, being outside. None of those things cost any money.

It is simply about being careful how you spend money, because the more you spend, the more you'll have to go to work.

Ah, no, I don't want to take my kids to the local park for days on and on. That's boring. You wrote about "driving through 55 countries", etc, and I'm thinking that if I was doing that with children, I would need to arrange a lot of time alone for myself to stay moderately sane. How to approach that?

I personally have never done it with kids, but I've bumped into plenty of familes doing it and absolutely loving it.

Some French kids I met in Colombia driving around the world said "We don't like homeschooling... we like worldschooling!" with huge smiles.

These guys drove the length of West Africa with small children, an epic adventure - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sc61AxCQQR4

I'm glad to see this large-scale shift in attitudes. Many have realized during this pandemic that decades of work can amount to nothing when you lose your health or wealth in an instant, and all you have to show for it is hours in the office.

Time is freedom, pursue and protect it at all costs.

This article is about someone lying to their team about how much they work, earning top dollar (pound?) but not working more than a few hours a day. How is that a positive shift in attitudes?

The shift is about prioritizing your time and freedom, not overworking yourself on an endless tasklist that ultimately doesn't matter.

I don't agree with the lying but it happens all the time, remote and in-office, as a symptom of clock-watching micromanagement by employers. That needs to go, and employees switching from actually putting in those long unproductive hours to quitting for better conditions is a positive move.

Where in the article does it say Gavin is earning top dollar? He is also not lying about how much he works, only how long he works which if he is billing by the hour is a problem but if he is accomplishing all of the expected tasks I would say is more in a grey area. If he is doing all of the required work in a third the time it takes others it's likely he is not in a position that matches his skill level. Maybe he likes it that way, not everyone wants to be running at 100% capacity all of the time. The rest of the article makes it clear why that is a bad thing.

> This article is about someone lying to their team about how much they work

The article is about that if you only read the first five paragraphs. Gavin and his shenanigans aren't the real focus of the article.

Apparently they get enough done to suffice?

It's called an abuse of trust. Estimating programming effort is extremely hard, even for people who are about to do the actual work. It's even harder to estimate for your boss.

A boss that trusts their team will not blink when something that sounds easy turns out to take long. You're advocating for a culture where everybody's forced to estimate their work and is held accountable when they go over. I thought we all got past that?

I admit this is an extreme case but perhaps we should also examine the opposite scenario that is all too common. Let's say Harold is Gavin's colleague. Harold works the full 8 hours he is at the office, he believes strongly in "flow" so he doesn't interrupt his day with pointless activities like getting up to stretch or taking coffee breaks, he just brings a thermos to his desk and stays fully caffeinated that way. He finds it hard to "turn off" after work so he often spends time thinking about the next tasks he has to do and maybe puts in hours after work as well. At this point pretty much any developer can see where this is going, they know what Harold looks like, maybe they even were Harold at some point. Both Gavin and Harold are heading towards a blow up at some point. Neither of them are going to work out well for their employer in the end. I do think that Gavin is closer to the correct answer though, he's built in a lot of room in his estimates where if something does go sideways he has the ability to correct it and stay within the allotted time. If Harold mis-estimates something he will be working overtime or missing deadlines, perhaps both. Gavin should be working closer to 2/3 time than 1/3, depending on the overall accuracy of his and his boss's initial estimates of course.

"Some people work really hard all their lives, and all they have to show for it at the end is money".

This seems to be a manifestation of the growing "anti work" movement. I'm wondering if we, in the face of growing inequality, will have a worker's uprising in the somewhat near future, such as a renewed form of communism. Throughout history the power/wealth distribution seems to ebb and flow and perhaps it's time for a correction.

There is no anti work movement. Ignore the shirker.

What I predict is that aggregate demand isn't going up exponentially anymore because of the aging population. Why is that a problem? Because productivity is growing exponentially as well. The economists of the early 20th century expected that we will simply work less as the robots do more.

The problem with the protestant work ethic is that there is no need for more and more work. If you work a fixed 40 hour work week and your output is growing exponentially your consumption has to grow exponentially as well. This isn't happening so either people spend an increasing amount of money on limited housing or they do increasingly less productive work in the service sector. Lots of people compete for "limited" full time jobs that keep an entire human busy.

E.g. 10 people consume as much as 8 people can produce. The obvious solution would be a 32 hour work week but instead 8 people work 40 hours and 2 people work 0 hours. The first 8 will become increasingly competitive to avoid becoming the bottom 2. Of course this is overly simplified. Some people actually consume everything they produce and therefore shouldn't be bound by work hour restrictions.

The hustle culture is just the boring result of a prisoners dilemma.

To my mind, it's only anti-work as in it's opposed to the current way we structure employment. We still use systems that were designed to manage manual labour and I think we've known for a long time that this is a bad fit for knowledge work or work that has been highly automated. It breeds a culture of "looking busy" which is a detriment to both the employee and employer. I think we desperately need new paradigms that are better suited to these types of work.

Nice how this article pus together people who want more flexibility in work location with people who hate work and try to work as less as possible. Makes you almost guess where theguardian.com owners stand on this issue.

I think Gavin’s probably an ass but don’t see anything wrong with being anti-work in general. I would be pro work if most work was meaningful, but am generally anti-work because most of it is exploitative and we do far too much of it in the US.

I’m not out here stealing from my job like Gavin but my attitude towards work is probably the same as him. Some of us just grin and bear it instead.

An alternative to doing less of a job you hate is to find a job you like doing. Easier for some people than others, obviously.

If you are a 2x or 3x engineer, it makes more sense to work 0.5x or 0.33x hours than to give all your energy to one company. Get a 2nd job before you give one company everything.

I recommend you do the same work of the next person on the team and shirk the rest. Any company that despises this practice is trying to get something from you they aren't willing to pay for.

I assure you, your company doesn't deliver 3x what it promised in their contracts.

If you are salaried, you promise to be available for so many hours a week and do duties as assigned. Perfect. Honor that end of the contract and shirk away.

Dont let the capitalists invent a morality to shame you to give them 100% while they are in a meeting with their lawyer on how to incorporate in Luxembourg and strongarm municipalities into giving them handouts.

This may be difficult to do as an employee, but if you call it "consulting" it may be fine.

Along the lines of David Graeber's ‘On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs’ in Strike! Magazine http://gesd.free.fr/graeber13.pdf

Give people free money, they will not work. It's just human nature. I put it up there with the law of thermodynamics.

I have to actively fight my own lazy tendencies every single day to make sure I don't become Gavin.

minimum wage -> minimum work

True, people's willingness to work tends to correlate with income very well. Today it's the richest members of society that work the most.

In my opinion people got it backwards. Hard work doesn't result in high incomes. High incomes result in hard work.

Hard disagree for all definitions of work I know. Imo nor does not hold for the truly elites (top .1%) neither for the upper middle class (top 10%). Do you mean some millionaire celeb or middle manager is working more than people doing construction?

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