There's a common mindset on Reddit that I struggle to find a name for but I know it when I see it: "You're not a scumbag, but the gravy train will have to end eventually. Your company will likely catch on and make changes to the data entry process." The size of the pie is fixed, the allocations of the pie are controlled by other people, and a mouse who successfully steals a few crumbs from the pie is a) stealing and b) must guard his stolen crumbs against the predations of other mice.
That is a mindset I do not associate with rich people. I'd expect them to think something closer to "Now would be an excellent time to contact the decisionmaker at my client and propose restructuring their business process for a 20% discount to the total cost of everything right now."
His high hopes for his fellow coworkers and his own future would be dashed though. The employee was branded as a "hacker" (in the Hollywood movie sense), and was ostracized. He eventually developed clinical depression, and resigned from the company.
Where did this happen? The story is probably not unfamiliar to patio11, who lives in the country where this occurred: Japan.
P.S.: I wish I had been a Hacker News reader back when I lived in Nagoya from 2009-2010. It would have been nice to talk to you in person :).
I worked on a project which required generating a report that had to be sent to some senior execs at our client location every Monday morning. The report would essentially give a trend, and the trend would in turn help the execs take a decision on whether further investment in hardware was needed for our existing IT infrastructure.
Originally the process was based on 3-4 people working and generating the report with heavy manual text heavy lifting. When I joined the project it took me 3 weeks of observation and a Perl script to automate the entire report generation process. My manager pulled me up for making 4 people jobless now. And thereby I had denied them billing for four people, I was considered to be making wrong moves for the company. I was given bad ratings for doing so, I lost a lot in terms of cash, and many be a chance to get promoted.
4 people where back doing to heavy lifting job. But six months later our client moved the project to a different outsourcing vendor. His reason 'Inability of the team to automate tasks that could have easily been automatized' and thereby not showing any value to the client apart from day to day work.
That day I learned a very big lesson. Like patio1 says The size of the pie is fixed, the allocations of the pie are controlled by other people, If you don't automate and get productive somebody else almost certainly will.
The purpose of work is to continuously be more and more productive with time. And learn to do work that has a more intellectual demanding than manual labor. I find it strange that people often complain and surprised that they were fired because <insert some manual job> was replaced by some form of automation. Isn't that obvious?
Throughout human history the clock has been ticking, productivity has always increased in a way or the other.
I actually like the what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says in his book 'Flow'. Every person when he works in the flow enjoys it to the full, until he squeezes the last bit of fun and excellence left in the job. Now he saturates, every thing becomes repetitive and not longer challenging .He is now prepared for the 'next step'.
Everybody must think of these 'Next steps' no matter what you are doing, where you doing it.
These two anecdotes describes places/bosses that seem completely toxic. It's trite to say "in the end you don't want to work at a place like this, they did the well-meaning guy a favor" but it seems to be true - some environments/teams/people cannot be saved.
This mindset is self-defeating in the end, and I don't see why it deserves to be reenforced.
Sometimes the business objectives are simple, obvious, like make the department more efficient or save the company money. Other times they're more sinister, like increase the head-count in order to earn your boss a higher salary, or to exert more influence over other departments by hijacking part of their process or rendering their people redundant while further solidifying your own base.
For more radical change you'll have to be on good terms with people much higher up in the organization that can save your ass when someone lower down tries to sabotage your work or push you out of your position in often misguided self-defense.
Perhaps the simple equilibrium position in many environments is to just quietly automate your tasks without rocking the boat in other ways.
Its futile to complain to a manager about another manager in general. Those people know each other, and they will never side with you. All that politics will only back fire on you.
That's an unnecessarily negative view.
Managers are people too and come in all the variations people come. Some of them care about whether the company does well, just like people whose title doesn't contain the word 'manager'. Their relation with other managers is exactly like the relation of your manager with you. That someones title includes the word 'manager' doesn't mean they suddenly like all other people whose title includes the word 'manager' and it doesn't mean he suddenly considers them equals. Being a 'manager' is not a binary thing. Team leaders are managers, even when their title doesn't say so.
It wasn't because HR actually had any say in the matter, but instead the head of HR actually sat in on meetings with the CEO and the rest of VPs on a very regular basis.
Now in this case and in this company, they would not have blocked innovation like this. However, had they had different attitudes automation could have easily been blocked.
It's not so much about the manager title, as it is that the graph doesn't look like a bunch of layers that you can just skip one. There are multiple inputs that can can come from people above, below, and beside and that is what makes it a club of people, who generally will protect others in the club.
Are you thinking of Harrison Bergeron?
The mindset may be useful for climbing out of the data entry grunt "class", but probably not for "fixing" his existing employer's practices. Someone on that level in a company of any substantial size is going to be ignored, disciplined, or outright fired for rocking the boat.
(Funny sidenote: About ten years to the day ago, I put in a proposal at a particular megacorp to script up something rather than spending $15,000 having the seasonal data entry clerks give themselves carpal tunnel syndrome doing it manually. It was not accepted, and my hands hurt like the dickens for most of the summer.)
* * *
It didn't hurt that I accomplished more work than everyone else while socializing more (meaning I went to the office parties/brunches and laughed at the appropriate times).
They (obviously) thought something was wrong so examined what he'd done. When he explained about the program, they told him if he left the temp firm he was employed through and knocked on their door in the morning, they'd give him a job and pay him £2 more an hour. This he (naively) did, and with him came his software.
They fired 10 of the other temps the day he 'started' and kept his piece of software when he went back to university after the summer. In this case, the scumbag was most definitely the employer. When he told me the story I wept into my pint glass at what could have been.
Your friend just turned out to be a lousy business person and his employer was not.
If they'd doubled his salary to ~$48k/year (assuming he previously was earning ~$12/hour) then that starts to be a decent wage for an entry-level programmer. Consider this the bare minimum ethical offer, paying the developer based on minimal market value (instead of taking advantage of his naivete).
But if it was saving them from having to pay 10 temp workers (at $20/hour each, say) and they only paid him for the summer months to perfect the script and (presumably) train a replacement, then they were basically treating him as a consultant, which (reasonably) would have doubled his hourly rate again. Paying him for 3 months at $48/hour should have cost them about $30k, but he ended up saving the company ~$350k/year (assuming they still needed to retain a $50k/year "expert" data-entry/programmer type to use and maintain the script). Since they could see his script was valuable, the least they could have done would have been to pay him a reasonable consulting rate for a few month.
On the other hand, if they'd at least gone with a fair entry-level programmer salary I wouldn't be complaining -- paying someone half of what they're worth seems to be too common to name a company a scumbag over. But yes, the company is well into scumbag territory for taking advantage of someone by paying them 1/4 of the fair market value of their time.
The guy accepted the $2 raise. He could have said, "No, I want $xx an hour," or "I'll sell you the script for $xxxxx," but he didn't.
Taking advantage of naivete doesn't excuse them from being scumbags.
You can worship scumbag employment practices if you like, or claim that it's his "fault" somehow for not understanding the value of what he was doing. I prefer to reward people at least SOMEWHAT proportional to their contribution, as opposed to proportional to their business acumen.
In your world, the 1% get richer, the rest get screwed, and the economy crashes like clockwork. Sounds like a bunch of scumbags in control to me.
In the world I'd like to move toward, everyone (but the 1%) would benefit from a more stable and sustainable economy, since the 99% (those who actually create) would be compensated much more, and would actually benefit from the crazy productivity gains we've experienced over the past 40 years, instead of it going to the talentless 1% who happen to be holding all of the cash rightfully earned by the 99%. And the frustrating this is that they believe they deserve it. 
More details as to how this could be true? Too many to relate them all in a comment. If you care, or if you want to argue with my conclusion, watch this (warning: Long video):
It's like Atlas Shrugged, only without the "Be a huge asshole to everyone" part at the end of every sentence. 
 (in the rollover) http://xkcd.com/1049/
The problem I have with your rant is that you're implicitly segregating the population into two groups, one which knows better and one which needs the other group to take care of it. Of course you're placing yourself in the group that knows better...
I have enough work taking care of myself. If saying, "That guy can look out for himself also" makes me an "asshole" or a "scumbag" then so be it.
No? Why is that different than taking advantage of someone too young to know better?
If I sell you a car that has a hard-to-detect problem deep in its engine that I know will cause the engine to need to be rebuilt at a cost of nearly half the price you're paying, and I fail to tell you about it because I'm sure you'll never know that I knew, is that OK?
No? Why is that different?
I'm NOT saying that you should be "taking care of" that guy. Frankly you're not part of the equation between him and his employer.
I AM saying that, if he were to do business with you, as an employee or otherwise, and the relationship were based in part on lies (even if they were lies-by-omission), then yes, THAT would make you a scumbag. I hasten to add that I am not accusing the real YOU of being a scumbag, just the hypothetical "you" that would take advantage of someone to that extreme.
Capitalism doesn't have to be about screwing the other guy when you can get away with it. It often IS, but it doesn't have to be.
Sometimes the value of an unproven kid really is low, because the odds of them doing a good job aren't very high, and so you're amortizing the cost across a number of hires -- but he was a proven value to the company (to the point that they fired 10 other temp workers), and so their behavior was blatantly unethical. (Aside from the fact that most temp worker contracts prohibit you from hiring the worker directly without giving the temp agency a fee, and by the description they almost certainly sidestepped any such clause, which is itself a probable unethical contract violation.)
We are not like sports coaches. The stuff we deliver sells for higher price, compared to if we would sell the time taken to build it.
He should have sold the program, not this time to build it. Just like how a painter would sell his painting not the time taken to paint it.
When I first started in the position and had this explained to me I pointed out that anyone could just plug a machine into the network and use trial and error to find an IP address to manually enter and get them onto the network. IE: the process wasn't securing anything.
My point was pushed aside because "this is just the way we do things".
The 1st time I had to input 20+ new PCs into the system I whipped up an autoit script (I had to insert via a terrible GUI interface as the DBAs wouldn't grant me direct access to the database) which grabbed the data required from the xls the supplier gave us and automagically inserted the info. My scripting didn't get noticed until one day when I input 200 machines in the space of an hour, the task had taken the previous person in the role a whole day or more.
I was rewarded with a higher workload and grudges from all my co-workers, who had all previously done the task before moving up the totem pole and dumping this ridiculous job onto the next new sucker.
The highlight was when I gave notice and during my exit planning meeting my supervisor said that one of the old staff would train my replacement on how to do this task, rather than me show someone the system I hacked up which was an order of magnitude more efficient.
There are reasons people do not take initiative in certain very bureaucratic positions and organizations. Sometimes, it is not rewarded -- in fact, it is punished.
Any decision (e.g. whether to tell management) needs to be made with a good deal of contextual awareness.
I hate to sound like a party-pooper, but speaking from experience...
P.S. I'll add: He's already found the built-in reward. It sounds like it's a significant amount of bonus money, plus effectively a very light workload. What are they going to offer him that improves upon that? How high up in management would one need to go to find authority for such a decision/spend? How many layers of management do you think separate his data entry position from a manager with that authority?
P.P.S. OTOH, if they are not entirely brain dead (and who knows?), metrics will eventually cause them to investigate. So, enjoy it while it lasts, and maybe consider whether he can turn eventual exposure to his advantage. (And if metrics don't attract attention, that's a pretty good sign he is indeed dealing with a brain dead organization.)
If he saves the company $1 million a year are you actually going to cut him a $200k+ bonus? I'd be very doubtful of anyone who says they would.
Most people would give him $20k if they're especially generous and a pat on the head.
Oh, you've automated it? Thanks. Bye.
I'd suggest he say this: "hey boss, I think I can automate this process, increasing accuracy and productivity. Would you give me salary X if I can do it?"
If the boss says "awesome, yes!", then he's got a better job.
If the boss says no or is lukewarm, he could keep doing what he's doing, but actually study programming in the time he's goofing off and start a job search.
Either way, he's on a path to getting to program, not having to hide it, and getting properly compensated.
The more difficult question is: what if they lay off his coworkers because of his innovation? How should he feel then?
That's a question of how to deal with a broken system. Automation is by definition the destruction of manual work. Most of the time, of boring manual work. This is great. We should automate as much as we can. Oh, but it happens right now: hourly productivity, according to my source, more than tripled since the fifties.
But, as you point out, sudden increase of productivity mechanically creates unemployment, if you don't have a massive consumption growth to absorb it —not a good idea in the long term, and doesn't happen anyway.
There are several solutions out of this dilemma, which you can apply in parallel. The most powerful one is: work less (at the national level). Get nearly everyone to work 32 hours per week (typically 4 days a week) instead of the usual 40. (You can use incentives instead of force if you don't want to appear too communist) If Productivity grows again too much in the next decades, get down to 28, 24, or even less.
There. I'm happy to be a programmer, whose main job is to destroy others'. Except the system is broken, and shows no sign of being fixed. Getting back to your difficult question, I don't know what I'd actually do. I'd probably tell no one, given the risks, both for me and my coworkers. I'd feel bad about reaping all the bonuses, though —but I would save them to buy a house or whatever.
 http://www.roosevelt2012.fr/propdetails?propid=13 (French, see 3rd chart. Watch out, it seems Wikipedia disagrees —maybe they're not measuring the same thing?)
He's saying he gets 90% of the bonus pool and expects many other people only get 100-200.
So 5 others, 500-1000 for them, his take home would be 4500-9500 bonus.
If there are 10 others, 1000-2000 for them, his take home would be 9500-19500 bonus.
We're potentially talking 6 figure bonuses per year. Whose salary level do you think that would put him on? Do you think they will accept the data entry guy becoming as compensated? I doubt it would work politically and financially off some basic napkin math.
It would be very interesting to analyze if indeed higher monetary incentives do rise the level of innovation within a company.
And this is why you're not management. He hasn't shared it yet, why assume he would not ever? You could show some understanding and realize there are many reasons an employee might be uncomfortable showing a radically advantageous method immediately to management.
>We download PDF batches, not paper...
>I wrote the script from scratch. It is a combination of reading the screen for data, a screen font reader, mouse automation/keyboard automation.
>It's part C++ and part "Game Maker", I did it for prototyping but got lazy and never rewrote it.
>Plus the script is pretty frustrating to setup in the morning, so they would get frustrated figuring it out. :P (requires a certain monitor arrangement at certain resolutions, windows in the right place, etc.
Management would be furious if it was a simple script that you just hit "Go" and it does everything, but it sounds like it's finicky enough that management would be too confused to be angry.
If it's worth it for his company to overcome them, he has his bargaining chip right there.
So though management might be furious, they should re-consider they should turn some of that fury on themselves(this never happens).
If I made a script that deals with 98% of all of my work I could not imagine not sharing that with my bosses. To me (and I'm sure lots of people don't share this sentiment) it would feel morally wrong not to.
Would you punish him?
Team work is everybody working to achieve something. Not one person making up for everybody.
I work hard because I want to be rich, I can't share my work and money just because somebody won't work hard for whatever reason.
I earn my money, they earn theirs.
Furious? Would you punish him then?
It seems to me that a Results Oriented Work Environment doesn't (or might not) really reward the super performers (just gives them more work to do), while still punishing the poorer performing members of the team.
You: "Boss, can I go home after I finish my daily quota of 200 reports?"
Them: "Well, we're a results only work environment"
You: "Ok, it's 10:30AM and my script just finished 200 reports. Seeya!"
Them: "Wait just a minute..."
Meanwhile, in an alternative reality....
You: "Boss, it's 6PM, I'm still working on my daily quota of 200 reports, but my productivity is starting to suffer and I'm going slowly" (maybe not because you're a slow data entry person, but you were pairing with Bob, helping him with his work at the cost of your own)
You: (Sad Yao)
It's possible that I'm wrong here, and would love to hear of other people's experience working under these conditions.
I don't understand why people post these things though. Are they really looking for validation?
Every day without fail, there is a post in /r/relationship_advice that goes something like "My fiancee just sold my cat and wired all of my money to her secret boyfriend in Albertville. Am I right to be mad?".
One of the typists found out that the client did not check the data at all. (It was all just packaged and resold.) She just hit OK for every single OCR scan that she was supposed to correct/verify. She was doing ten times as much as anyone else and doubling her salary with her bonus.
When made aware, management went along with it. I think it bordered on fraud.
On the flip side, I automated most of my sysadmin (and a lot of other co-workers) work and freed half of my work week. What did they want me to do? Data entry...
I don't think there's any "bordering" there. Imagine a plumber who realises that they don't need to lay all the pipes cause the client isn't going to test that the pipes are connected and hence doesn't lay the pipes, but still charges the client. Fraud.
1) Go to offices and learn their goals and systems
2) Automate them with software
3) Get paid lots of money for selling them the software
While one result of automation is lost jobs, the other is that businesses have more operating capital to grow, expand, hire more, etc.
He's not a scumbag, but he's missing the opportunity. Why isn't this guy selling the software/process to the company he works for, and making far more money in the process than he gets from his bonuses?
Interalised self-hatred? (You'll see they are asking the internet if what they are doing is unethical.) Also they might be very shy and not used to thinking they can get the world.
Smart people move on and the big companies are left to wonder why it's so hard to find good talent.
I think this person would really enjoy reading Race Against the Machine, written by two MIT researchers and economists. I have a guest post going up tomorrow on VentureBeat about this, but it's interesting to see people call him a scumbag because he has a technological edge on them.
This is a pretty good example of people working against the machine instead of with it. Those people will probably soon be out of jobs, but there's nothing to stop them from learning a scripting language that would make them more productive in their work. They now know there's a script that can cause them to increase their productivity. The bonus pool is still up for grabs if they spent a few weekends trying to learn Ruby or Python.
I agree with Laat, sounds like he should make it into a business/product.
Incidentally, back when I worked in Arizona, I was told that a previous employee of the company had been running a side business during working hours. His coworkers ratted him out, and it went up to management. It was decided that it was okay, so long as his assigned tasks were being completed. Of course, one wonders why he was ratted out if he was completing his tasks... :-)
Jealousy. You never need to put a cover on a bucket full of crabs because anytime one crab tries to climb out the others will pull it back in. Sadly, people (even friends) often act in this same manner when someone they know is excelling in some way.
A student in my class looked over my shoulder and saw me run my script in the lab. I thought she was just going to ask if she could have a copy of it, but instead she angrily accused me of plagiarism. When I asked where I was supposedly plagiarizing from, she instead just accused me of cheating. She went up to our professor in class and demanded that I received no credit for the assignment. The grades in this class were not curved in any way, so my grade would have no impact on her's. Luckily, the professor just laughed at her and said "What? I'm supposed to give him an F for being smarter than you? Write your own damn script if it's that useful.".
Most people would fail define the meaning of the work 'job'. According to many a job is
a. Set of tasks that you need to execute 9 am to 5 pm.
b. Every other person can only do what you can do and can only execute the same tasks.
c. Any exception to a) and b) is evil.
d. People in c) are generally heretics, non-team players and are gaming the system. And in overall disrupting market for everybody else.
Do you know why this happens?
Its because when people of the same peer levels stay together, work together and spend a lot of time with each other. They begin to assume they all own the same money, live same lives, and have more or less than other.
Now suddenly when somebody discovers years later that one of them after going back home, used to silently work a big part of their night in garage building and selling stuff. And all that has made him relatively rich compared to him and everybody else, they feel cheated.
Its like a untold, silent agreement among people that none of them will do anything everybody else isn't doing. So that when somebody has a better chance of making it big, they generally have it from a source where all can benefit from. Else everybody remains where they are.
Less employees often requires less management.
If I had done this, I would not in a million years talk to my immediate management about this. I have already been fired once from contract work for merely suggesting that a similar thing was possible.
Whether or not they think he is a scumbag is relevant. What will really matter is what his boss will think when he finds out that he has all this extra salary on the books for nothing.
If he's concerned that his friends think he's a scumbag now, just wait until the pink slips start rolling out when there's a budget crunch.