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Redditor: Am I a scumbag for automating my manual work and making more money? (reddit.com)
86 points by artursapek on May 9, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 110 comments

You don't have to Flowers for Algernon your own productivity just because other folks working in the same firm, in the same industry, in the same country, whatever haven't caught on that computers are eating the world yet. There's nothing unethical about earning the lion's share of the bonus pool assuming the human-assisted script is, indeed, an acceptable substitute for elbow grease. (There are plausible reasons why it might not be but that isn't the way I'd bet.)

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."

Here is an anecdote: A similar data-entry grunt creates a set of excel macros on his private time at home, then presents his work to his team at a meeting. He surely expected to be met with praise, for saving countless hours of mind-numbing work so that the man-hours could be used on more creative and challenging tasks.

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 :).

Happened with me here in India too.

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.

Happened in America too. Boss took the "hacker" to the side and said "Look, I'd have to fire my entire staff if the higher ups learned of this and then I'd be out of a job too." Ah, nothing like firing the guy who could save your company tons of money just in self-interest.

Don't these anecdotes just reenforce patio11's point though about the difference in mindsets?

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.

Always know the business objectives of your client before proposing a technical solution to anything.

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.

What was stopping the guy from skipping his boss and talking to the higher-ups himself? He could probably prove his boss right by taking his boss' job.

In most organizations, Management layers aren't layers. They are actually clubs that protect each others interests. This goes on until the system gather enough dust to cause it to collapse.

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.

Edit: I now realize you are talking about your experience in India, where of course things may be different. However, I would think that even there, 'managers' are a distinct subgroup from other human beings.

Original: 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.

I know of an organization where if you wanted to purchase say $50,000 worth of new computers, HR (yes, human resources) had the power to make that purchase very difficult.

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.

>You don't have to Flowers for Algernon your own productivity

Are you thinking of Harrison Bergeron?

I was indeed! Curses, my memory of middle school is failing me.

No worries. I often make the same mistake, to the point where I knew what you were referring to but had to break out the googles because I wasn't sure if it was the right story. Both are excellent, btw.

I agree. I think a business person would either tell his boss or find a way to start a business associated with automating similar data entry. A person who doesn't say anything and tries to "get theirs in the short run" will eventually lose out. It's not a huge ethical concern in my opinion, but it represents an unproductive attitude towards creating value/wealth that you identified perfectly in your post.

I think there's a difficult decision to be made between making decent money working 8 hours per week and taking the risk of leveraging your skills to bump yourself up a level in a data-entry operation. Lacking details, the first scenario seems more attractive to me. I would encourage the OP to develop another money-making operation on the side while he has some free time.

I didn't take away anything like that from that sentence. I felt that he was saying "the pie is not fixed, and when your company realises that they can get the same results with a much smaller pie, most of your co-workers will be fired, possibly yourself along with them, and replaced with the script you wrote. Prepare to find another pie."

... was that an HN profanity filter or an awesome colloquialism? (Flowers for Algernon)

It's a literary allusion, though to the wrong short story. (See sibling comment.) The right short story depicts a dystopian America where the Handicapper General, a government official, attempts to achieve equality by bringing everyone down to the same level, for example by attaching lead weights to graceful ballerinas so that people who are not graceful ballerinas are not made to feel bad when watching them perform.

It's a book.

The mindset you speak of, using words like "client" and "contact the decision maker", is associated with people who are used to having a great deal more power and influence than somebody hired to be a data entry grunt.

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.

Part of leveling up from peon to not-quite-sure-but-definitely-not-peon was learning how to talk the part.

(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.)

I started wearing a suit and giving screwed-up smiles for answers like the Jim Halpert character on The Office (American version). Everyone at the office thought I was the best thing since sliced bread.

* * *

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).

I have a friend that did this in a summer job about 12 or 13 years ago. Got some temp work doing data entry, did it for 2 days before realising it could be done better. He wrote something in VB and did 15x more than everyone else over the course of a day.

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.

They have a word for this: Business

Your friend just turned out to be a lousy business person and his employer was not.

Why is the employer wrong here? If they were hiring 10 temp workers to do the job of a simple program, they really didn't need them in the first place.

£2/hour more than a temp data-entry position isn't market compensation for an entry-level programming gig. Converting to US wages, temp workers often make $8-$12/hour -- the temp AGENCY may be making $20-$25 for that, but the worker only pulls in up to $24k/year.

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.

>The guy accepted the $2 raise.

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. [1]

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. [2] ------- [1] http://www.salon.com/2012/05/07/americas_idiot_rich/

[2] (in the rollover) http://xkcd.com/1049/

The guy didn't care enough to ask for more than $2, why should I care on his behalf?

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.

Are you willing to go to naive elderly folks and convince them to give you most of their retirement savings based on lies? (Lies in the form of withheld information, say.)

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.)

He also never said he was using a script to do his work for him. He "accepted" the raise by not letting them know how he did it.

The problem is programmers must learn to sell their work not their time.

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.

I wouldn't say the employer is wrong (I don't think parent was saying that either), but that the choice was naive. The company saved the the wages of 10 temps and only paid the guy $2 more. He should have asked for more/something more long term.

Employer's wrong because they let the intern make a crappy deal for his software... hmm

I found myself in a similar situation to the redditor, but with out the bonuses. Part of my duty description was inputting MAC addresses of "authorized computers" into an extremely dodgy database system which allowed them to pick up an IP address via DHCP.

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.

If I were a member of management, and I found out that he was doing this, I would be furious. Not because he gamed the system and received the bonuses, but because he didn't share his innovation with the rest of the team and improve everyones' efficiency. If he had done that, I would recognize his talent and initiative and promote him, allowing him to do more rewarding, higher-level work.

Unless you have nothing to offer him, which is often the case for many layers of management. In which case, he's screwed.

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.)


He probably rightly senses that his boss wouldn't feel the way you hope you would. In fact I don't think most people would offer him a rational incentive at all.

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.

Or he could simply be replacing himself with no reward.

Oh, you've automated it? Thanks. Bye.

That's possible, but only if they're stupid. They'd be losing someone who can knows their business and could automate their next manual process.

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?

> 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[1], 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.

[1] 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?)

Let's do some math.

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.

This incentive question is really a good one. I personally always viewed these rates as ridiculously low so that people would be fools to think about how to eliminate their own jobs.

It would be very interesting to analyze if indeed higher monetary incentives do rise the level of innovation within a company.

You'd be surprised. I know several guys who pay regional sales manages 15% of net. No matter how much is sold, they get 15% every month. This encourages them to work hard and allows them to directly influence the income. And yes, if they sell 1 million bucks of goods and services, they get 15% of that.

There are quite a few places where people get a % of the money they earn/save. Data entry generally isn't one of them.

> If I were a member of management, and I found out that he was doing this, I would be furious.

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.

You realize that his "manager" is probably some kid just out of college, or another career grunt just clocking in the hours, right? This is data entry. There's no rewarding of initiative in that world: not at the bottom nor in the middle. You have to get to low level executives before you start seeing people with an interest in "changing" or "improving" the system.

I thought the same thing at first, but then I read how he's got this whole thing tied together.

>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.

They all sound like problems that can be overcome, just that it's not worth it for him to overcome them right now.

If it's worth it for his company to overcome them, he has his bargaining chip right there.

presumably it is management who nurtured the environment that lead to team members competing against each other for a slice of the bonus.

So though management might be furious, they should re-consider they should turn some of that fury on themselves(this never happens).

they should be furious with themselves because one of their employees had a great idea that could lower their costs?

no, management should be furious with themselves because they have created an environment where innovation is not shared due to a dumb bonus structure, leading staff to optimize for personal instead of organizational outcomes.

exactly. in my experience, management hardly ever holds themselves accountable for their decisions. That might be an east coast thing though. :)

Absolutely. Maybe office politics works differently in the states (where I presume he's from), but it sounds like he's keeping it quite so he can screw around at work.

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.

I'd normally agree with you, but it might depend a bit on management's likely reaction. If he has reason to suspect it would be negative, he might be right to keep it secret. There do exist companies that would lay him off and keep his work. That would be monumentally stupid, but it happens.

He's ten times more productive than anyone else there and you feel he is screwing around too much and is morally in the wrong.

Would you punish him?

>>he didn't share his innovation with the rest of the team and improve everyones' efficiency

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.

"I would be furious"

Furious? Would you punish him then?

qq66's comment on reddit is a worthwhile read.

TL;DR: If you have the initiative and skills to do this, you can be doing a lot more than hoarding a bonus pool.

Hah, I remember reading your comment and thinking "wow, this guy sounds like he has initiative. I wonder why he's on reddit instead of HN..."

This is why I'm skeptical about "Results Only Work Environments". (Not that the person in the article has one, but..)

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)

Them: "Well, we're a results only work environment"

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 believe this story is true. This employee is claiming to be 1000% more efficient and 110% more accurate than every other employee on his entire floor, and yet not a single supervisor has approached him to find out what he is doing differently. Color me unconvinced.

No, that doesn't make him a scumbag.

I don't understand why people post these things though. Are they really looking for validation?

In addition to Artur's point, I would affirm that yes, that is definitely the reason.

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?".

Just stick to programming and other interesting sub-reddits. Avoid politics etc

I love Reddit, (I did have to leave for health reasons), I hope I don't sound bitter!

I think it makes for an interesting discussion.

Maybe they do actually suspect they are a scumbag. It's a very damaging and pervasive mindset.

I was a programmer and sysadmin at a company that had lots of people doing data entry.

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 think it bordered on fraud.

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.

I am surprised nobody here suggests that he should build a product out of this. Aren't we all in business of unemploying people?

This is what I used to do for a living:

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?

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.

I would guess because he developed his solution while at work and his employment terms require all inventions are assigned to the company. Hence it's not his to license.

Automating work is not evil. It is the reason we are not all subsistence farmers.

Big companies are built to fail. The variety of departments and personal empires built by managers of those departments create an environment where innovation (or even the ability to ask "is there a better way?") gets crushed because "that's not the way we do things." Departmental managers don't optimize for company success. They optimize for personal success. A bigger staff and bigger budget is a promotion. Saving money means a smaller budget means a de facto demotion.

Smart people move on and the big companies are left to wonder why it's so hard to find good talent.

This trend is not going away, it's only going to increase. The ones with technical knowledge will continue to disproportionately receive money over those who don't.

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.

Was I a scumbag for automating manual work and eliminating a ton of jobs when I was only a new grad? In fact, was my entire team? That's a question I struggle to answer more, though we all already know what the reality of the situation is. Did reality excuse me?

This kind of thing has been going on for a while. In Sir Arthur Clarke's autobiography "Astounding Days", he talks about holding a boring civil service job doing some sort of financial auditing (he scored well on the math test, so they thought this was just the place for him). It turned out that what he was doing only had to be accurate to within a couple of percent, so he started using his slide rule to crank out his day's quota before noon, then taking the rest of the day off.

That is why its best to charge for your work and not time. In that case Sir Arthur Clarke could have made twice the money in a day.

Am I a lazy for making a machine wash my dishes while I browse HN?

I agree with Laat, sounds like he should make it into a business/product.

No, but you won't earn the Royal Victorian Order either.

Ever heard of a combine harvester? Go for it :)

Like others are saying, he should (gradually) reduce the output of his automation system to something more believable/less noticeable. Instead of going after the meager bonus, he should put his time into doing some kind of side work. Of course, that would be highly unethical and possibly grounds for firing, but I think his employer might angrily react with the latter if they found out what he was doing already.

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... :-)

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.

People do get very jealous even if it doesn't affect them. I automated something similar in one of my grad school courses (image processing). Each assignment required a report to be generated in a particular format that showed all of the results from each step in the assignment. It could be very time consuming because if you made any adjustments to your code based on incorrect results in later steps, you would often have to go back and edit the entire report to reflect your changes. I wrote a script to automatically generate these reports as I worked on the assignment. If I made any changes to my code, I could generate a new report in seconds.

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.".

What's funny is that a student in a graduate computer science course couldn't grasp the benefits of automating the report generation.

It isn't funny, its something to seriously think about.

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.
The ideology is. If I can't, neither should you.

>>Sadly, people (even friends) often act in this same manner when someone they know is excelling in some way.

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.

I've never heard the crab expression, is that really true? Are crabs just vindictive little creatures?

As a guy who grew up in Florida buying bushels of blue crabs: it might be true somewhere, but it's not true in my sphere of experience.

100% of the time? Probably not. I have seen Blue Crabs do this sort of thing, although it's likely all of them trying to get out of the bucket on their own rather than actively trying to prevent another one from escaping.

I've always wondered if it's true, because it's a very common expression here in Jamaica. We call it "crab inna barrel" (crabs in a barrel). Another term for it is "bad mind" - to be jealous of or try to impede another's success.

I did some searching and found a few references to "crab mentality", looks like it's a common term in Filipino culture. Still haven't found any evidence on if this is a real phenomena or not though.



I just saw it on Wikipedia; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crab_mentality

Automating manual systems then requires less employees.

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.

Do you regret suggesting it? I mean, sure, there would have been some immediate pain involved in finding a new job but surely that was balanced out by not working in a inefficient toxic working environment.

I was working from home, mostly drunk in a hammock while wearing a dressing gown. I had to leave the hammock and put on some respectable clothes and everything.

The guy isn't very smart doing 10X the normal amount of transactions. He should limit it to 25% more than everyone, so it at least seems believable.

His purpose - get as much money as possible here. And get it now, 'cos tomorrow it might not work, since someone can come up with same idea or bonus rules will change or something else.

His naive approach will lead to either him or his entire department getting replaced by a computer.

Which is a good thing. There's no point in having a bunch of people do manually what can be done automatically with greater efficiency and at less cost. Keynesian economics does not apply to individual organizations.

The point is that it's not a good thing for him for that scenario to unfold.

And with any luck he will then earn a heap more from the company to maintain and improve his program.

Or even better, have a randomized upper and lower limit.

As if HN wasn't enough like Reddit yet...

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.

no, that's not the reason.

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