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US employee 'outsourced job to China' (bbc.co.uk)
383 points by anons2011 on Jan 16, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 190 comments

This story doesn't ring true to me. Particularly the part about how his day consisted of cat videos, Reddit, and eBay — that's a caricature, designed to fit the popular conception of "wasting time at the office". The whole story, in fact, has this quality. The way that it touches on fears of being outsourced to China is another example. And the saucy peasant outwitting his masters is a common trope in folk tales.

The original report, which seems to be gone but is cached at [1], reads more like a chain letter than anything a corporate risk manager would write. It's weirdly unprofessional and internally inconsistent (the salary numbers change along the way). It even shows signs of a liar getting carried away with his own tall tale: by the end of the story, Bob has "the same scam going across multiple companies in the area". How did he arrive at all of them at 9 am in order to watch his cat videos?

This story should be considered guilty – of being an urban legend – until proven innocent. The fact that it has been posted to HN a good ten times under different guises shows what a demand there is to believe it.

[1] http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:http://...

That part about 'multiple companies' was a kicker for me, too. That's the part where I thought, 'hmm, really, now?'

That would mean that 'Bob' would have to have multiple identical working situations with several companies, including trust, tenure, workload, bosses (some are more micromanaging than others) and willing to let him work 100% remote over VPN.

I mean, if 'Bob' was smart enough to set up what amounts to an outsourcing business, why wouldn't he just take a higher contractor's rate and go legit with his outsourcing? Why bother with getting hired at multiple companies when he could make so much more as a contracting outsourcing group, while not running into even a smattering of trouble?

Well, because Bob isn't real, that's why.

If you only need to go into the office once a fortnight (common with telecommuting jobs) you can have 10 on the go at once. Many telecommuting jobs will be much less office time than that too, I've done several where I never went I've never even been to an office.

I've had the strange occurrence on two separate jobs where a coworker attempted to work at two companies at once. One was 90% telecommute, the other was about 50%. But both of those guys lasted less than two months before they were found out.

I am not saying it's not possible, but it's much harder to do UNLESS the companies the person is working for are aware the person has other 'clients'. It's completely common for contractors to work for multiple companies at once (often outsourcing to, yes, China) , so my thinking was that the idea that 'Bob' was a talented programmer who could manage an entire outsourcing workforce but never figure out how to do it completely legitimately and make more money just makes the story that much less plausible.

True, but can you handle managing 10 remote workers at once and still have time to watch cat videos?


Managing multiple remote teams across multiple timezones on disparate and unrelated projects (and for multiple companies, no less) is hardly trivial.

This second-hand article is purporting that not only is it trivial, but it in fact requires so little time that it doesn't even bear mention in the so-called "daily schedule".

I agree. This entire tale feels highly contrived, and I'm surprised to see it on the BBC. Can anyone here actually picture themselves in "Bob's" shoes?

are you snopes

The moral of the story is: route your Chinese subcontractors through your own VPN first, so they appear to be coming from your house.

Also, use your freaking time to do something more interesting than surf Reddit and Facebook.


If I did this, I think that, given my employer is paying me for my time, I should still focus on stuff for the company whether my work has been outsourced or not. Rather than use it as a way to slack of, I could do way more, meaning pay rises, bonuses and additional opportunities. It would make doing that more worthwhile, in my opinion. If I run out of work to do, awesome, I'll ask for more, making my productivity gains clear as day.

Your employer is paying you to deliver things that make them money. They're not paying you for your time.

Not what the contract says, nor how it works in practice. If I did the work in half the time and left early, I'd be fired. But conversely if I don't get the work done it's not a problem as long as I'm there for the hours.

I can forsee replies telling me to get a better job, but my experience is that most jobs are like this, even at trendy tech companies. And it's not a bad bargain all told; my employer takes on all the volatility, I can plan my time with knowledge of how long my job's going to take, while from their side the variations in productivity probably average out over x employees.

That's not actually the case at all companies. My employer has no problem with me waltzing in to work at 1:00 PM and leaving at 5:30, as long as I get my work done. (Granted, I'm still at work and it's 10:00 PM, so maybe it doesn't work that way. Some days of the week, though.) Conversely, if I don't get the work done, I'll be fired, even if I put in my 8 hours - I have one friend that this happens to.

It comes down to time. My employer pays me money with the understanding I will dedicate a slot of time to working solely on the projects he needs me to work on.

Yes, he's paying me to deliver. If he was paying for my time and I wasn't delivering then there's a problem. If I deliver, however, I can't just get up and walk out in the middle of the day.

If I deliver, however, I can't just get up and walk out in the middle of the day.

Then you're working outside the IT-sector or in an old fashioned company.

In modern IT-companies (most startups that I know, including some with >150 people that barely qualify as startup anymore) the above is perfectly acceptable and normal for programmers.

You are expected to meet your deadlines, to be present for appointed meetings, and usually during a fixed set of "core working hours". Sometimes there are Sprints or "crunches" during which everyone is expected to be a little more present than usual.

In these companies nobody cares what you do with your remaining time as long as you meet the above criteria. Quite a few of my co-workers I've never met in person or only after already skyping with them for months. Others I'll see every time I hit an office because they're more the 9-5 (or 11-22..) type of guys. The line between "employee" and "consultant" is blurring rapidly.

If I had to pick one thing I dislike about HN, this is it.

Not everybody works for a startup, and not everybody works in San Francisco. The majority of programmers work in 9-5 office jobs where if you left every day at 4 PM you'd be fired as soon as your supervisor(s) caught on. It doesn't mean you're working outside of IT (although that's likely) and it sure as hell doesn't mean you're working in an old fashioned company.

Do you think any bank, healthcare provider, or BigCo business lets the programmers come in whenever they want and leave whenever their work is "done?"

They are very good about making sure there's always more work for you to do.

I work as a coder in a business unit at Bank of America. What you say is true, to some extent.

If I need to take off for the day at 1 pm I just tell my boss I've got to go take care of some personal stuff and he's completely ok with that, since he knows I get my work done.

We're both lucky then in terms of programmers in BigCos. I'm a developer in a non-IT Fortune 1k company and it's very much the same here (honestly I didn't expect BOA would be that good to you). Truthfully, if I had to leave at 1 PM I'd probably have to take a half day of vacation, but 3-4 PM? Hasn't been a problem the few times I've asked.

3-4 PM every day? "Get out of my office."

Well, I don't make a habit of it. Yesterday I remoted from home until 11 am, then I took the wife and sick kid to doctor and that ate the afternoon.

It helps to have bosses with small kids.

Not everybody works for a startup, and not everybody works in San Francisco.

Which I didn't suggest, I think?

Do you think any bank, healthcare provider, or BigCo business lets the programmers come in whenever they want and leave whenever their work is "done?"

No, that's why I qualified my comment with "In modern IT-companies".

Sorry, do you also disagree with something that I actually wrote? ;)

> Which I didn't suggest, I think?

I didn't mean to suggest you said everybody works for a startup or in SF, but the tone of the post was such that I felt you were implying most (or even a large minority) of programmers do.

> No, that's why I qualified my comment with "In modern IT-companies".

Upon rereading it a few times, it's likely I misunderstood the tone of your comment, but I took it to mean essentially "this is how it is for the majority of programmers[, and if it's any other way that's ridiculous and there's no reason for it]." I have lived and worked my entire life on the east coast of the US. Because I'm not in NYC which is probably the closest the SF this side of Austin, the odds of me getting a job where I'm not required to be in my chair from 8 AM to 5 PM is slim to none. I think even across the US that sort of freedom only applies to a very slim (and very lucky) minority.

The "core working hours" at any startup that I've worked at have been 40 hours or close to it. The expectation is that you work more than that, so sure you can leave "early" but that's based on a pretty high amount of hours you're going to spend in the office.

I work for a healthcare marketing company as the only programmer. A large part of what I do during the day isn't programming really but rather a big mix of stuff. It's definitely IT though.

Of course, I program. This isn't anything revolutionary and is mainly database CRUD-type stuff but this is mostly what the big players in private healthcare need in the UK.

I often do very menial tech. support such as showing someone how to set up an email address in Outlook (yes, this actually happens).

Clients often need their websites amending in some small way so I have to curate and distribute all of these requests from all our clients. These are mostly very small, trivial things like remove an outdated banner or adding a patient testimonial. These flood in great numbers though, which is where the challenge is.

I've spent time recruiting i.e vetting CVs, interviewing and then making a decision.

There's probably even more stuff I do in my day to do, such as basic sys admin, graphics/web design (full websites, banners, sidebars, newsletters, landing pages), on-page SEO, copywriting and branded social media pages (we abstain from actual social media campaigns because we haven't seen measurable results within our niche at all - we may be doing this wrong).

We're a services company, we're not a startup and 7 hour workday is usually filled up quite easily and makes sense here. In fact, we have to be pretty careful about scheduling our workload over several days so that things get done on time. We do, however, have quiet periods, like immediately after New Year.

>It comes down to time.

>If he was paying for my time and I wasn't delivering then there's a problem

No, he's paying you to deliver and that's it. Your time is required to do work. Your time is worthless to them, what you produce is, however.

Robots require less time to do many tasks, and they can accomplish more of them. They're paying you for output, not time.

It's besides my core point really. In fact, it reinforces it since that's pretty much what I mean anyway.

The reason why I bring time into it is because, as I've said, if there was absolutely nothing to do, I couldn't just get up and leave mid-day. If there's nothing else to work on, stuff will be found for me and I can continue to use that time productively.

In my contract, I'm obligated to work 5 days a week, 7 hours per day. My income is worked out based on my value and the number of working days in a month. This is what I'm getting at - I'm obligated to spend that much time in the office, delivering.

If you rework what I said about outsourcing my workload so that it removes time and is replaced with delivering, it'd still make sense. Now that you mention, I prefer the sound of it:

My boss pays me to deliver. If I outsourced my workload, I could deliver more. My employer will then increase my pay.

This depends on individual agreements between employer/employee at the end of the day and also on the nature of the job.

There are certainly situations where it is advantageous to have your employees sitting at their desks in your building. So you know where they are if some emergency situation arises or if you need to ask them some questions or even just to make the place look big/busy.

>This depends on ....and on the nature of the job.

I agree in some situations, but this was a programmer. Unless he was a manager that has to oversee others, there's no need for a mandatory appearance

>So you know where they are if some emergency situation arises

That's completely irrelevant to the situation. A company does not profit when it's down for an emergency.

At least half the people I've seen on Hacker News doing startups want people to relocate to NYC or SF. Apparently lots of folks think face to face / butt in chair time is important for "team building" or something.

There's definitely situations where you might want to have a programmer in the office (or at least "on the clock"). Perhaps your system goes down and you need it fixed ASAP, you don't want to be calling the programmer and hoping he hasn't gone to the movies and turned his phone off.

Likewise with mentoring/helping other staff, sometimes this is just far easier to do when you are physically present.

>Perhaps your system goes down and you need it fixed ASAP

So you're saying, all this person is hypothetically doing is sitting around waiting for something to break, presumably at night? You don't think the company would delegate other tasks as well?

>Likewise with mentoring/helping other staff, sometimes this is just far easier to do when you are physically present.

That's not benefiting the company in any way? How is that just "your time"

My point is that it is often beneficial to the company to know that you will definitely be available during certain hours.

Obviously you are going to be doing other work during these hours assuming that there is something to do.

In general yes. However in practice employers expect total dedication and focus, deliveries while _at the same time_ counting minutes.

Employers are a lot like women. They have a hard time making up their mind about what they really want. Everything being the default answer.

> In general yes. However in practice employers expect total dedication and focus, deliveries while _at the same time_ counting minutes.

Largely true.

> Employers are a lot like women. They have a hard time making up their mind about what they really want. Everything being the default answer.

This is silly. You're playing in to a narrative that's acceptable in some sub-cultures but that is basically ridiculous once you know enough people and try to debunk handed-down narratives.

Try delivering your reply without the sexism. What you said is offensive.

I am sorry. It is true, didn't think of it at the time of writing.

Great observation! Women are often offended by accurate characterizations of their behavior.

When you purchase a product or service do you ever consider how long someone spent making that product/service when deciding what to buy?

Imagine someone saying something like "That Toyota Car is exactly what I'm looking for, but I know that the workers at the GM factory spent way more time building the GM car, so I'm going to buy that GM car instead."

Not so with products, but many services are charged by the hour.

Obviously! If I purchased 1 hour of Day Care I would expect to receive 1 hour of day care.

However, if I paid someone to clean my house I would expect it to be clean after they were done. I don't care how long it takes. If it takes 10 hours and the floors a filthy I'm going to be upset. If it takes 1 hour and everything is very clean I'm going to be happy.

Really? I'm a big fan of delivering and then spending less time in the office.

Does viewing videos of cats make your employer money? If you've already delivered what they paid you for today then go home and watch the videos there in your pajamas, if they're not paying you for your time.

"Your employer is paying you to deliver things that make them money. They're not paying you for your time."

Several people already pointed out how wrong you are...

In addition to that there are a lot of administration living of public funds whose goal is not to make money but to provide a service. I'm not saying at all that I like that (I think socialism already brought Greece to state default and we'll see more and more state defaulting in Europe soon).

I'm just stating a fact: in a lot of socialist countries (for example throughout Europe), there are a lot of jobs for programmers in administrations. There are cities where the biggest employer of computer programmers are administrations.

I'll just give one example: there are administration whose yearly budget is in the $bn range (eg european institutions) which have very strict pyramidal structure. When division x has a budget y and someone decides, for example, that each application in maintenance needs to have one programmer maintaining it, then there's a budget for that programmer (who very often is a contractor).

And the budget and number of hours MUST be respected precisely.

They do not care at all about you delivering anything: all they want is their arses covered in case the shit hit the fan.

You can be there, sitting 8 hours per day reading WoW forums (and some do just that), because they paid for your time.

I'm not saying it's "good". I think socialism is deeply flawed.

But I'm getting tired about reading the same old "Your employer is paying you to deliver things that make them money" (just as I'm tired of reading "if it's free, you're not the user, you're the product").

As a side note and as it has already been pointed out: that's not was most contract between employers and employees or contractors do state. Most contracts talk about number of hours / days and not about "project" or "things to deliver because it is going to make the company more money".

" I think socialism is deeply flawed"

Yeah, so's capitalism... good thing we can mix 'em!

For socialism to work the nature of people has to change. The nature of people is to be greedy and keep what they "want" or think they "need", not just what they actually need. Socialism asks (and eventually commands) people to give up things they wouldn't otherwise give up for the good of others who don't have those things with the motivation being either A) it's for the good of everyone and ultimately B) you'll be breaking the law if you don't.

Capitalism on the other is based upon everyone desiring to make a profit and thereby providing their own wants/needs, with the wants/needs themselves being the motivation to do so. At first blush, it seems like everyone can't make a profit. Someone has to lose, right? But that thinking is incorrect.

In the words of Paul Graham himself: "What leads people astray here is the abstraction of money. Money is not wealth. It's just something we use to move wealth around. So although there may be, in certain specific moments (like your family, this month) a fixed amount of money available to trade with other people for things you want, there is not a fixed amount of wealth in the world. You can make more wealth. Wealth has been getting created and destroyed (but on balance, created) for all of human history."

In other words, profits come many times from created wealth that didn't otherwise exist.

So, while I don't know what particular flaws of capitalism you were referring to, capitalism is inherently based upon freedom of the individual while socialism is inherently based upon lack of freedom for the individual.

I'll take 100% capitalism with all of its flaws, no question, over most any brand of socialism, including the one we have now in the US.

> The nature of people is to be greedy and keep what they "want" or think they "need", not just what they actually need. Socialism asks (and eventually commands) people to give up things they wouldn't otherwise give up for the good of others

No, it doesn't.

First of all, socialism did not start off as an egalitarian ideology or idea. Saint Simon, who coined the term, was originally promoting a technocratic meritocracy, which would still have substantial hierarchy. The key was to pay people and give people power according to the value they created, rather than according to ownership of property or titles. Because this would have a de facto effect of massive redistribution of wealth, redistribution have come to be seen as a major defining aspect of socialist ideologies, often with welfare as an alternative mechanism of providing that redistribution, and this has coloured many later socialist ideologies.

Over the following decades, the term came to encompass ideologies all across the political spectrum, ranging from those who saw socialism in the context of religion or feudalism: A moral duty to take care of the weak or those whom you rule. To those who wanted an ideal, entirely egalitarian society built from scratch - the utopian socialists.

In between we find people like Marx, who devoted a chapter of the Communist Manifesto to denounce a long laundry list of the other forms of socialism, and who extensively criticised exactly the claim you make.

A key aspect of Marxism is the focus on the class struggle, and this has infused most later socialist ideologies, from the 1840's onwards. The key point Marx made was exactly opposite of what you claim:

The problem for socialists is to educate the working classes so that they understand their own self interest, and stand up for their own interests rather than accept and believe that the ruling class has their best interests at heart. That means for the working class to stand up and make their demands heard, and refuse to accept dictates from a non-working class minority.

The fantasy that socialism is about people "giving up things for the good of others" is an idea bandied about primarily by people who look at their own wealth or the wealth they aspire to (consider Steinbeck: “Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”) and sees that they would need to give things up in a socialist society (or they believe they eventually would, or that it would curtail their chance to get rich).

On the contrary: Marxist socialism which is usually what people talk about when they throw this idea about, is about the enlightened self interest of the working classes. About demanding a greater share. And if necessary about taking it, gun in hand, from those who Marx insist will use violence to prevent giving up their privilege.

The very insistence in Marxism on revolutions as the mechanism of social change is down to this fundamental belief in the selfish nature of man: Marx was very insistent that no privileged class will willingly give up its privilege, and so while it is useful for a class to organize and attempt to change things peacefully, ultimately it almost certainly will come down to a violent overthrow of the old regime.

He spent a great deal of time insulting dreamers who fantasized about building socialist communes and gradually and peacefully changing the world, or who thought socialism could realistically be achieved through elections (though he was not against attempts he expected any winning socialist party to face the use violence to prevent them from following through their programs - a prediction that has come true more than once).

If anything, then, Marxism not only assumes that people are selfish, but is predicated on the assumption that people are ultimately more selfish than their behaviour in capitalist society lets on: If only the working class is sufficiently taught about the realities of class struggle, Marx believed they would eventually rise up against it to demand more for themselves.

Marx further claims that the fundamental criteria for a socialist revolution to be successful, is that society both reaches a state where the majority of the population has become sufficiently poor as capitalism develops that redistribution will be to their advantage, and society as a whole has gotten so rich that such a redistribution will not only be a material advantage for the majority, but sufficient to lift them all out of poverty and provide sufficient wealth that there is little incentive to circumvent societal rules to obtain more.

To quote Marx from "The German Ideology" (1845):

'This “alienation” (to use a term which will be comprehensible to the philosophers) can, of course, only be abolished given two practical premises. For it to become an “intolerable” power, i.e. a power against which men make a revolution, it must necessarily have rendered the great mass of humanity “propertyless,” and produced, at the same time, the contradiction of an existing world of wealth and culture, both of which conditions presuppose a great increase in productive power, a high degree of its development. And, on the other hand, this development of productive forces (which itself implies the actual empirical existence of men in their world-historical, instead of local, being) is an absolutely necessary practical premise because without it want is merely made general, and with destitution the struggle for necessities and all the old filthy business would necessarily be reproduced; '

This was in fact a key aspect of the schism between the Bolcheviks and the rest of the Russian communists. The Bolcheviks, amongst other differences, rejected this idea in favour of a doctrine published by Lenin in 1893 that outlined how he believed that the Russian landless peasants would come to the defence of a socialist revolution. They did not, and the eventual outcome was what Marx had predicted: "all the old filthy business would necessarily be reproduced", in the form of the Soviet regime that no sooner had they torn down the last vestiges of the old, they rebuilt the same types of power structures and class rule in their own image, and started grasping for the same privileges they had fought.

> capitalism is inherently based upon freedom of the individual while socialism is inherently based upon lack of freedom for the individual.

No. Capitalism is inherently based upon the free exchange of property rights. While socialism is inherently based on reward following merit rather than property ownership. The two are not opposites. Nor are they even similar things.

Socialism is not an economic system, but a set of properties shared by vastly different ideologies across the political spectrum. If you when you say "socialism" speak of Stalinism or Maoism, or a similar feudal or state capitalist ideology with socialist features, you are right. If you when you say "socialism" speak of Marxism you would be wrong, as would you for dozens of other socialist ideologies.

A major part of the disconnect is that US style "libertarians" tend to define property as a natural right, and then evaluate freedom in terms of whether or not already partitioned property rights are infringed on, and expect either government protection of those "rights" or the right to restrict others freedoms to keep them off the land, while most far left socialist ideologies starts with the individual and asks what restricts the individuals actions. Thus we arrive at statements like Proudhons "property is theft": Resources are limited, and thus any act that assigns property rights take rights away from others, and limits their freedoms.

You can not have maximal freedom without substantially curtailing property rights. You can also not have maximal freedom without some rights to property, though whether or not those rights include actual ownership in the capitalist sense is orthogonal to the issue of maximising freedom.

Most nations implicitly acknowledge parts of this: Many property rights are protected from private ownership and/or much property is held in public trust in the interest of guaranteeing people the freedom to make use of the land. E.g. in my native Norway, anyone has right of way through forests and any other undeveloped areas, even if someone has private ownership rights to it. You can walk through it. You can camp. And the owner can do very little about that. This is because society explicitly acknowledge that the moment you let someone throw others off the land, that person has had their freedoms restricted. At the same time, the law recognizes trespass that infringes on the private sphere: Entering a garden surrounding a house is entirely different. While restricting access is reducing other peoples rights, allowing unfettered access is a much stronger and more direct infringement of the rights of those who live there.

Getting a tradeoff that maximizes freedom is hard, but it most certainly does not involve unfettered rights to private property.

You know what tends to freak guys like you off the most? Despite the above, in discussions chances are you'd find more common ground with me than either of us would find with a social democrat or mainstream European "socialist", because they tend to be "big government" socialists, while as a Marxist I see the end goal as the wholesale abolition of the state.

Back in the day, I had libertarians cry in debates because they hated it when I agreed more with them than with the people they tried to lump me with...

> You know what tends to freak guys like you off the most? Despite the above, in discussions chances are you'd find more common ground with me than either of us would find with a social democrat or mainstream European "socialist", because they tend to be "big government" socialists, while as a Marxist I see the end goal as the wholesale abolition of the state.

I think Capitalism--property rights--does the best job of maximizing freedom. Minimally-regulated Capitalism rewards those who work smarter and harder. No it does not provide equal opportunity to every one because equal opportunity does not, and never will, exist.

The rewards of a Capitalist system are not perfect. But redistributing wealth simply because people are not afforded the same opportunities does not maximize freedom either.

Meritocracy is a pipe dream. How does one go about determining a person's value to society? It's entirely subjective and relies upon everyone having equal opportunity which as I stated before, does not exist.

And by the way, if the poor were to rise up overthrow the government/justice system, take up arms, and demand property from those who have it now: A) How would that be a merit-based system? B) At it's very core that would be a form of Capitalism: seizing an opportunity with hard work and innovative thinking.

Interesting business model. Outsource as much of your work as possible but take on more responsibilities in the extra time it frees up. Make yourself look superhuman, get a pay rise/promotion and spend some of that extra income outsourcing even more stuff.

Repeat until the whole house of cards falls down.

Isn't that basically the corporate middle-management playbook? Only replace "outsource" with "delegate to someone lower on the totem pole."

Yep, I basically realised that after making the post. I've certainly worked in places where this wasn't too far from the truth.

Same. I mean, I wrote that line with more than a hint of cynicism, but with an equal dose of earnestness.

At a handful of the larger corporations I've worked for, the folks who got ahead quickest seemed to be the folks who mastered the ancient martial arts of KU/KD (kiss up, kick down) and mass-delegation. (That's not to say that they weren't smart, or good at their jobs. Some of them were; some of them weren't).

In order to be a true master at this , you also need to be able to kick sideways and treat other employees at your level as if they were your reports. You must do this in a way that gives you maximum face-time with senior management and minimum accountability in the work you actually do.

I worked with someone like this in an IT dept years ago. "Hey man, I'm so busy all afternoon! I gotta organise the dept football tournament, then I volunteered to do training as an evangelist for methodology X, oh and then I promised I'd stop by the big bosses office for a chat about our teams performance before I went home! I'm such a hard working guy" ,

"oh , do you mind if I assign some of my tickets into your queue? I know I can trust you to do them quickly because they're going to fail SLA in 2 hours but they shouldn't be too hard for you! I will be putting in a good word for you with the boss after all"


I realized I should leave a certain job right around the time I noticed that my quickest-promoted peers were the ones who handed off close to 100% of their responsibilities and, instead, spent their time organizing office karaoke nights, group lunches, and birthday parties. At one point, my boss (!) even confided in me that she rose very quickly up the ranks not by working hard, but by freeing herself up from her work in order to plan frivolous, but high-visibility office socials. (She sounded genuinely guilt-ridden in saying as much, though I suspect she was pretty good at compartmentalizing that guilt in the long run).

Now, I'm not a naif. I realize that office politics is always going to be a decisive factor in one's career at BigCorp (if not in general). And I'm all for a fun office function. But when politics is the sole criterion for advancement, something's rotten in Denmark.

Incidentally, I've noticed a strong correlation between this type of culture and the poor performance of said company. There's a general feeling, among middle management types, that the company is basically a giant ATM. You clock in, collect a fairly generous paycheck, and spend your time trying to do as little as possible for it.

By contrast, what subsequently attracted me so much to the tech industry was a genuine engagement with one's job. You may not love every day of it, but you feel connected to what you're doing, and you actually want to see the results in the market. Typically there are fewer layers of abstraction between your work and the actual product, and so there's less room to emotionally distance yourself from it and slip into the clock in / clock out mentality.

I didn't envision it working like that. I probably wouldn't keep my personal outsourcing a secret. If my employer was dead set against it, I wouldn't do it.

Since I work for a small company and have a good working relationship with the owner of the company, I will either receive an approval or a refusal, with a good explanation.

The way I see it is that if I can increase my productivity in a big way by doing that, I can't see a problem with it. That's especially since I have the ability/authority to hire a contractor on company funds if I need one.

Some say it's very shady but this could work well if you're completely honest and if you have good delegation skills (after all, anyone can delegate but effective delegation can be much harder to do).

It depends on your employer I guess.

Well, if you are a programmer in a way you could see your entire job as "structuring tasks so that they can be outsourced to a computer".

Ultimately I guess it boils down to what other work there would be for you to do and how your employer would view your suitability for this work. The trick is to not outsource yourself out of a job.

So... basically "start a business"?

You'd outsource your job to someone else in order to work more on the off chance that your employer will pay you more in the future?

Which they probably won't as most jobs are only marginally performance based.

Seems mighty odd to me.

Not on the off-chance, I know for a fact. I have received regular pay rises and bonuses during my time there and I am rewarded fairly in that regard.

That and I recently approached my employer about what it would take to double my salary, which originated from a simple curiosity rather than burning desire. It was a productive conversation and told me that if I continue to improve as I do, I will be rewarded for it.

As I said, it depends on the employer. I have to add that I don't see my employer as just my boss but also a mentor and sometimes even a friend. I trust him and I have very good reason to.

Edit: also, I wouldn't just outsource my job. I would continue to do similar work myself but I could plough through more in the same or less time.

I could certainly think about outsourcing testing, to be more sure about commits without having to do the repetative parts.

That is, if I was earning more than the Chinese programmers :/

He could have used this as an initiative to find ways to send more work to china, and then become a liaison with an offshore team. I've actually been told that if I could figure out a way to bring more offshore people into my line of work, I could double or triple my salary.

>meaning pay rises, bonuses and additional opportunities.

Have you ever actually worked for a big company before? Honest question.

Nope, I never want to.

The Register article said he used his spare time to find other jobs, which he then outsourced, so he was making a good deal of money on the side.

Am I the only person that really doesn't see the problem here?

The problem is, he violated the company's trust by sending sensitive information to unauthorized third parties.

Bingo. He also most likely exposed additional valuable and proprietary IP to a third party that a) has no formal business relationship with the company and b) operates in a country notorious for IP theft.

Firing him is a no-brainer here, if this story is even true.

EDIT: he also opened a large portion of the company's codebase to potential sabotage. If I was in Company X's shoes right now I'd be doing a full audit of everything this joker has touched since he started, in addition to a full internal security audit of everything this mystery third party had access to. This kind of security breach is a Big Deal.

But he would have had those companies sign an NDA (in theory) so they are in effect umbrella'd into his.

If ndas worked that way there'd be no point in ndas.

I also REALLY don't see a problem with this... I would have given him a raise and more work to outsource rather than giving the boot.


Problem: he didn't have a manager title. If he did, he would probably have been promoted.

No one talked about whether he lied about his skills and the quality of work he oversaw.

he is probably over qualified old man

not a lawyer, but you could probably make a case for fraud.

Seriously. Managing Chinese contractors is hard work!

Like reading HN!

> Also, use your freaking time to do something more interesting than surf Reddit and Facebook.

Or, if surfing Reddit and Facebook make you happy, by all means do that.

Yea! For that guy being "Smart", he isn't that smart... lol

Another version of this story got flagged, but some of the comments are interesting (in particular, patio11's): https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5064586

Also, the original Verizon report: http://securityblog.verizonbusiness.com/2013/01/14/case-stud... (seems to be down, cache: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:http://...)

And once again, The Onion was way ahead of this one: http://www.theonion.com/video/more-american-workers-outsourc...

Wow - it even has the guy watching funny animal videos on YouTube.

Good Call! Every time I watch that video I die laughing.

Maybe the guy was inspired by the video?

I was going to post this if no one else did.

More, please!

"Whenever there is a hard job to be done I assign it to a lazy man; he is sure to find an easy way of doing it."

-Attribution unknown because the interwebz say several people said it.

My brother's an officer in the Navy, and just told me about a book he's reading about a German general, I think from WWII. He classified his staff into four categories, and treated them accordingly:

Stupid/Lazy: harmless. Keep around doing whatever you can get them to do.

Stupid/Energetic: fire immediately before they do damage.

Smart/Energetic: useful, give them lots of middle-management work.

Smart/Lazy: put in high-ranking positions, they'll find efficiencies that will trickle down to everyone.

I'll ask him the source and post it later.

General Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord?

“I divide my officers into four classes; the clever, the lazy, the industrious, and the stupid. Each officer possesses at least two of these qualities. Those who are clever and industrious are fitted for the highest staff appointments. Use can be made of those who are stupid and lazy. The man who is clever and lazy however is for the very highest command; he has the temperament and nerves to deal with all situations. But whoever is stupid and industrious is a menace and must be removed immediately!”

I think it might have originally been the Prussian Field Marshall von Moltke:


Just got his response, that's the one.

there's a chinese management saying that a horse type employee is one that has great skill and integrity, this type you ride to the top, he/she will take you to far places, a dog type has integrity, but isnt smart so you keep; a monkey type is smart, but has no integrity, this type of employee you kick around, but use, and a pig type isnt smart and has no integrity, this type you get rid of as soon as possible.

I think this general may be Erwin Rommel, the Desert Fox.

See also, http://www.ribbonfarm.com/2009/10/07/the-gervais-principle-o... - along similar lines, even if it's not a 2x2. It's doubtless been on HN numerous times, but if you haven't read it before then it might, at the very least, pass the time.

(The ribbonfarm guy likes 2x2 diagrams as well: http://www.ribbonfarm.com/2009/04/20/how-to-draw-and-judge-q...)

Making war and making software are very different.

As far as these categories are concerned I think they're exactly the same. Only difference is that in a commercial environment you don't want to waste much money on dumb/lazy people, unless you've got enough menial work that you can't automate.

Some of us are either making software about war or warring about making software. So, it all works out in the end.

Lazy people cut corners, and then lie about cutting corners. After you've spent time and money discovering the missing corner cases, lazy people admit that that they made a mistake, but you're assured that they'll do better next time. Begin paragraph again.

Lazy/honest people. As Larry Wall says, laziness is one of the great virtues of a programmer. "I was so lazy I invented Perl."

His definition:

"The quality that makes you go to great effort to reduce overall energy expenditure. It makes you write labor-saving programs that other people will find useful, and document what you wrote so you don't have to answer so many questions about it." http://threevirtues.com/

One of my professors called this "active lazy."

I'm pretty lazy, but I'm not irresponsible in regards to my obligations to others.

Really, what I'm saying here is that you are just insisting that your definition of lazy is the only correct one.

Laziness in itself is not a virtue.

When programmers say we want 'lazy' people, what we really want are 'efficient' people. People who can get more stuff done with less effort, not people who aren't even willing to put in that effort. Some would argue that lazy people will find ways to do more for less; I would argue that a smart, hardworking person will do the same.

In that sense, lazy people are like what woodchuck64 describes.

You are doing the same thing as woodchuck64.

The meaning in keithwarren's comment is clear enough, right up until the point you over-parse it and quibble over the exact definition of lazy.

“Progress isn't made by early risers. It's made by lazy men trying to find easier ways to do something.” - Robert A. Heinlein

This sounds like Heinlein's "man who was too lazy to fail".

I've always heard that was from Bill Gates.

The guy must be a really talented manager if he really managed to pretend to do the work and yet the work was actually done well enough to look like it was done by the guy in the same room (which is EXTREMELY hard to achieve with remote people). So whatever salary he had, he wasted his time. He must run his own consultancy and make millions. If he discloses his name openly he will become hugely successful.

Certainly. I was thinking two things, this man is having more success than most companies at outsourcing, and this company he was outsourcing to seems really good.

I want to know the name of the company he was using!

Yeah, most developers and most outsourcing companies trying to repeat his trick would be quickly fired even without the VPN fuckup.

The BBC calls him a scammer. I call him an entrepreneur!

Corporate life doesn't agree with this fellow. Assuming he's not facing any lawsuits it sounds like a great time to launch his own software firm (where he outsources the work of course).

Or - he could go into consulting to show companies how to effectively do outsourcing.

The employee spent a nine-to-five workday surfing the internet.


It is. Everyone knows that reddit often doesn't have good stuff until at least 10 or 11.

And it usually runs out sometime around 3

For all the comments disagreeing with calling him a fraud, here's a broad difference.

You guys are clearly impressed by the act. But truthfully, it wasn't smart to send his 2KA to another country, that too China.

He was trusted. That's the keyword here to work remotely. Idea being that telecommuting may leave him with more hours and thereby increase his productivity. What he has done is

1. Taken advantage of the trust

2. Exposed his employer/team/project to security breach

3. Missed the primary part i.e. use the extra time to enhance his skills.

Eight hours Internet browsing? Guy is a scumbag.

I have to agree. If the company had wanted to outsource this job to people in China, it would have done so. Obviously, it felt it had a reason not to, and that reason may have had to do with more than just the quality of the work.

Odd that the article keeps calling it a scam. He was their most productive employee.

He sent his encryption key to china. It's a security nightmare. By the sounds of it may have been a defense contractor.

Had it have been a app developer no doubt he'd have got a promotion

Maybe they let him go and retained the foreign employee. They just... cut out the middleman.

Yes, they seem to express great shock when it's simply just capitalism at work.

I thought it was pretty clear they were upset about the security breach and unauthorized access to the corporation's intellectual property.

The question is, would the Chinese firm have been willing to work so cheaply had he not been funneling them confidential information. There could easily be ulterior motives here, it depends on the company in question.

It was wrong to subvert security protocols, but this employee was genius if he could spend 1/5 of salary to outsource his job with no one noticing any change in the level of the code being delivered.

There are literally hundreds of companies that should hire this individual to manage an entire team of outsourced developers.

I read it differently. I don't see any proof that he has any particular talent for managing entire teams of outsourced developers, but rather that he was being paid 4/5 too much for work easy and unimportant enough that he seemingly never had to communicate about it much with anybody besides his employee.

So managing an outsourced team is worth nothing? The China group probably wasn't working during his 9-to-5.

No... "he" wasn't.

The outsourced company was.

The company would be smart to fire the fraud and hire the outsourced company though since they already have access and knowledge of their systems.

Yeah, but who picked the outsourced company? I wouldn't have fired him, but have him do the outsourcing, and see if he can make it work for the entire department.

Plus, just allowing access to code and having them deliver it isn't the end. You need to be involved in Quality Management (code reviews, testing, etc.) to make sure they are doing a job to your standards (or better!) That stuff takes time and it looks like he was managing it well if he was getting good reviews.

Some people here said US$50000 is very low and therefore the Chinese firm has ulterior motive. I have worked extensively with vendors in China, especially in Shanghai. First of all, Shenyang is a small city compared to Shanghai, with way lower living expenses. Second, this contract comes at RMB311K, which by no means cheap. For bench mark, hiring a decent engineer (I only aware of the iOS and PHP group) in Shanghai with 3 years of experience would be around RMB200K. For Shenyang, I guess RMB150K would be feasible, therefore this amount can cover two full-time engineers for the whole year. On top of that, outsourcing companies will and do interleave projects and will not put senior people in projects for too long, therefore this figure is entirely feasible. Just to conclude, I would think this looks like a regular outsourced project as done by thousands of outsourcing companies in China, Philippines, and India. All those conspiracy theories are a bit too much.

He should have setup a US workstation with a webcamera for the Chinese developer to log into. The webcam could show a live feed for the RSA token. So now he can still use his RSA token, while giving his outsourced worker access to it as well. Not that I would do this....

Yup, especially not on a webcam page easily accessible from your phone so you don't have to carry it around. I sometimes wonder if I advertise this as a service how many people will mail me their tokens.

They do offer smart phone apps that do "soft tokens".

He's being punished because only the corporate executive class has the right to do this.

He gave access to company infrastructure to some anonymous party overseas. That is a major security breach.

I'm so tired of "Security" getting in the way of being able to do your job.

No, he's being punished for lying.

An employee that can't be trusted won't be an employee for very long.

Now that's what I call a straight shooter with upper management potential.

I'd be really interested to find out how prevalent this is. I personally know one person who claims to pay someone in India about 10% of his own salary to do his job for him. Anyone else know someone that does this?

Now this article has been released I see it becoming more prevalent , not less.

It already happens a lot at big companies in a way, though not usually externally. Middle managers pick the parts of their job that they don't want to do and find some reason to get assigned budget to hire an extra person to do them.

Isn't this one of the very things that Tim Feris suggests people do in his Four Hour Workweek?

That was one of the first thoughts I had. This is the example of what that book lays out.

AJ Jacobs did it first in an Esquire article if I'm not mistaken. Tim got the idea from him.

Would a private VPN from China to the original employee's home exchange followed by a hop onto the corporate VPN have prevented detection?

Interesting. I feel like this is the same thing as the guy wrote a script to automate his data entry job:

Reddit: http://www.reddit.com/r/AskReddit/comments/tenoq/ HN Post: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3950595

Interesting how similar I think the situations are - yet the responses seem to be quite different from HN posters.

This happens all the time with devs I hire whether in the US or outsourced (the outsourcers outsource too). We started requiring web cams and IP log ins.

So why didn't he just arranged Remote Desktop access to VM at his house, instead of giving direct access to corp VPN?

This is what he should have done. They wouldn't have had any reason to look into that traffic.

They should promote this guy and have him replicate the process across the entire organization.

Cutting up your job into tasks and instructing others to do it is actually quite difficult. If this guy got away with it for so long, it probably means he is an excellent manager.

It's pretty amazing that he beat his company to the punch and outsourced his own job before their could.

I think this should be something MORE people look into both companies/people as a team of people could do more especially if the job is "not challenging"

Agree! Can't see why only large corporations should benefit from outsourcing.

Instead of firing this gentleman, a smarter company would have put him in charge of finding which other corporate tasks could be effectively outsourced for 20% of their current cost.

Meh, the problem with this is mostly lying to your organisation and giving confidential access to external workers. If that wasn't the case, that would be a whole different story.

This is interesting as a hack, but it puts a really bad light on telecommuters. Because it basically proves two things to your employer:

1) That your job can be done cheaper if outsourced to another country, in this case china, and just as good. (Just in case there was any doubt this was possible, now the doubt it is gone).

2) That you can't trust telecommuting employees.

It is stupid for so many reasons, but as a friend of mine would say: "It is stupid if you get caught."

Actually 1) is wrong. The issue is, in software development how good of code you write usually doesn't matter at all. Just deliver a solution that does what management wants and you win. Unless other people work on the code base, literally no one cares how well it's written. This guy was just doing arbitrage on that.

True. Not everybody cares about the quality of the code. But getting what management wants takes a bit of a quality. If the code doesn't work then you are not really giving what management wants.

Except it is unclear what value-add Bob provided. He may have been pivotal to the Chinese contractors being able to do the work, who knows?

Assuming this is real (which it doesn't appear to be) this man should be promoted and paid double. Somebody that is able to successfully coordinate, manage and off-load work to a Chinese consulting firm is a very very valuable asset especially for firms that are looking for 24/7 development and services but unable to find quality employees in the US who are willing to work graveyard-shift development jobs.

Can anyone verify the story?

Came here to post this. I call bs. It's a "case study" in the way that consultancies make them up out of whole cloth - "We analysed the P&L figures from FooCorp's regional affiliates and succeeded in raising revenues by 300%".

Really astonished that the BBC is posting this without any attempt, it seems, to conduct independent verification.

This guy is an excellent manager who can manage outsource project with success. Too bad they let good talent go.

I hope Verizon promoted this guy to dev lead/manager. He showed that he could get the highest quality (at least by VZ's standards) work done for a fraction of the cost. I'd promote the guy and give him & his team (internal and/or outsourced) more challenging projects to see what they could do.

The upshot of this is that the guy who outsourced his job successfully figured out a way to manage outsourcers well. He deserves to get paid well to do that right?

Maybe he shouldn't have given his 2 factor auth key to the contractor, but still. Well done.

This must be the most effective and efficient example of outsourcing I've ever heard. Normally it costs 60-80% of salary to get an equivalently productive team and you still need to hire a full time PM to manage them.

This smells too good to be true.


As others have pointed out:

He physically FedExed his RSA [security] token to China so that the third-party contractor could log-in under his credentials during the workday.

This is probably the worst security violation a standard employee can commit.

Moral of the story: You aren't getting 10x out of your average joe programmer. Instead of finding a 10xer for an average corporate job find a 1xer in China that will work for 1/5th the pay

All this because he didn't knew better to route vpn through local box... ccc.... I am sorry for the guy, but the way some corporations were, I thought I could easily get away with same.

Haha..funny yet true..well all the guy needed was his manager's permission..without official approval..this was a security breach!

The employee, an "inoffensive and quiet" but talented man versed in several programming languages ... six-figure salary ...

Hey that's me in a nutshell. Why don't I earn a six-figure salary?

Have you applied for openings which offer six figures?

I think that's the problem.

It's a sign of good times that the community here is largely supportive of what this gentleman did. I certainly hope the economic situation will not change any time soon.

He allowed an unauthorized company from another country full access with his credentials to the company code base. It is a massive security breach.

He deserved to go.

If he had done this above board, he would have a very profitable consulting firm. It's the subterfuge that got him.

i couldnt imagine this being true. Any developer will have to answer questions about specific items he was working on and integrate it with other teams. As soon as they asked him any questions i'm sure he would have been completely stumped and everyone would have known immediately he wasnt doing the work

If the story is true, this guy ought to be promoted their chief outsourcing officer right now.

>He physically FedExed his RSA [security] token to China

Haha. This guy is my hero.

I wonder how much it would cost to have them finish my thesis for me?

How is this a scam? The work was getting done... no harm done IMO.

This hoax originated on The Onion. It's now on BBC. Wow.

I'd get so bored just watching Youtube etc all day!

This seems to be a win-win-win strategy :-)

They fired him and hired him as the CEO.

And Americans say, they are unemployed.

My God, the Chinese people will take away our jobs!

I thought about doing this. The problem would be finding someone that is not only good enough, but can get things in a timely fashion.

On a contract in 2011 while expressing frustration at a p.o.s. assignment I told the requesting manager "this stuff is such bullshit I've even considered outsourcing it". His response was one of praise, and suggesting that if I'd done so he'd consider hiring me in future.

The problem with doing this are of course the risks you mention, in addition to one more: so you've found some cheap-assed Asian contractor to do the work for you, only they decide to stop committing for 3 weeks, and then on the Monday of week 4 you arrive to an e-mail announcing they couldn't give a shit any more, committed the past 20 man-days of unreviewed mess and have disappeared for good.

And here is where you got what you paid for: the original work, in addition to a big chunk of crap you have to read and understand since you can't throw it away because it partially/completely implements some features your customer has already signed off.

To avoid that problem you could always hire a second contractor to supervise the first contractor.

A redundant array of inexpensive contractors. At 1/5 takehome pay for each you could at least afford RAID, err, RAIC-1 mirroring.

RAIC-5 contractor array is the traditional "I'd like nine women to successfully cooperate to produce a fullgrown baby in one money"

You'd probably want to go for a RAIC 1 setup, with a decent RAIC controller to oversee everything.

If only he used full disk encryption...

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