Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Forgotten Employee (2002) (sites.google.com)
747 points by bgar on July 23, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 291 comments

And this is why you do "ghost employee" audits. In a past career I used to work in the Controller's office for one of the Big 3 auto companies. One day, I was sent some bullshit email that I needed to do about 100 audits including "ghost employee audit" and check a box on a web form that all were complete. For shits and giggles, I decided to take it seriously. I altavista'd "ghost employee audit" and learned it is a reverse recon of the payroll system.

I did the audit by making every manager certify a list of employees. I found two employees that none claimed. One dude was well known within the plant and fixed any broken motors. No one had heard of the other guy. I convinced the payroll clerk to just stop paying the other person. He got pissed, and eventually tried to get a union rep, but the union decided not to rep him.

It turns out this "ghost employee" had collected over a million dollars in salary and OT, yet not worked in about a decade.

I asked about an award for the savings, but I was shot down because the union didn't want to let it out that they didn't rep a guy, and the company didn't want it known the ghost employee audits weren't actually being done.

In the end, I realized I was rearranging the deck chairs on the titanic, and switched careers by becoming a programmer. Haven't looked back since.

I worked in a government setting where there was an entire unit of about 12 people called "the island of misfit toys".

They basically took inept employees that were too dumb to give real work to do (but not dumb enough to successfully terminate) and put them into a "Security" unit that allowed salaries to funded by some special source. As far as I could tell, their job was to assign password-reset permissions to "key users" in the field and do some sort of audit function. One of my interns automated their jobs in about 2 weeks when they all retired. They spent most of their time filing discrimination complaints about each other.

The Director was brilliant about it, he'd nominate them for awards for exceeding their KPIs or meeting project milestones, or some other nonsense, which allowed him to expand the group and put them in a separate room.

In the Fortune 500 space, I saw a similar behavior, but for a different purpose... the company did stack-ranking with 5-10% annual layoffs, and the Director-level people would scheme and fight to collect the most inept people possible. When it came time for their unit to be culled, these people would basically serve as fodder for the layoff. It was bizarre to watch.

Wow, management actively trying to recruit a few incompetent employees to their teams, in order to not have to lay off any of their good employees at stack-rank time! Now that is a pathological system.

Isn't it noble in a bizarre sort of way? It sounds like the manager is really looking out for his team. Or maybe he used to refuse to "play the game" until he had to fire a good employee.

Ya, I think that's actually the mark of a great manager... making sure he's got fodder for the inevitable wood chipper so to speak.

Pump 6 (in Pump 6 and Other Stories) seems to be a fictional extension of this. Good set of stories as well.


If anyone thinks that this sounds farfetched, it really just scratches the surface of the waste and corruption in Detroit. When I was working for a contractor installing and fixing servers at various plants and facilities, the only union workers who actively appeared to be doing their jobs were the union work rules compliance guys, who hovered over us to see if there was any possible way to file a grievance over violations of the "work rules". We were not allowed to "move" a system on our own - even just an inch in order to move a cable. Plugging in ethernet cables was okay, but if we dared to plug in a power cord on our own we were fucked. If we needed a system moved a couple of feet, or plugged in, we were lucky if it took less than a week for a worker to get around to it.

Just about everyone else seemed like they were on a picnic.

I can't speak to anecdotes about Detroit unions, but by no means is this normal behavior in every industry union.

I worked in a UFCW union retail shop for two years' time during high school and saw nothing of the sort. To the contrary, everyone worked their arses off and earned minimum wage while performing every single job role in the facility except management and bookkeeping. If no customers were nearby, you were expected to clean, straighten, and develop photos. If business was especially good, you had no time to straighten shelves and got dinged for the store's good fortune by management. Turnover was rampant. You had to pay dues and yet got next to nothing for them.

Like all things, your mileage may vary.

That sounds like every retail job I've had although none were union.

Sounds a lot like the unions in Philly. In our experience, you either have a work rules guy shadowing you all day itching to fine you should you decide to plug anything into an electric socket, or you simply "pay them off" by hiring their shitty people at $40 and hour to sit and do nothing all day.

The last one we were forced to hire literally showed up with a laptop, said hello, and then sat down next to an electric outlet (which he didn't get union help to plug into!) and played video games all day. We ended up asking him to do exactly one thing on the final day of the show, and that was to carry a portable recorder over to where we were packing up all our gear. His response was an "Ehhh, yeah.. I don't think that's such a good idea." which prompted me to shout into the phone like a crazy person and go pick up the recorder myself.

It just blows my mind that some Unions have gotten to the point where, with no exaggeration, you will be fined if you plug something into an electric socket.

I had a similar experience. When I was reassigned to a new team in a building a few miles down the road, my computer was supposed to move with me for some reason. It took about a month and a half for that to actually happen.

I also recall some union workers trying to move a full rack of equipment. This was a full height rack with some DEC Alphaservers and storage arrays. Rather than pull the systems, they tried to move the rack as a whole. The whole kit and kaboodle came crashing down.

I worked at a unionized company once. Yes, we were told never to move a system or install a cable in our computer lab because the right union worker has to be involved in that. More specifically, I was told by my boss to never let anyone see us doing that. We just shut the door. Never really had a problem with it.

i worked for a company that wanted a new office in Chicago and it fell on me to handle the internet installation. You'd think it would be as easy as, run cable to office and be done. Nope. we had to get att to run it to the d-mark then had a union company run it from the d-mark to the office, but they wouldn't touch the office. i had to get another contractor to come up and finish the wiring of the office itself. that didn't include the actually company i used for internet, that had to have their own tech come in and "install" the box (this consisted of plugging it in and watching the green lights light up). What a mess.

Huh. First time I've seen it called a d-mark, usually a demarc

sorry. my slang trickled over into the internet. I learned what a demarcation point was after I had heard the word, so i always called it in my head, a d-mark. i know what it is now, but the term is stuck in my head. I'm sure I'm not the only one that's done that. I remember thinking euthanasia was about children living in Asia...

It's funny that I often have the exact opposite problem: I'll know a word because I've seen it used in print many times, but I'll have no idea of how to pronounce it.

The first time I tried to pronounce 'subpoena' while leafing through a series of Nixon-era political cartoons made my mom howl with laughter. Thanks, mom.

I remember reading Rendezvous with Rama when I was a kid, and the whole time in my head I was pronouncing rendezvous in completely phonetic English, which also happened to make my mom laugh hysterically when I first said it out loud.

So large companies should occasionally do a mark and sweep collection to account for bugs in the standard reference counting implementation. Particularly useful if the org chart allows cycles.

You know, GC isn't a bad metaphor for it. I imagine stack ranking might actually work if you approached it as a generational mark-sweep. Once a quarter, fire your bottom 10% of new employees. If an employee survives that, they move onto the next generation and skip a mark phase or three . The next time they get GC'd, they move onto the next generation and now only get it once every two or four years, etc. It would reduce overhead and false positives, and hopefully fix some of the bullshit political machinations that occur.

Have you heard of the term "Up or Out"?

Circa 2008, an employee in a 10K+ people outsourcing company, was on bench ("not assigned to any projects") for two years.

He leveraged that time for studies and subsequently got admission to a very prestigious B-School.

I know tens(and if one could immediately talk to their friends and figure) their could easily be hundreds or even thousands of such people in Indian IT companies.

I say they are perfectly fit for a B-School, they know how to make more out of doing nothing than the guy who actually works.

On a side note, I worked at a major 1,50,000+ IT firm in Bangalore, India. While on bench I practically worked 18+ hrs/day while the project manager sitting next to me couldn't get work done with his employees who were billed. Mangers did this all the time, to be known as people who got more work done by lesser number of billed people.

Back in those days, it was common for some one to be officially on bench but yet would have to work for a project.

There were rumors at a large consumer products company that I used to work at of a salesman who went to law school full time during 3 years there. He was selling products that didn't really require selling.

I heard of an example where an employee was paid for 6+ years without them showing up. The employee was forgotten or something during some restructuring. The only reason this was discovered is because the employee complained towards HR about not receiving a salary increase. HR then tried to contact the manager, couldn't find one, etc.

I've heard of several scenarios where some senior employees had screwed something up but (presumably) had too much dirt on other senior employees, that they just sent them home permanently. No job duties, still receive a paycheque, just don't come into the office please.

That might've been 'gardening leave'. When a senior employee with knowledge of company secrets leaves they're often saddled with a restraint of trade agreement that lasts at least a year and sometimes more. Because it would be illegal to prevent a person from working in their field of expertise, the company bars them from their offices but keeps paying them their regular salary until the restraint of trade period is up.

like in the Fight Club movie? :)

I don't think we're supposed to talk about that.

I find it difficult to believe that someone is that stupid.

Then you need to get out more. Stupid knows no limits.

So, you fixed the glitch?

took his stapler too.

I recently found out that Swingline never originally made a red stapler, but started making them in 2002 (3 years after Office Space was released) because they got so many requests for it after the movie was released.

Story linked here: http://www.techcomedy.com/www.redswinglinestapler.com/histor...

He isn't a bit pyro is he?

Do you mean klepto? He didn't burn the stapler...

You just outed yourself as somebody who did not watch 'Office Space'; We very much recommend it. ;)

+1 for Office Space. Or Dilbert, for that matter. I always thought they took a situation and exaggerate it to the absurd. Now I know that they were actually being conservative. Truth really is stranger than fiction...

I always thought they took a situation and exaggerate it to the absurd. Now I know that they were actually being conservative.

AFAIR, Dilbert creator Scot Adams always made sure to keep Dilbert vague and a bit extreme. But people would write into him recognising some absurd part of a current strip and ask if he was really writing about Company X?

My favorite from Scott Adams was Mission Impertinent: When he teamed up with Logitech co-founder Zappacosta to prank Logitech staff:


(To Mercy News eternal shame they seem to have taken these pages down during some redesign or rebranding or whatever...)

My vicarious televisual office stapler antics have so far extended only to hiding them in jelly and throwing them out of windows.

Brazil, Office Space, Dilbert, and The Office are all in my pantheon of corporate/cubicle/office comedy. I wrote a little homage in a recent sci-fi comedy novel of mine, just because. A homage to Dwight in particular.

Oh yeah, Brazil was kind of confusing. I think I'll have to watch it again. :)

Didn't you get the memo?

You are right, the stapler survived.

Is it common to ask for an award for doing your job? Is it like getting a tip?

> Is it common to ask for an award for doing your job?

Sure it is, most people expect to be awarded a paycheck in return for doing their job.

But as to whether it is common to ask for an award over your paycheck, I think it is probably less common than it should be. IMO, it is perfectly reasonable to ask for a bonus if your actions result in a very direct, sizable and quantifiable gain or savings for the company above and beyond your normal value as an employee.

Executives at these larger companies (you generally have to be pretty large to have a 'ghost employee' problem) are constantly giving themselves raises or bonuses based on such events, so why (other than the shut-up-and-do-your-job-serf mentality too often enforced by the serfs themselves) should the non-exec be guilted into not asking for them?

I worked as a business development guy on a major contracts team. So my usual role was finding £100k+ contracts and negotiating the tender process.

I'd regularly get bonuses when the deal was closed.

However I really was a coder. I proposed a CD that we'd send to architects to showcase our work. It was a simple HTML interface that would pop up when they put the disc in. I did all of the coding, graphic design and packaging. Then mailed it to prospects and made it available to my team.

I did this without pre-negotiating any kind of extra payment even though it 'wasn't my job'. I just knew it would be incredibly useful to have a high-res portfolio.

I was very pleased when a Director gave me a £4.5k bonus for the work. Note that I completed all of the work on my salaried time.

Too many people box themselves into a 'not my job' mentality. I don't think a bonus should be expected by the OP as it was just doing his job. No harm in asking though!

I don't know. I was always turned down. I think the managers didn't actually have power to give one. I now work at a bootstrapped company where I get all of the (a/re)wards.

I will point out that one of my co-workers was given an award for "safety" because he suggested windows be installed on every door so you can see if someone is coming... talk about rearranging deck chairs.

About out safety. My workplace recently opened a new branch. Since it opened a year ago we have all been commenting about how we bang into each other or nearly do, surprisingly often. And just recently we have had 2x staff off with concussions after banging into each other. One of them periodically collapsed for a week or 2 after - I'm talking complete KO. Yes, they got and are getting medical care. If this suggestion was warranted, I not think its silly at all.

It is trivial to install a piece of tempered glass into a door.

Don't tell your boss to solve your own problem. Solve it yourself. Get quotes, ask for the company amex, and fix the problem. Don't be the guy that discovers problems, be the guy that solves problems.

This is an excellent way to get fired in many medium-to-large corporations.

That's what I thought, too, You can't just pass both Facility Management AND Procurement. Don't you know we have contracts with preferred suppliers? Besides, why are you spending time on something that's clearly not your job? Does that mean you're having unaccounted time? Let's reflect on that in the next 360-degree feedback...

EDIT Maybe I'm a bit sarcastic, but I've seen this happen. I actually had to write down everything I did in blocks of 15 minutes. I even had a 15-minute block for writing down what I did. Which is very depressing in a meta kind of way...

I don't think it's unreasonable to expect that kind of coordination from employees in a large firm. Joke as we may about how big firms are inefficient how else are you going to get health, safety and legal compliance coordinated for hundreds of people. For procurement, you might see 2x the price on custom install on the glass door, but big picture the company may get special discounts, loose return rules and save a bundle across the board. As for 360 degree feedback- the last time I checked it was counted among the best methodologies for giving real employee feedback. Maybe your boss only sees your low productivity but your peers see that you spend 7 hours a day helping everyone else succeed.

Been there. I think it's a pretty good indicator that it's time to leave...

Absolutely. Bad thing is, you can't be sure to find green pastures eslsewhere.

I've done that, including marking down toilet and drink breaks. I quit six weeks after starting.

My wife is currently being asked to do the same thing at one of the largest FInancial SERVices company in the US. I was surprised by this kind of bureaucracy but it's falling into perspective now.

Offtopic, but are you the actual Rational Male, or just using the same screen name?

I have no idea who you're talking about. I took the handle from the film L.A. Confidential.

No problem :)

It's a massive waste of resources to have an engineer that costs the company hundreds of dollars an hour putting windows in doors. That's absolutely insane. Tell your boss, let the perfectly competent facilities people who are paid to take care of it take care of it.

Sorry, I get it. I thought you were saying the solution and problem were silly. You weren't - it's the approach to solving the problem. Be the guy that solves problems. This so very much.

I don't know where you are but check your building codes. Vision panels in doors are a requirement in my jurisdiction. If they are required where you are and the building is still in defects liability you may be able to get the contractor to replace them with the correct doors for free or at least put you on to the person who specified them so you can chase this up.

It not doors - its lots of corridors and corners that everyone somehow takes the same track on somehow. When you look around it there is nothing strange seeming. When you work there its a series of near misses, which is funny until there are 2 knocked out colleagues on the floor and blood all over the place. One became quite combative as well.

I worked in a place with tight corridors. They had mirrors installed so you could see if someone was coming.

Ask every sales person ever.

It's not totally surprising when you can quantify how much money you just saved/made the company.

There are better ways to handle such things though.

> There are better ways to handle such things though.

Like what?

Asking for a raise or promotion?

Raise or promotion implies you do it on a regular basis, and once you get that raise or promotion you're expected to do this level of work all the time.

Sounds like a "Better off Ted" episode. Amazing. I can't believe anyone who hadn't actually been working has the gall to complain when they get kicked out.

This is a slightly different take on this 'forgotten employee' story.

I was made redundant by a large, rather famous web-giant once, only they managed to screw it up (forgetting that firing employees in Europe, especially in a large group, is apparently somewhat harder than firing employees in the US). As a result, their intention of firing 120+ techies in our office in one day turned into a 4 month long arbitration period (exacerbated by the fact that we only found out we were all fired via a company-wide webcast, intended to only be broadcast to the surviving employees. They had actually forgotten to come tell us we were fired.)

Since we were all still technically employed during this arbitration period, we were vaguely expected to come to work. Since our managers were all fired as well, though, no one really bothered checking. Since they'd fired an entire department - an entire floor of one in a large, beautiful building - the floor was filled with 100+ geeks, all on a paycheck but with no expected output. Some simply didn't bother coming in, deciding instead 'to work from home.' Most, however, did come in - to play the Wii & foosball, work on their own projects, and idly look for new jobs. A few small startups came out of it. A few fun open-source projects.

My favourite aspect of it, though, was that my old manager made it his personal job in the remaining time to ensure that each and every one of the people he was responsible for had a new job waiting at the end of the 4 month period. He organised recruiting drives with local startups, got everyone's CVs, even rented a pub one evening so we could all catch up with a few local startups.

That large web-giant is hiring again apparently. Not many of my old colleagues are interested, it seems.

That is both depressingly Kafkaesque and heartwarming at the same time. I could see a lot of cool projects coming out of six period like that. It's almost a small scale negative income tax experiment :P

For internet historians:

This was originally posted on the Something Awful forums in 2002 by user Moonshine. Here are links to the original threads.

Part 5: http://forums.somethingawful.com/showthread.php?threadid=332... Part 4: http://forums.somethingawful.com/showthread.php?threadid=306... Part 3: http://forums.somethingawful.com/showthread.php?threadid=260... Parts 2 and 1 are gone.

A college friend of mine (with CS degree) was hired as an automated tester about 6 months ago. The project he was hired for and assigned to was put on indefinite hold right after he was hired. He's an "asset" on that project, all of which are frozen. But because he's a new employee, he can only be on one project at a time, so he has no responsibilities. He has a weekly meeting with his manager, where he informs her that he's still doing nothing and he'd be happy to do anything, while she replies that he has nothing to do. Also he is not allowed to use the internet for non-work-related tasks.

Recently the CTO has begun roaming the halls in his department. The CTO gets upset upon seeing my friend doing nothing. So he has to look busy all the time. He spends hours of his day typing nonsense into Word.

I told him he could be doing any number of things to improve his skills (which are lacking already). He is disillusioned with the corporate world at this point, his previous two jobs not being much better. Instead he applied and was accepted to the master's program this fall. My hopes for him are not high, but I don't know how to encourage him.

My first "real" job was on a government software project, where I guess I was deemed too junior to actually do anything important. I spent time reading, exploring the computers, sending email, etc. But we had to precisely record how our time was spent so it could be billed back to the government correctly, and they were extremely serious about utmost honesty in recording time. Nothing I did pertained to any particular project, so I used the "general" time charging code.

Management repeatedly got upset at me for billing so much to the general time code. I kept asking for work to do. Nobody gave me any work to do. So I kept billing my time to the general time code. And they kept getting upset at me for billing my time to the general time code.

Reminds me of something similar I witnessed while working in one of the big international corporations. A new guy joined our team and was waiting for a whole week to get a laptop to work with (and there wasn't really anything in the job description that could be done without a computer). A laptop was ready in the IT department, but they didn't give it to him as corporate accounts were not prepared yet. The guy was sitting at an empty desk all day long and reading newspapers, right in front of the manager desk. The manager, when asked, did not allow him to leave the workplace any time earlier, in spite of him doing distinctly nothing. Yeah, in the end who cares if some corporate money or employee's time get wasted. So the message from the company to the employees is clear - no matter what you do, as long as you comply with our policies (reagrdless of their rationality), you are paid, which means not rewarded, but recognized as "us". Other employees who generate more profit to the company will compensate for your doing nothing, because you are a member of our big family now, and our strength is in quantity, not quality..

Oh, I could tell you stories... We once had an entire PALLET full of brand-new iPads delivered to our department. Only we never ordered them, they were meant for a different department. Only the other department never claimed them, and procurement never picked them up. Not even after numerous phone calls. If it weren't for a coworker who hand-delivered them to the other deparment (they were kind of sitting in the way), they'd probably still sitting there...

What bothers me is that this was a large hospital. The amount of moneywasting I've seen is mindboggling. Nurses get laid off due to budget cuts, the quality of health care declines, but you still see this kind of shit happening.

And being nominally a guy who is supposed to get rid of these inefficiencies it just drives me crazy and really ps off that each time you finally got rid of one, it's only another excusse to get down on people. You know, we are even more effecient now, so better get up to speed.

Ahh, and I never wanted to become a cynic...

Think of the price of medical equipment, salaries, insurance, and drugs.

That pallet of iPads might as well be a pallet of stationary supplies.

Eek. That sounds like something straight out of Kafka's The Castle.

I feel for him. Likely, he should try to escalate it higher up so that he gets moved to another project. But I understand his reluctance too, as they could decide he should not be working at the company at all.

And what bugs me as strange is that the CTO knows that he's doing nothing and still not doing anything about it.

coincidentally i had almost the same situation happen to me (hired as a dev, project kept getting pushed back and back, had no work to do for 4 months). i spent my time reading books from project gutenberg, one ofthem being The Trial

He could have put his skills to work on an open source project as opposed to just mindlessly typing.

EDIT: Alternatively he could have even created his own internal company project for work. Whether or not they liked enough to keep is another story but at the very least it shows he has initiative, creativity, and he can learn something from his work.

Unless your job has a lot of manual, physical labor; I really find it hard to see how anyone can get bored and do nothing at work especially if you can program.

It is dangerous to write code and try to copyright it yourself while you are on the job. It puts the FOSS project at risk for all his code contributions possibly being under copyright of the company and if they found out they would probably pull all his commits.

I feel if the point is

1) to avoid boredom

2) to do something constructive

3) to learn

4) to show your value to the company

That will be a minor problem, especially if someone like that just decided to do a project from scratch.

If it is their time and their equipment, then it's their IP. Even if they didn't know about it. In that situation, the last thing you need is the legal department on your case.

Plus, what if the project got bug? How can you base something on shaky legal grounds?

Who cares? Just re-time commits after work hours and lie. It's better than doing nothing. Just make sure your machine is not bugged.

As I've already posted above, who cares if your main goals are to not be bored and to do something constructive at the same time.

I guess it depends on how badly they enforce the ban on "internet for non-work-related" browsing. Could make it difficult, although it sounds like he is a programmer at a tech-ish company, so he should probably have access to most tech/programming oriented sites. Worst case, he could get a wifi hotspot and go to town.

At my last job, I kept a few programming books at my desk, and during slow periods would crack those open and do some self-learning. It was a consulting job though, so those moments were few and far between (as much as I hated having to fill out timecards, billable rates were a good approximation of employee productivity, if you weren't billable, you needed a really good excuse).

It seems that much of what's going on in that department is CYA activity, but it seems to me that an internal project or open source project are the most defensible uses of the time.

Instead of sitting there doing nothing, he applied and sharpened his skills in a way that was productive for someone. His first response should be, "Can the company take credit for my time on this open-source project?" and "If this internal project is useful, can I use these skills to make anything else easier in our department?"

The risk is that he'll violate the "don't rock the boat" principle that is the bedrock of CYA. The possible benefit is that if you have two employees, and one is creatively loafing while the other is creatively applying himself or herself, you know which one will offer long-term value (and be easier on a manager, who won't have to constantly nag the person to keep them from screwing off for 40 hours a week).

An internal project is definitely a good idea -- it can get you noticed in all the right ways. At the same time, it can draw attention to you -- "how do you have time to be messing with this project? Don't you have tasks you should be doing?"

That'd be arguably difficult with the "no internet use for non-work tasks" restriction. I'd suggest creative writing.

Learning new technology and new programming skills is not "internet use for non-work tasks". It's an expected, constant, never ending part of the job for almost anyone technical; unless they want to have stale skills in 1-2 years.

I would agree with that iff the learning that you were doing was closely related to the skill-set that your company hired you for and/or one they could utilize. See my related comment: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6089570

I strongly disagree. Learning a functional language that is very different from your language at work still has a lot of value. It can help you with patterns and even when your own language evolves. For example, Java 8 will have lambdas. If you're already familiar with it from other "esoteric" languages, it'll be very easy to take advantage of it.

I'm sure others can provide better examples than I can.

If self-improvement is not a "work-task", that is not a company worth working at.

The problem with working at a company like that is that by the time you realize you are stuck, you have no relevant practical experience anymore and it can be rather difficult to get hired at places that are worth working at.

This is why github exists. IANAL but I'm guessing when you don't use company resources, do it during off hours, and the open source work you do has no relevance to your company's industry; publishing that work to github should be fine.

For most sane people this is the case. But many companies' boilerplate IP clauses claim ALL of the IP generated while working at the company. The vast majority of them won't give a damn but it still exposes you legally if you are under such a clause and have a side project/contribute to opensource.

There is an elegant way to get out of that. Approach your management (usually requires director-level approval), and say that you are doing some volunteer web site work for [insert charity] on the weekends, and they require a signed release that your employer OK's it. This can also fall under the "requires approval for moonlighting" clause in many employee handbooks.

Then, assign all copyright to your opensource work to the FSF, which is a 501c organization.

Well there's self improvement -- say, learning the ins and outs of internal company software; and then there is "self improvement" -- mucking about with a pet project in an esoteric language that has no bearing whatsoever on the company's bottom line and arguably does not sharpen the skill-set that they are paying you for.

Not every company can afford to let employees "self-improve" on the latter level.

Instead of typing nonsense, he could type blog articles into Word and schedule them to be published throughout the week on his weekends. BAM. Traffic, revenue.

I would recommend that your friend:

* make a list of technologies/skills that he would like to learn;

* make a list of technologies/skills needed in his job, and in his upcoming project;

* look for any conceivable overlap in those two lists, and spend his time doing that - justify it as "prepping for the project".

I had a similar situation. I used the time to teach myself some new programming languages and really studied a lot of business management processes and techniques that were somewhat related to my job. That was how I got around the Internet usage policy. That and using a text only browser.

I actually learned a tremendous amount and was very thankful for the opportunity.

Tell your friend to figure out how to bring his own internet into work. Turn his phone into a usb-hotspot and plug it into his work computer or bring in his own laptop / mini-pc (size of a raspberry pi, there are plenty of options) and plug it into the monitor and keyboard of his work computer.

One way or another, get access to the net and if he doesn't want to do something productive at least he can read Hacker News all day long. Just stay off facebook in case that CTO looks over his shoulder. That would be too easily recognized.

Is he interested in creative writing at all? Sounds like a perfect environment for that. You'd look very busy, for sure.

This is where you start working on Your Novel.

Idea to play with,

Hire random candidates, they may or may not have potential as the interview/hiring process is broken/exploited anyway, then do this to them, break their spirits, make them believe corporate world is like this, they are serfs at the mercy of their company, stiffle their learning and desire to improve by not letting them to anything, not even browse randomly, give them donkey work to do.

Result is that potential competitors are denied a great candidate, they too get broken spirits and a weak workforce. But then, you take new hires and treat them good.

Evil but could work on local markets.

It made me sad reading it. I've met folks like the character portrayed, idling along because they can, never improving anything. Eventually they will get dismissed, and after being so may find that they are completely dysfunctional having forgotten the habits needed to get things done, and perhaps developed habits that work against them. Unemployed, hungry, and often homeless they turn to drugs or alcohol and slowly circle the drain. There was an interview with somebody who could have been this character on the CBS evening news when they were doing a story about the long term unemployed. He hadn't been employed in over 3 years and had no transferable skills from his old job and in the past three years had not developed any new skills. So very very sad.

It is one thing to build up enough savings such that you can live off the 4% annual draw down stipend like MMM advocates, and then wasting your time. It is something else completely to be depending on someone else to pay you a salary.

It seems to be an embellishment for the sake of the story. He mentions in the original thread that he's pursuing a 3rd degree, has spent time writing short stories and is in the middle of a novel, and spends time in the lower rungs of professional racing and writing a biography about that.

He also reportedly claims to have made it all up but I couldn't find the source.

Yes. I remember the original author admitting that this was really just a short story for practice.

Stop. I want to believe this is real.

edit: Actually working in corporate America I can believe this is real aside from the nobody knowing you. You can have a manager and they can know you do nothing but they can't get rid of you.

I'm sure it's happened in real life before, but I strongly feel that this particular story was just an exercise in creative writing. Just pay closer attention to the writing style vs other personal accounts.

Oh I know. This story had me hooked. I couldn't stop reading it.

I was buying it until the part about him catching a VP in the act.

Yeah, even though I also can't remember/find the source, I remember reading ages ago that he admitted it as just a practice short story.

If memory serves (i read the original plus a mirror on github), this originated from the somethingawful forums.

I'll see if I still have those bookmarks at home and throw them in a website archivist.

He was definitely good at corporate politics. A great skill to have, since it makes him employable and buys him time in whatever company he'd work to learn the stuff he'd eventually need to do

Agreed but he's using his free time to play Snake? Its one thing when people use this sort of position to build a new business or develop new skills, its sad when they let that time go to waste. As you get older you realize you're never getting that time back, ever. And even though you feel the same way you did when you were 20 you can't reset the clock.

The traditional use of that free time, of course, is to post on the internet (Usenet, Slashdot, HN, depending on your era).

Which keeps you up to date on important events and helps network with others in the industry. Not the most productive use of time, but better than playing snake.

As a top-50 HN poster, this is what I like to keep telling myself. ;)

I didn't know we were being ranked.

OTOH, I've worked with people who I wished were as productive as this guy. At least he didn't go around actively screwing things up.

Yep, I think a lot of us have probably worked with a few NNPPs[1].

[1] - http://www.pyxisinc.com/NNPP_Article.pdf

That is a fair point, I've known people who didn't really have any job responsibilities and yet insisted on 'helping.' Which resulted in lower productivity for everyone around them. One of the reasons Office Space was funny was that the stereotypes exist because these sort of people exist in real life.

This reminds me of my two years working for the U.S. Defense Department as a contractor. For a few months I worked with one of the highest ranking individuals in the building, I did a great job and finished much faster than they expected... and then after that there was no work to do, no matter who I asked, and all I could do was come in late, leave early, lift weights in the building gym, and pretend to work. No one really knew what I did.

The only thing that doomed me was when I eventually found myself unable to keep from falling asleep and snoring in meetings. Tried everything I could think of... chewing gum, drinking water, screaming inside my head. No use; the dozing and snoring in plain view of everyone else continued. I think that clued them off that something was amiss, and I started being told I didn't need to come to meetings anymore... and was gone a few months after that.

You gave up at that point, or they let you go?

They very nicely informed our team that they just didn't seem to have enough work for all the contractors, and I was one of the contractors they just didn't seem to have enough work for, so I was off the project, one year + 7 or 8 months after I'd stopped doing any real work.

Lucky thing, too... my teammate on our initial assignment there is still on that same contract, 6 years later... getting annual raises and the odd promotion here and there.. still doing nothing. He still gets that panicky look in his eyes and starts rambling on nonsensically when you ask him what exactly he does there. He was a lot better at pretending to be busy than I was, and wasn't as gung-ho about wanting to be let go if they couldn't find anything useful or challenging for him to do than I was.

Took a year for my productivity levels to bounce back after leaving that project. Was just really hard to do any work for a while... 2 years of nothing makes you quite lethargic being used to napping and web-surfing all day. Took me all day to answer the 1 email or so I'd get in the morning. Most productive things I did then were read classic literature and hone my chess skills against the computer. I play a mean game of chess vs. computer these days because of my time with the DoD.

That really is the problem with that kind of situation - I've been there, though not to that extreme. I'd work maybe an hour or two a day, and folks thought I was doing great. When something was really broken they'd call me in and I'd fix it.

The down side is that it really damaged my ability to work productively when I finally left there. I had to re-learn how to actually work (as opposed to 6 hours of surfing and noodling about).

I got it back, but not before I almost came into trouble at my next job. It did indeed take close to a year to recover.

> I play a mean game of chess vs. computer these days because of my time with the DoD.

That goes on the CV as "researched military strategy at the DoD".

I was in a similar situation once. I was outsourced to another company to do a rather specific sysadmin job. After a couple of months they switched systems, making my job obsolete. For some reason however, I never actually met the IT-manager. We nodded at each other in the hallway, sure, and he new I was the outsourced guy, but I’m sure he never knew what I really did. In fact, nobody knew what I did exactly. Even before the system swap, since it was a very specific task. Apparently he wasn’t aware that I was hired as a sysadmin for the previous system only, or maybe they replaced some paperwork, I don’t know. Fact is that for some reason my contract wasn’t terminated.

After a while, I began coding my own projects. Which was a bit of a challenge, since IT wouldn’t let me install software. I did have Notepad, and a WAMP-server on my USB thumb drive. Mind you, I did not have an office of my own, it was basically an office garden. Co-workers (testing, helpdesk, project management, not too technical stuff) could watch my screen directly. So I had to disguise my project websites as a corporate intranet page. Every once in a while someone would say ‘wow, that looks difficult’ and I would say ‘well, you know’. Mind you this was just basic HTML and PHP stuff.

The next problem was internet access. They did have internet there, but most websites were blocked by IT, and they were monitoring internet traffic, too. So I learned how to set up a proxy server, and figured that if I kept the amount of traffic down I’d be allright. Besides, I couldn’t have my coworkers seeing me browse SO all day, right? It’s amazing how resourceful you get when your resources are limited!

The funny thing is that when you look busy yet can still ‘find the time’ to help others, people hold you in high regard. They even sent praise about me to the IT manager, who came down to me once and told me he heard great things about me, and he passed the praise on to my outsourcing company. After a year or so I learned a great deal about web development, and finished a couple of side projects. I started to get some remorse. As funny and unique as the situation was, it didn’t feel right at all. Eventually I quit (to everyone’s surprise, because I was doing such a great job!), moving on to more challenging work, and above all a more ‘fair’ way to make money.

What struck me from those days is that nobody in my department actually knew what the others were doing. For all I know everybody was coding up their side projects in the boss’ time. And that was just my department, let alone the whole company. Large corporations (I’ve worked for several) are just so inefficient, I think that at least 50% of all employee hours is wasted on politics and sherades. The number is even higher if you count in useless meetings.

I had an even stranger experience. I was working on contract for a huge place to do some Oracle and systems management work in a small datacenter that was dedicated to a single purpose (it was a huge enterprise with about 80k sq ft of datacenter) around 2001. It was a beautiful setup, the wiring was nice, even the racks were really high end and setup thoughtfully. There were probably about 40 Sun boxes (e450s, e4500's) some AIX stuff, some windows stuff, about 3 racks of firewalls, tape robot, the works.

So I started setting up the management tools and noticed after a few days that nobody really came around much. Then I noticed that nobody was ever logging into these systems. Ever. It was a ghost datacenter running some WAN management stuff that nobody knew about -- some consultants set it up and left -- nobody knew what it was.

In my case, I did my job to the letter, I setup the management tools, got the servers and databases humming, etc. But the actual equipment was serving no discernable purpose. Total investment just in hardware and software was probably $5-6M

Though I've never worked for the large local telecom here in town I've had many friends and coworkers who have. I wish I had a dime for every time I've heard a story just like this (though smaller in scope). People have set up file sharing servers, game servers, whole warez team back ends...the works on hardware that was purchased & set up but never used. This is one of the primary reasons I've never wanted to work for Big Local Telco...

I worked with someone who got fired for hosting MP3s on a surplus corporate machine.

At least, that was the excuse they used when they fired him. I think the actual reason was that he was hard to get along with. However, it's difficult to fire him for that reason. Much easier to fire him over misuse of corporate equipment.

The guy told everyone about his MP3 server. Including summer interns.

> [...] whole warez team back ends

Are you able to elaborate on this? I've always wondered how the warez scene functioned; residential Internet connections are obviously insufficient, hacked resources too risky, and warez groups turn their nose up at any form of legitimate resources (e.g. dedi/colo hosting)

This leaves corporate infrastructure. All it takes is a small IT team with a big budget, lots of hardware and network resources, and management who neither know nor care how their resources are being utilized.

It's terribly romantic.

I know that my past employers networks have been abused for long periods for game servers and MP3 hosting. Y2K period in particular resulted in lots of insane investments in IT, with very lax management in most places. Nowadays, tools and copyright take downs make it difficult to be completely inept.

Hacked resources are used as well. I worked at a place that used an old SGI Indy as a mail relay. It wasn't really managed, and somebody rooted it to use as a distribution server for warez and porn. I suspect the admins kept it running as a source for their own warez and porn needs.

I got involved when a spammer got in and sent millions of emails, flooding our puny T1 with bounces.

Has anyone worked anywhere that didn't have a bit of a server that was dedicated to piracy? I haven't. Even working for a large public healthcare provider. Slightly worse, there was even a torrent client using their fibre. The trick was to find an IT illiterate colleague or one who was leaving it best of all, both these things in one person. Their logins wouldn't e revoked for months or years. Use their login to set up torrent clients. If you called IT support and just played dumb you always found someone who would let you install stuff (I need this program for my section on ankle casting). Keep calling back until they answer. Once a torrent was running, stay well away from the computer until no one else is around as grumpy IT guys would hang round to try and catch you. This was long ago now, I pay for my media now, with the exception of a few shows from the UK which I can't pay for.

One technique that managers use is to over-purchase.

Think about it this way:

If a need comes up, it's going to take months to get all the paperwork done to get new hardware.

If you have idle hardware, you're ready to go ASAP.

It's also a form of redundancy, albeit a primitive one. If equipment goes out, you have stuff you can swap out immediately.

Awesome story! Did you ever fantasize about setting up a big data set avant la lettre, or running your own hosting company off of it?

Slightly related, this reminds me of the 400,000 euro costing MRI-like machine my employer bought, without checking if it could connect to our healthcare software. It didn't.

What is like an MRI? And as someone who peripherally deals with this sort of proprietary crap regularly, they almost never connect to anything nicely. Things have got better recently with people starting to follow te DICOM spec, but brand new GE MRI, PET, CT and X-ray rooms will not interface properly with our radiology information system. They also have a bug whereby any image post processing is uniquely identified by time (hour, minute second). It turn out this isn't unique and will merge patient's imaging when you use an off-the-shelf and popular system like Intellipacs. Oops. Philips is better, just. Their scanners just dump these files all over the picture archive and communication system which are called PR files. No one knows what they are, they just come out the scanners and are spread everywhere. I'd like to think Siemens are better but I only have a small amount of experience with this manufacturer.

The amount of "Not knowing what people are doing" in large companies is rather alarming. I used to work at a company with about 700 employees just in the building I was in, and had turned in my two-weeks-notice due to the low amount of responsibility/work I was being given (bad management). During my last two weeks I of course had even less work, literally just one task to take care of and it would only take me about an hour. So I sortof just chilled and got my things in order for a few days, deciding to log into the server and take care of the job on Thursday.

So, Thursday comes and I try to get on the server... no response. A little more testing and the server looks like a dead box. I ring up IT and ask them to look into it, getting an email a few minutes later stating that the machine had a crash on Sunday night (4 days ago) and just hadn't been properly rebooted. As I logged in to do what I had intended to, it dawned on me that the department right next to mine had literally no other tasks right then except to be testing software on this server. Yet I, who had been putting off doing the work for 4 days, was the first to find out the server hadn't been working all week.

This sort of stuff is what makes small companies where your contributions matter feel even more rewarding.

the department right next to mine had literally no other tasks right then except to be testing software on this server

Testing is so easy to fluff over. I did a mobile banking project (Project A) for my current employer and the business area said they needed 3 weeks to test it. The person assigned to test it was also assigned to test another project simultaneously (Project B). She would tell me she didn't have time to test Project A because she was testing Project B, and she would tell the Project B people she didn't have time to test because she was testing Project A.

In the end, I looked at the usage logs on the test site... she logged in on the last day of the three week period, futzed around for 5 minutes and then signed off on the project as "fully tested - no issues".

> Testing is so easy to fluff over.

Good testing leaves artifacts, bad testing is easy to fluff over.

This kind of thing does indeed happen with alarming frequency. I used to work for a transport consultancy and we had a lot of jetsam left over from when that particular transport industry was government-owned, and those guys... well, we never really knew what they did. They'd been with the company (and before then, the gov't) for decades but few knew what they did all day. They worked 9-5 and seemingly had their fingers in lots of pies, but nobody could quite tell what it was they did; occasionally they'd chime in in meetings or get drafted by managers to do stuff as they were "Subject Matter Experts" but ultimately they reported to nobody in particular, and had no real clout or job function beyond looking busy and massaging excel spreadsheets.

One guy in particular had a "birthday cake club" that he managed with ruthless efficiency; if you were a new starter you had to tell him your birthdate and he would allocate you a date where you'd bring in cake for everyone else in the office. He had a spreadsheet and everything. When it was somebody's turn to give away cake he'd go into each wing of our office and announce that cakes were ready, then bolt back to the kitchen to have first dips. Very strange guy - nobody knew what he really did beside that.

One day he was gone -- early retirement -- and the cake club, and spreadsheet, left with him.

YES! It's been a while, but you suddenly reminded me of a similar arrangement we had for fetching coffee. We also used an elaborate Excel spreadsheet that took into account how much coffee you drank, the percentage of part-time (old geezers get to work less hours for the same pay, so it's only fair that they get to fetch less coffee, right?), off-days, holidays, etcetera. I'm pretty sure it was the most used spreadsheet of the entire department.

I once asked a colleague in the inventory department what his boss actually did, his boss managing inventory and factory floor. I knew he did scheduling and also programming security dongles (2 min job a couple of times/week). My colleague was given the scheduling to keep him interested enough to stay (inventory is dull...) and I was puzzled as to what his boss now did.

"So, apart from reprogram dongles, what does he do?" > "I don't know either"

"No, I'm not trying to be funny here, you work with him, what does he actually do?" > "I'm not being funny, I actually have no idea what he does with his time"

I had a boss who was full time manager over six persons. That was his job. Managing 6 people. We had a weekly chat with him for about 10 minutes each. That leaves him with 4 days and 7 hours of which nobody knew what he was doing...

I would say that's pretty normal and even reasonable. It depends on what the people do, but managing 6 people can easily be a full time job. I've actually been a manager of 6 people and found myself with no time to do anything else, but manage them.

As a manager of a software team, my goal is to make sure that everyone on the team is completely unblocked to do their job, so even though I only had 6 one on one employee meetings a week, I have meetings with managers, meetings for updates on projects, budgeting meetings, meetings to report to the company executives, getting all the signatures required for large purchases, meetings to discuss planning for future projects, meetings to plan our new process integration, meetings with higher ups to try to correct issues for my team. At one point I had 6 hours of meetings a day, so I think it adds up quickly. I'm not saying my company was efficient, but that's the reality of even a midsize company.

Meetings with the other managers.

I knew someone who was put into a partial-managerial role, i.e., still did real work, but counted as only half an FTE for the purposes of project planning. The management role was to oversee two people.

So if half a manager is for two people, it's not that great a leap to get to a full-manager for six people.

Wow. I'm a student in a research microbiology lab and I could give a rough overview of the projects of everyone in my lab, and the neighbouring sister microbiolgy lab too. There's no room for charades because one of the first questions scientists ask each other at social events of any kind is "so, what do you do/ work on?" Not to mention how much you need to rely on others just to get basic experiments in reasonable shape.

And that's how it should be. In fact, that's what you get when you work with task-oriented people who are passionate about their work. In most large corporations however, your initial enthousiasm is smuthered rather quickly by people who just want to keep their jobs. After some 6 to 12 months, you comply. Another year passes by, and you get 'promoted' to a staff function or middle management. When that happens, you're the guy telling newcomers to 'take it easy and just go with the flow'.

Whatever you do in the future, remember the spirit and work ethics of the microbiology lab. If you find yourself working somewhere lacking that spirit but having the 'corporate' attitude instead, quit right away. Seriously. You'll thank me later!

Can only conjure on that. Hell, reading that comment brings up a lot of nice memories from back the day when I was young. You know, before I got promoted to, yes, a staff function. How do I miss these days. Unfortunately they won't come back..

So yes, try to work in environments with that attitude as long as you can!

Money is also a lot tighter in research labs, so lab heads have to run a tight ship and account for everything.

If you're bored, gotta find something to do, right?

This kind of thing is more frequent than I realized.

Last week I was reading a series of posts about how common it was for workers in machine shops to be doing work for themselves on company machinery. In a few cases, guys working the night shifts were basically running their own small businesses out of their "day job" often for years without the owner knowing about it.

Here's what you don't understand:

Managers have to hit deadlines. Managers also write their own deadlines (to a large extent).

So they do what any rational person (or at least, anyone with the savvy to become a manager) will do - they write deadlines which can't possibly be missed. Lots of abstract terms (review methodology, test, design, etc), without links to concrete deliverables. Since there's no "real" outputs, no-one can check whether the work has been done. Obviously, there'll be a crunch at some point (quick, we have to actually build the web page we were designing!), but most of the time it doesn't matter whether people are feverishly working, or just letting the wheels spin.

I was an estimator for a company. When we didn't have any jobs to estimate on I had no work to do.

I offered to help out other people (who were very busy) but was given strict instructions by my boss not to do so. I have no idea why.

It meant I had about 9 months of 40 hour weeks where I'd do maybe an hour per week of actual work.

At large organizations it is often the case that the amount of power you wield is determined by the number of employees that report to you. This creates an incentive to bring on new employees whenever you have the budget and to avoid layoffs of your people wherever possible. So even though Dan (the estimator) isn't really needed he still serves to increase some middle manager's power.

At organizations like this you'll often have "re-orgs" where a few people are laid off (relatively speaking) but the "managers that matter" (those with the most power) come out having the same number of people beneath them. It will seem completely arbitrary to the people at the bottom of the org chart why their boss's boss's boss changed but the truth is that it happened because that guy used his influence to finagle the org chart in such a way as to keep the same number of reports.

Yes, I've experienced this first hand. Also, during the latest re-organization, they decided to lay us off and replace us with outsourced workers since upper management thought this was cheaper. My entire department got hired by the exact outsourcing company, and a couple of weeks later it was business as usual. Only 3 times more expensive for the company...

That IS weird, indeed. Haven't come across that, especially for a smaller size company. On the other hand, it never seizes to amaze me the reasons people have for some decisions. Completely irrational. Most likely your boss had to answer to someone at the top, and if they were to find out your department had too much slack time, they'd cut his budget.

I started working in 1998. Fresh out of school, I had this romantic idea about jobs being places where you go to perform a specific set of predefined tasks. 15 years down the road I learned about the waste, the fluff, the inefficiency, the incompetence of some managers, the politics and the corporate speak. They never teach you those things in school...

Avoidance of budget cutting was something I saw every year working for a city agency. The entire budget had to be used up or else it would get cut back. My boss would divvy it up and ask each subordinate what they wanted to do with it. I usually upgraded or added to my computer equipment. It was kinda like Christmas every spring.

We had people who weren't entirely useless, but were paid an awful lot for the kind of work they did.

I've had multiple jobs like that. The funny thing is, after a while you can't ask for work TOO often, because management will find out your function isn't really needed, and they'll terminate you. Another thing I observed is that the person you're replacing apparently was always super busy with the job. Which makes me superhuman in productivity, or that person was probably keeping up the appearance of being busy. Probably the latter!

No no! They knew I didn't have any work to do - that's the scary thing. It was a small company (50 - 100 people) and the boss knew exactly how much work I had at any time. I had to sit at my desk and read a book. That was right. Offering to help other people was wrong. Unpaid leave? Also wrong.

"The funny thing is that when you look busy yet can still ‘find the time’ to help others, people hold you in high regard."

You could well have been adding value with the help you were giving, depending on how messed up their information flow/systems were.

Oh, I was! Truth is, I actually liked some of my co-workers, so I'd be more than happy to jump in for them for helpdesk duty, during one of their weekly all-morning meetings. It gave me something to do, and it gave me the feeling that I wasn't a complete fraudster.

" I think that at least 50% of all employee hours is wasted on politics and sherades"

Only 50%? I believe 80% or higher is a better number.

I remember a post here about only getting 2 hours of "real" work done each day in a big bureaucratic company.

I'd quit my job in a heartbeat if I wasn't saddled with debt. Don't be me, don't get in a big debt, else you'll live in bureaucratic hell. Hopefully I'll get out by next year (and I do have a few side projects).

Long, amazing read -- I remember it from the SA forums years ago when I was in high school --

I remember wondering then just how long I'd be able to take a job that paid relatively well but offered no... accomplishment.

Well fortunately for me, that opportunity came a few years later while working for one of the large banks! The answer to my earlier question was six months; I had worked a few years through various positions into operations, only to fall into a role with little managerial oversight and no responsibility, it got boring so fast...

I don't understand leaving a safe secure job for something unknown. How you use your time is your choice. But you would leave a perfectly good paying job? From what I hear finding a decent place to work is very hard these days.

> a job that paid relatively well but offered no... accomplishment.

Welcome to most jobs, ever, in every historical period and culture, ever since humans have had jobs distinct from whatever else they did with their lives.

Progress seems to consist of reducing the number of those kinds of jobs and, eventually, finding other things to do for the people who aren't suited to anything else.

> Welcome to most jobs, ever, in every historical period and culture, ever since humans have had jobs distinct from whatever else they did with their lives.

Many jobs were probably quite fulfilling. A cobbler, for example, who produced a pair of shoes before this task could be automated or split Taylor-style.

any job that can be replaced by a computer or robot, will be. Be the one who makes that happen, or be the one it happens to.

There is a third option: be the one who makes sure the second group is still happy afterward.

Smartphones, ipads, web and apps for everyone!

Consume minglings!

> minglings

please define

I've heard a few similar stories, here's one about an engineer who was 'too senior' to lay off when an office closed:

They wound up with nearly zero responsibilities. Same as this story, they were relocated to a remote office and never assigned a new manager.

Once a month, they received an email from someone on the QA team with updated i18n strings for the latest software update. Their sole duty was to append the strings, commit, and verify the build wasn't broken. They replied to QA with a single word: "Done!", and that was all they did.

In their free time (as I recall) they made mobile games and about three years in, the company went into Chapter 11 and seeing the writing on the wall, they turned in their resignation... to whom, I don't know.

I think many folks are missing that this is art. On the surface it's a story of someone who games the system. A level beneath it's about someone losing their ambition as they get sucked in to gaming the system. It could be a larger political allegory in addition to it's critique of large corporate machines. It certainly isn't the truth, but by sucking us all in it is definitely good writing.

My first job was at a "non-technical" startup, in a technical capacity. Despite being essentially a beginner, I was able to build a good product and web presence for us, and after almost two years we were acquired by a huge company.

The new parent company separated the technical team and moved them into their own department in the main business, and left the rest as a separate entity (which has now been dissolved). As a part of the new team they were invited to their companies Christmas party. It's tradition for many people to get hilarious drunk and say things they shouldn't. I had left the company as this point to take a job elsewhere, but the friends I worked with saw some crazy things. One story that stood out was about one guy who was drunk, and spoke. He hung around with the new people and told them about the company.

They then asked him what he did, and he said "oh, nothing really, just this and that".

He had worked there for twelve years, was promoted in his eighth year to work under a manager, but after his manager left he was never assigned anywhere else in the company. During this time, the recession hit, and some restructuring was done, and he was promoted to manager of his department, despite him being the only member in the department. His project was long-finished by then, and he just stuck around, did around an hour of work a day helping others.

I hear that he doesn't slack off though, and that he spends his time improving his skills, uses up his training budget to gain new skills (apparently he gets a lot), and basically does the stuff around the office that no one else wants to do, like rewriting a ton of their internal systems.

At several workplaces, I have known people in similar situations. However, these people were among the most important parts of the workplace.

They were valued for both having a lot of background knowledge in their area, and having an ability for judgment about detailed problems that could only be called "wisdom."

Management kept them around like wise elders because once or twice a week there'd be some task that others could do, but not as well or as thoroughly (use of judgment, again) as these people. Thus problems got transferred to them.

The counterpart to these people are Suzannes, named after the first one I met. You can have an office full of highly technical people, but Suzanne -- who usually doesn't get paid much, and is some kind of administrative staff -- is the person everyone asks questions of nearly constantly because she knows all the ins and outs of the business. Every office has a Suzanne, and often the place won't function if he or she is out sick for a day.

Sounds like those people are holders of institutional memory. The bigger companies get, the more they forget about the value of institutional memory - treating everybody like a cog in a wheel. Individual managers know the value of such people, but company policy doesn't recognize them because they aren't beans that can be easily counted.

> institutional memory.

Yes, exactly. Thank you for this phrase. There's also a certain amount of institutional bonding (to coin another phrase) involved with these people, in that they're sort of "mother hens" who take care of everyone.

Definitely not cogs, but I'm not sure anyone is who actually belongs in a particular office. Cogs are (generally) apathetic, at least in their machine counterpart. In a team scenario, "apathetic" usually translates to some kind of burden being shifted to the group.

This sort of knowledge is so so handy. When some bright spark shortcuts the normal process the havoc that occurs is baffling to everyone except the old hand who cares and understands. Just being around and observing events can make an employee pretty damn useful quite fast. I'm not sure if every business has as many moving parts as the one I'm in, but it can't be unusual. With dozens of bits of software that supposedly work together, the bugs are sometimes fascinating. Kodak, I'm looking at you. Why do you refuse to archive any information on patients who's first name starts with BRE?!

We had CJs

When Atari fell apart in 1984, we discovered an office in New York City with about 20 "employees" who did nothing but collect paychecks. We figured it was an organized crime thing; I don't know whether there were actual people, or just an empty office.

Honestly reading this makes me a little bit sick to my stomach. Do you know what most people would give for that amount of spare time? I could build so much, learn so much, do so much... or would I just sit there and play snake?

> what most people would give for that amount of spare time?

No, they wouldn't. You could do so much, but we live in a world where people spend 7 hours a month on Facebook and a game called Candy Crush makes over $600,000 per day.

While way more than $600,000/day of developer time goes into making thousands of lame, derivative cell phone games that less than 100 people will ever play. Fueled by the mostly-irrational hope of creating That One Big Hit.

And yet here you are wasting time on HN.

Remember he was in "avoidance" mode which makes it so much harder to focus even if he wanted to.

It's quite possible that he left out the fact that he did something productive in order to highlight the corporate fuck-upery. Some deeply nested comment above points to this being the case.

It's okay, just do it tomorrow.

Can't. I just penciled in some time to catch up on baseball scores.

Seriously. At the bare minimum, you could do creative writing or art -- you don't even need a computer for those. Any internet access at all opens up a whole world of things you could do, from honing job skills or working on open source software projects, or even just contributing to Wikipedia.

I had a job for about a couple of years that gave me enough spare time to read Proust's 1.2m word epic In Search of Lost Time. There was some work to be done but it never took me more than an hour or two, and then my boss was quite happy for me to drift off to the Belle Epoque. I couldn't really get into reading it at home because, as the father of young kids, I was too busy most of the time and you really need to concentrate on P's page-long sentences. I alternated between leisurely, engrossed reading and teaching myself web development skills...happy days!

At the same Not that I consider reading Proust a waste of time,

Thanks for mentioning this, involuntary memory themed book sounds awesome. How long did it take you to read through in calendar time, not active reading time?

A bit more than a year. There are some extended longeurs, especially Sodom and Gomorrah, during which I was getting a bit fed up with it so once or twice I gave myself a few weeks off. It is a magnificent novel though, worth sticking with it.

We have a guy kinda like this at our current company. He is a co-founder of the company. When our angel investors came in there was some drama and disagreements. End result he was demoted and stripped of all his responsibilities.

They can't fire him since he helped found the company and has some protections. But he refuses to do anything they ask him. Now both sides have given up. Guy won't even come into the office most of the time.

I don't know if it's a position I ever want to be in.

Isn't that a passive income that we all try to achieve here?

this kind of stuff happens all the time. It is not that they cant fire it is that he is partial owner of the company since he is a founder. Founders get into a fight and someone is forced out. You cant stop him from owning the company so he is still entitled to everything the other owners are and probably guaranteed himself a seat on the board so they can do nothing but put up with him. Even Steve Jobs was fired from Apple in the 90s when he lost control of the company. He was still a major stock holder of the company but all the other stock holders decided he should not participate in the operation of the company and he had to just sit back and watch the company he founded go on with out him

That company is going nowhere and you need to leave.

The co-founder is just not an employee. They're more like an owner that demands a payment without commensurate input in to the company.

Not sure that makes the company so bad you have to leave; it's an historic glitch. Can you expand on your reasoning.

Guys. If you ever think you might be stuck in a meeting as described in part 2, you can set up a rule on ifttt.com to call you if you send them a text message. That way, you can pull the same trick with a single phone.

Or just navigate to settings and start a ringtone playing. Sell it with a tinge of embarrassment and they wouldn't know any better.

Nah, that's a rookie mistake. You don't want to be the guy caught doing that when a real call comes in.

I bought a "dumb" Symbian phone and it has "fake call" functionality. It even allows you to configure which button to press and the timeout to wait for the event. If you answer it, you just hear nothing but it won't hang up on you. It's well worth the steep price of $5.

So what if a real call comes in? Just fake it, and be like hold on, I have another call coming in, "hang up" the fake call, and answer the real one.

Because phones don't "ring" when on a call - you get a beep in the phone speaker. At least with every landline and mobile phone I've ever seen in the past few decades.

I guess there is a subset of people who may still be fooled.

Or, learn ventriloquism so that you can mimic the sound of a phone vibrating on a table. Pick up the phone before anyone notices it's not moving around.

Good luck doing that blind on touchscreen phone.

The problem with that would be sending the message while keeping the phone in your pocket, especially now that most phones are touchscreen-controlled. Maybe by doing it in advance and setting up a delay?

In case anyone's curious, this story was posted to HN a few years ago: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1320310

It's interesting how similar the comments are.

What's interesting is that the comments on this one are better.

Not exactly the same, but I felt like a forgotten employee at Yahoo when I was there. I had enough work for maybe 1 day a week. The rest of the time was spent doing nothing.

Unlike this guy, though, I quit after 9 months (and started looking for a job after 6) because I was worried that my technical skills were being eroded. Unlike this guy, my career is way more important to me than collecting a free paycheck, and I'd rather be earning my keep than sitting around screwing the system.

As a former Yahoo, I can certainly think of a number of former colleagues whose function was unclear and possibly nonexistent but continued to be paid for years.

I worked with a guy like this who didn't realize he was doing nothing useful. He thought that printing updated spreadsheets and reading random documentation was worth his likely 6 figure salary. It was no secret though, all of the younger employees knew about him. I think the managers avoided dealing with him because they were afraid that he would wind up assigned to their team and bringing their productivity down. He would get really upset whenever we got an email about a new VP or Director being promoted, because he though he was in line for that sort of thing. Eventually he convinced his manager, a remote guy who didn't really know who he was, to promote him to a senior engineering position. I left soon after that.

This happened to a colleague of mine, he was the sales director of the company (ISP in the mid 90s) we worked for, and after 3 take overs in a row - and 3 times changing of mouse pads, business cards and email addresses in a short time - he had no responsibilities left, had no boss but was on the payroll. He quit after some months of being bored.

> He quit after some months of being bored.

Talk about a lack of imagination! Just think of all the dinky hacking projects you could do with a guaranteed paycheck and no responsibilities. I'd probably spend 12 hours a day writing qml.

The startup I worked for got bought by a big company, then two years later they decided to shut us down. But they wanted a fraction of us to stick around for 3 months and keep the servers running while they transitioned to the new system. And they offered us large severance checks to stick around until the end. (Basically, barely work for 3 months then get another 3 months bonus pay.)

It was painfully boring. I wrote a lot of hobby code. Learned a couple of programming languages. Read a few good books. Helped people with their resumes. Had some nice long lunches. Volunteered to fix everything that broke during business hours so that I could feel like I'd at least done something useful.

I wish I'd produced something more useful during those slack 3 months, but I was afraid that if I did, the big company would claim ownership of it.

They could only do that if you didn't take pains to hide it from them.

He was a sales guy :-)

Did he keep his red stapler?

I imagine he burned the building down when they didn't let him.

When I was in university I had a similar experience for one of my coop jobs. I got hired to do testing, mostly print testing, and managed to automate my full day's work into about 2 hours with diff and grep. Then the company acquired another very large company, and my entire team got either laid off or reshuffled. My entire row of cubicles was empty. My manager had no clue what to do with me, so had me make a "web event portal" where he could track the latest events in certain places. It was a nice 2 weeks where I learned SQL and JSP, but I was still low on work.

I ended up writing a rasterizer from scratch, then writing a text mode demo, and also using my used paper (print testing remember?) to make progressively more complex origami. That was the one coop job I wasn't sad about leaving, on my last day I just handed the person who used to be my manager my pass and walked out.

Origami, excellent! It never seizes to amaze me how creativity gets to the surface, no matter what people do. Origami, fiction writing, making pixel art in MS paint, that kind of stuff. Awesome!

I'm surprised nobody mentioned the Bastard Operator from Hell yet. It's a similiar story if somewhat more violent and on the technical side. Recommended reading for every sysadmin.


I opened this expecting to skim and come to the comments, but i'm absolutely enthralled. I just got up to get a cold drink and i'm going to savour this properly. Thank you so much for posting this!

I'm having a hard time believing the post. It's way too entertaining. I feel like I just watched an episode of The Office. Sure there are inefficiencies in corporations, but coupled with this type of storytelling and walking in on a VP in such a compromising position, it just seems scripted.

Not to mention, I was in a similar position for a couple of months. But given that I'm generally a hard worker (much like the guy in the post), I almost went crazy for not doing anything productive and ended up writing code for much needed tools at the company. And I don't think I could put up with not doing anything for that long. So, something smells fishy about this story...

Too familiar to me to consider it as fictional. As for your "almost went crazy for not doing anything productive" - give it time it'll come to you ;)

It's from Something Awful, not meant to be taken as verifiable truth. More like internet art, appreciate it for what it is.

I was _convinced_ that the globes were hiding drugs and that the "seeds" were something else... but it was just globes.

Engrossing read.

So, we do know this is fiction, yes? He was about to lose his job and happened to catch a VP having a five knuckle shuffle that same night. Interesting read, but untrue.

Yeah, this was posted on SA years ago as fiction.

I'd love to know what Moonshine's doing now and how long he managed to keep up the subterfuge.

High up in government. Possibly the pentagon.

I don't know where the hell that came from, but I just laughed my arse off for a good quarter hour over here!

It was very entertaining. I thought halfway in it was pure fiction--I could see this turning into a fun movie.

seems like an old post from somethingawful forums.

The story has internet fiction written all over it. Definitely one of the better examples of it, still a good read 11 years on :)

In a previous workplace, there were multiple redundant management tiers on the technical side, and lots of managers were well-known for never really doing anything apart from attending meetings and finding creative ways to get out of doing performance evaluations. Which usually involved buttering up one of their employees and fobbing the work off on them. Some of them had only a couple of reports. I know of at least one who had none.

Then came the "solution." A program whereby managers had to spend 90 minutes a week on the floor talking to their employees. Work was actually supposed to stop while this happened. This got inserted into everybody's objectives.

I found this particularly galling because I'd locked horns with a couple of the worst offenders in some of the few meetings I'd managed to dodge, and because, managing a team of 15 devs, I already made 1-on-1 time available to them weekly and easily spent 90 mins a day with them doing actual work. (You just can't manage technical folk without some involvement and understanding of their daily challenges. There's a respect issue otherwise, on both sides.)

The program came and went. Nobody failed the objective, though after the first week the usual suspects just hid in their office or spent their 90 minutes playing with their phones. And when the next budget crunch came, management layers only increased (because they were all high performers going by their performance review) while people who did actual work got laid off.

Of all the stuff I saw in that corp, that one annoyed me the most (and it wasn't even the most serious - 7-figure vanity projects were a real problem).

Enthralling read. That was 11 years ago. I wonder if he stuck around to see the 2008 recession and somehow miraculously made it through. If not he would have had a huge redundancy pay out given his tenure.

Isn't there a story about a guy who was in a similar situation at Apple or Microsoft and built a well-known piece of software during that time?

It is referenced here every so often: http://www.pacifict.com/Story/

Thank you. I had not read that before and its great.

Not quite the 'forgotten employee' story, but when I started a new job a few years ago, the company ordered me a Macbook Pro (or so they claimed...) While I was waiting for it, they gave me an old Linux box to work on, but I didn't really set up a full dev environment because it was temporary and the laptop would be here "any day now". Weeks passed, we checked in with support repeatedly, no sign of the laptop... but it would still be here "in a few days" or "next week", so I continued to put off customizing the Linux box and just installing things slowly, as I needed them.

Finally, 6 weeks after I started, we hired a new dev. Support immediately handed him a Macbook Pro that they apparently just had lying around (that is, the one they ordered for me 2 months earlier). My manager thankfully made sure it went to me, and the new dev received his own machine two days later.

Don't leave us hanging like that, did you finally fully configure linux on your new laptop? :D

Haha, no. I'm really a Mac person at heart, and I used OS X happily until the laptop was stolen out of my office two years later :-( - this time, the company replaced the laptop (with another Mac, of course) within days.

That was a great waste of time. Now back to the rest of my HN feed...

I read this a long time ago and I found it amusing then and I found it amusing now. Truth or lie, it is still a fun story.

This was incredibly engrossing and amusing. It was interest timing to see this, since today is actually my last day working as a contractor/consultant at a large financial company doing a job that repeatedly left me with days or weeks on end with no real work to do. What made it more painful was that this place blocked Gmail, Facebook, etc. so I was pretty much relegated to reading HN articles and screwing around on Twitter.

Somewhat amusingly, they blocked POST requests to Twitter, but not GET requests, so I could view tweets, but couldn't post any. Fortunately, I was able to use Buffer to get around this. :)

Happy ending - after 10 months in the corporate jungle, I am now going to work remotely for a startup! Very excited to be part of the startup scene instead of peering in from the outside.

You know, I've seen many comments that lamented how this guy is wasting time. Yet this is what someone looks forward to when setting up enough passive income to cover living expenses.

In 4HWW, Tim Ferris talked about his emotional breakdown when he realized he had set things up so he had nothing to do.

It's something to think about, examining just what is the motive and underlying emotional current behind the lamentations of "wasting" time.

Besides which: the guy had also a period of his life where he worked his ass off and was obviously coasting on the goodwill and reputation generated from there. People respected him and seemed to think he was very busy, because in the past, they've seen him work the 70 hours a week.

I have seen employees at a large high tech firm do something similar.

Basically the person "X" was told don't bother applying for time off if its less than 10 days. Well "X" has done travels around the world without ever taking any vacation time off.

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact