The English novelist Jerome K. Jerome was of the opinion that it is impossible to enjoy idling unless one has plenty of work to do.

“There is,” he said “no fun in doing nothing when you have nothing to do. Wasting time is merely an occupation then, and a most exhausting one.”

What, one wonders, would Jerome have made of the case of “Developer Bob” whose heroic efforts at idling have apparently been the talk of American work places for the past few days.

Bob’s story came to light on a blog written by the risk team of the U.S. telco Verizon. From what I can make out the risk team at Verizon are the people you hire when you have a problem with computer security.

Anyway, last year they were hired by a large American infrastructure company that had discovered someone was connecting to its computer network from Shenyang, China. Naturally they were petrified that they had been hacked by the fiendish clever Chinese, who are doubtless keen to steal the commercial secrets of large American infrastructure companies. It was particularly worrying that to access their network from off-site required the user to have in their possession a key fob which generates random numbers which the user has to enter as a password.

But even more concerning was that software developer “Bob”, the employee the Chinese were logging-on as, was sitting at his desk in the United States. Clearly the Chinese had installed some virus which was sending Bob’s details back to China. So the Verizon Risk Team went to work on Bob’s computer in search of the problem.

What they found were hundreds invoices from a company in Shenyang, China. Apparently for around $50,000 a year - or a fifth of his salary - Bob was getting them to do his work for him. Bob had out-sourced himself. And they were doing a very good job apparently - Bob’s performance reviews from the HR department rated him the best software developer in the building.

Not only that, Verizon found evidence he had been doing the same thing for other companies in his local area.

It is hard not admire his enterprise or dream of off-loading one’s own workload to the reasonably-priced celestials. Hard too not look across the office and wonder how many other Bobs there might be.

The Verizon people unkindly regarded Bob’s enterprising scheme as a scam which seems harsh to me. After all, who suffered by it? The company got the work done at a price they were happy to pay, the Chinese got the work and Bob got plenty of free time. In 18th Century England no one would have batted an eyelid at such an arrangement, jobs in those days being treated as though they were property.

For instance rich clergymen in the Church of England didn’t actually do their work themselves, they paid curates -  poorly - to do it for them.

Government jobs were the same. Indeed in some cases there you didn’t even need to be in the country as those who have read Thackeray’s novel Vanity Fair will know from the character of Josiah Sedley, “The Collector of Boggley Wallah” in India, who spends most of his time at Brighton.

But back then leisure was seen as an end in itself because to be free from labour was the pre-requisite for cultivating one’s mind - though of course in reality the idle rich of those days spent much of their time in debauchery, as do the idle rich of today.

The depressing thing about Bob’s case is how he filled in the time he was meant to writing his software.

According to Verizon: A typical ‘work’ day for Bob looked like this:

9:00 a.m.  Arrive and surf Reddit for a couple of hours. Watch cat videos.

11:30 a.m.Take lunch.

1:00 p.m.  Ebay time.

2:00 ish p.m Facebook updates/LinkedIn.

4:30 p.m.  End of day update e-mail to management.

5:00 p.m.  Go home.

Now if pressed most of us would admit to finding plenty of time for those activities on company time -  indeed a former employee swears that until recently it was pretty close to the sort of day being put in by many reporters at The Age. What separates Bob from the ordinary idler is that he kept it up for years.

Most of us I suspect would have cracked after a few months of such tedium. Or at least put the time to better use by trying to learn Italian. Or something. Clearly Bob was made of sterner stuff and could make wasting time into an occupation. 


Most commented


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    • Expat says:

      05:25am | 20/01/13

      I dont see the issue. It points out how unrealistic labour pricing in the west is, 1/5th cheaper for better quality work…

      Smart businesses outsource, not just the big companies, look at freelancer and elance to see just how big the market is. Even some school kids are outsourcing their assignments these days, i certainly did.

    • Tubesteak says:

      12:11pm | 20/01/13

      Everything is worth what people are willing to pay for it. Labour might be cheaper overseas but so are prices of other goods. Not the case here

      While some jobs can be outsourced some jobs can’t: any job that requires manual labour or specific local expertise (eg Australian tax law knowledge). While a company can outsource it isn’t going to reduce its local price and local workers aren’t going to reduce their labour rates because they need to be able to pay for things

      What will happen is a temporary surplus of labour where people whose jobs were outsourced will try to retrain to a job that has to stay. Or they’ll leave the country to where their jobs have gone

      Bob’s mistake was giving someone else access to his company’s network and not performing his job according to his employment contract

    • Mickey T says:

      08:03am | 20/01/13

      Bob’s day sounds like that of many regular Punchers!

    • John says:

      08:24am | 20/01/13

      “Bob” committed a big computer security breach by showing the Chinese how to log in to his company’s system. Apart from that, good on him.

    • Alex says:

      08:47am | 20/01/13

      That. Is. BRILLIANT.

    • Neil says:

      10:34am | 20/01/13

      We could import millions and millions of immigrants tomorrow to do pretty much anyone’s job and drive wages and conditions into the gutter, a part from maybe brain surgeons. Genius? God help me.

      CEOs, the rich, and the powers that be aren’t smart, all they’re doing at the moment is relying on mass immigration, cheap money and the rise of China to keep share prices rising. They’re just as much a bunch of two bit bogans as anyone living in our most unfortunate suburbs.

    • expat says:

      11:52am | 20/01/13

      “We could import millions and millions of immigrants tomorrow to do pretty much anyone’s job”

      It is a much better idea to leave them overseas and have them use the internet to complete the work.

      “drive wages and conditions into the gutter”

      Or you could say that wages and conditions are just adjusting to the revised supply and demand of the international market. The quality is the same or better for a fraction of the price, why wouldn’t you outsource?

      Oh don’t worry about the domestic market not being able to afford to purchase goods, that is not where the money is going to be, the money is in the billions of Asians, South Americans and Indians who demand to buy goods & services on a scale that we have never seen before in the west.
      To put it into perspective, with a strong internet presence, my company now markets and sells to billions of people world wide, the local market is a whopping 22 million, hardly a drop in the ocean.

    • John Hay says:

      01:56pm | 20/01/13

      Learn Italian? No thanks. I have no trouble calling Bob a parasite. He was supposed to do a job, and he paid someone else to do it for a fifth of his salary, thus taking another four parts for nothing. His employees did not want their company details being read by Chinese people. Your analogy about people doing this in the past is flawed because they had permission. Bob had no such permission to do this.

    • John Hay says:

      01:56pm | 20/01/13

      Learn Italian? No thanks. I have no trouble calling Bob a parasite. He was supposed to do a job, and he paid someone else to do it for a fifth of his salary, thus taking another four parts for nothing. His employees did not want their company details being read by Chinese people. Your analogy about people doing this in the past is flawed because they had permission. Bob had no such permission to do this.

    • tez says:

      02:16pm | 20/01/13

      Clever Bob, is it now grammatically correct to start a sentence with BUT?

    • stephen says:

      03:23pm | 20/01/13

      In Brisbane you end it with ‘but.’
      If you’re Julia Gillard, that’s all you use.
      If you’re Tony Abbott, you use ifs, buts, or maybes.
      If you’re anyone from The Greens, you sit on your butts and do and say nothing.

    • LJ Dots says:

      04:25pm | 20/01/13

      And I think Duh is correct here (although it still sounds a tad weird).

    • tez says:

      06:14pm | 20/01/13

      @ Duh; Don’t be such a dick, but has always not been, it is not only dictionarys that change but also grammar apparently.
      ‘‘In the past, English teachers used to preach that one should never start a sentence with conjunctions like and or but. Does this rule still apply today?’‘

      ‘‘Not entirely. It is already acceptable to start sentences with such conjunctions. Some authorities, in fact, even defend that for some cases conjunctions will do a better job than more formal constructio’’


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