Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Developer Bob - Outsourcing Your Job

Have you heard of Developer Bob? He's the guy whose story Iain Thomson broke on 16 January 2013 in the UK's Register, reporting on the 2012 security audit of a US 'critical' infrastructure company. The audit found that the firm's top performing coder had "outsourced his own job to a Chinese subcontractor" (Thomson, 2013).

He was found out by a check of the company's VPN logs (Virtual Private Network), pinging up a "regular series of logins to the company's main server from Shenyang, China, using [Bob's] credentials". The IT gurus thought that Bob's PC had been co-opted by a hacker or was being set up for a 'zero day malware' attack, and were worried. They didn't suspect Bob, but got permission watch and monitor Bob's activity so as to catch the ghost in their system
(Thomson, 2013).

Boy, was everyone surprised! Thomson reported that the IT guys discovered that Bob had "hired a software consultancy in Shenyang to do his programming work for him, and had FedExed them his two-factor authentication token so they could log into his account. He was paying them a fifth of his six-figure salary to do the work and spent the rest of his time on other activities" (2013).

Some deeper digging turned up that Bob was not only doing this work for this employer: he had taken jobs with other companies, cranking out a very nice income for himself indeed. But what caught the public imagination was when the company eventually pieced together Bob's 'typical' day at work: "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" (Thomson, 2013). The cat videos have sparked a lot of online me-too comments, articles and blog posts.

Nice work if you can get it, eh. Unfortunately Bob isn't getting it any more. He is no longer with the company.

Interestingly, many people seem to feel that Developer Bob is a Robin Hood character. David Futrelle reported for Time on 18 January 2013 that many people in the US were wishing they had done what Bob had; "fantasizing about outsourcing [their] own job". He went on to relate what Arden, a commenter on Gawker (an online media and blog site), had said: "So when a corporation outsources your job, it’s just Capitalism and sorry but that’s how things work, get used to it. But when YOU outsource your OWN job, well that’s wrong and bad and you’re fired now and you shouldn’t be lazy. Smell that? That’s the smell of good old fashioned American Hypocrisy" (Futrelle, 2013).

Futrelle went on to say that "every company who outsources jobs to foreign workers who are willing to work for less is doing" the same (2013). However, he also pointed out that the difference between a company outsourcing tasks and Bob's endeavours; that when companies outsource work, the shareholders - sometimes - get the benefit. Bob got the outsourcing benefits himself, not passing those benefits on

But perhaps Bob's consistently high performance achievements (Thomson, 2013) gave others in the organisation something to strive for. At least he will have lots of time to update his LinkedIn profile now, and to catch up on all those cat videos.



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