What About Bob?

In 2006, a report published in Inc.com concluded — ridiculously — that productivity losses cost U.S. employers more than half a trillion dollars — $544,000,000,000, to be a little more precise. The report found that in an eight-hour day, employers spent an average of 1.86 hours “on something other than their jobs, not including lunch and scheduled breaks.” And of those surveyed, 52% “admitted that their biggest distraction during work hours [was] surfing the Internet for personal use.”

The data is garbage, of course; the idea that employees should be always-on and that anything less than that is going to result in productivity losses isn’t based in science or reality. But every once in a while, there’s an example of an employee who goes to the extreme, not doing much work and perhaps none at all. Take, for example, the story of a former software developer identified by the press only as Bob. Bob’s schedule — determined by a retrospective look at his Internet browsing history — consisted of the following (as relayed by NPR):

  • 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

Curiously missing? Work. Apparently, Bob didn’t do any.

That didn’t match up with Bob’s output, though. As TheNextWeb reported, Bob “apparently received excellent performance reviews, even being hailed the best developer in the building: his code was clean, well-written, and submitted in a timely fashion.” He was, somehow, producing great work without actually working. Bob’s employer didn’t seem to notice that he wasn’t doing any work, because from the corporation’s vantage point, he was productive.

But Bob’s employer did notice something else. Weird computer traffic was coming into the company’s servers through Bob’s remote login credentials, and importantly, the traffic seemed to be coming from China. To make matters even stranger, the Chinese connection via Bob’s remote connection was active while Bob was sitting in the office. Baffled — why would Bob be logging in remotely, and from China, while he was right in front of them? — the company contacted Verizon, its telecom services provider, and asked them to investigate.

Verizon got to work and came to the root of the problem. While Bob’s employer had assumed that some odd sort of malware had infected their systems, that wasn’t the case. Verizon determined that the problem was Bob himself — and it explained how a guy with great performance reviews matched up with that schedule of cat videos and shopping on eBay.

Bob had outsourced his own work to China.

The plan was pretty simple: Bob had hired a consulting firm in China, sent the consultants the work assigned to him, and then got out of the way, collecting paychecks the whole time. The Chinese workers did the rest — including returning the completed code to Bob’s employer’s servers. (Bob could have masked the scam a while longer if he had done the check-in work.) Verizon concluded that Bob had most likely been doing this for a few years, taking about a quarter of his pay and using it to buy the services of lower-cost providers overseas. Bob was fired, of course — the employer was working on developing software for the U.S. government and outsourcing that to China isn’t acceptable — but Bob probably laughed all the way to the bank. According to the Verizon security team, this wasn’t Bob’s only job — and it probably wasn’t the only job he had outsourced. Bob was making “several hundred thousand dollars a year” per Verizon, and “only had to pay the Chinese consulting firm about fifty grand annually.”

Bonus Fact: Give a customer service number a ring and there’s a good chance your phone call will be connected to a representative stationed outside the United States. But there’s an increasingly decent chance you’ll find someone in the U.S. on the other end of the phone. The reason why? Many companies have found a low-cost, domestic solution (although one with dubious ethics): prison inmates. According to CIO.com, prisoners earn about $1 an hour to provide low-level support to customers in need.

From the ArchivesFree For Me But Not For Thee: Another software developer scam.

Related: “Outsourcing Mastery: How to Build a Thriving Internet Business with an Army of Freelancers,” a $2.99 Kindle ebook.