Engineer Fired For Outsourcing Himself To China

The 4-Hour Workweek

The 4-Hour Workweek: Inspiration for an engineer outsourcing himself to China?

If you’ve read the 4-Hour Work Week, you know that one of the key concepts is outsourcing routine or repetitive work to Virtual Assistants. Timothy Ferriss calls it “geoarbitrage”, which is a fancy way of saying that you can benefit from the fact that what costs $60 dollars an hour in the US is $12 elsewhere.

In the book, Tim suggests that geoarbitrage is a great way to build a lifestyle business — one that can eventually free you from your day job.

Well, here’s a brilliant guy who has taken this idea to the next level. His name is Bob (not his real name), but get this: Bob is believed to have outsourced his own full-time job to a Chinese sub-contractor.

With his free time, he surfed the web and took it easy.

According to this article on The Register, Bob caught got because his company noticed that he was regularly logging in from Shenyang, China.

They probably thought, WTF?  (I’m thinking WTF — is this story true!?)

Allegedly, Bob is said to have FedExed his two-factor authentication token to a Chinese programmer, and was paying 1/5 of his 6-figure salary — freeing Bob up to spend the rest of his time taking it easy.

Believe it or not, here’s Bob’s typical schedule:

  • 9:00 AM: Get to work, surf Reddit for a few hours, and watch cat videos
  • 11:30 AM: Eat lunch
  • 1:00 PM: Spend time on eBay
  • 2:00 PM: Do some Facebook updates, visit LinkedIn
  • 4:30 PM: Send an end-of-day update via email to management
  • 5:00 PM: Leave the office

Apparently, this was working out pretty well. Bob’s performance reviews showed him as a top engineer for many quarters.

It gets better.  It turns out that Bob had also taken jobs with other companies, and had outsourced that work as well. Allegedly, he was netting hundreds of thousands of dollars in profit.

Wait, Does This Really Work?

OK, so I’m a nerd, but stay with me for a moment: let’s put aside the legality of what Bob did, and just take a quick look at the business model:

  1. Let’s imagine Bob’s salary is $120,00 p/year, or $57 p/hour. Let’s assume that’s $40 after taxes.
  2. Let’s imagine the Chinese programmer’s hourly rate is $12 p/hour.
  3. This yields a p/hour (after tax) profit of $28 p/hour — a 70% profit margin.
  4. In a year, Bob takes home $83,200, and out of that, pays $24,960 to the Chinese contractor so that he can spend time surfing the internet. He’s left with $58,240 to compensate him for his ingenuity.

And finally: Let’s imagine that Bob somehow figures out how to get hired at one other company (oh wait, Bob did do that) for the same yearly salary of $120,000, and puts the same process in place.

Assuming all other things are equal, he nets $58,240 from this gig as well, bringing his total yearly take-home to $116,480.

I must say I’m dubious of this story, as I cannot substantiate that our friend Bob actually did this.  But what if it’s true?

Question: Legal issues aside, what do you think of Bob’s scheme? Is it stupid — or brilliant? 

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Jerry Seinfeld on How to Write a Joke

One area this blog examines is how successful people do their work, asking “What do they do differently than the rest of us?“.

Watch someone skilled do their thing, and it probably looks pretty easy. But don’t be fooled: greatness takes a buttload of work.

In this short video, Jerry describes his work process, and how it took him two years to create “The Pop Tart Joke”.  

On stage, Jerry takes one minute and 34 seconds to tell the joke — so that’s 16 months of work per minute of performance.  Imagine how much time it takes to prepare for a full routine!

Success-hack: Using an Issue Log to Improve Personal Performance

Are you interested in what makes certain people and organizations more successful than others? Have you ever wondered what they do differently than you?

I don’t believe there is one magical formula, but I do think there are certain tactics that successful organizations and people have that contribute to their success.

One such tactic is an “Issue Log“. Read more of this post

Blog Traffic Monthly Report: December, 2012

I’m often asked what kind of results to expect in the first month of blogging.  As of today, I’ve written 30 posts (including this one), meeting my objective of one short post per day.

I’m running a number of experiments with this blog (which maybe I’ll cover in another post), and so measuring the data has been an important part of the process.

Here’s a summary of this blog’s ROI (return on investment) for the first 30 days. Read more of this post

Why Wearing The Same Clothes Daily Improves Decision-Making

Here’s an observation: it seems that each day, we get a certain amount of capacity to make decisions — a “tank of fuel” if you will.

Each decision we make, no matter how small, subtracts from our available fuel.  At some point, we deplete our tank and decision-making becomes impossible or severely flawed.

If this is true, it means that to the degree you can minimize the number of decisions you make in a given day, the more you have left for important matters.

And this is why I’ve found that by wearing the same clothes every day (or by intentionally limiting my options), the amount I subtract from my tank is minimal (or nothing at all).  Instead of having to worry about matching shoes, socks, pants, belt, shirt, and coat, I provide myself with a set of clothes that are easy to mix-and-match (or nearly identical).

And this leaves me more fuel for the day.

I’ve also noticed that at the end of a long day of decision-making, I have little left in the tank for my wife. A simple question about a mundane household task can feel simply overwhelming.

Thus, if this crazy theory is true, then we should minimize BS for ourselves (like the hassle of having to put together a new outfit everyday), and therefore improve our ability to make important decisions (as well as have meaningful interactions with our loved ones).

What do you think?  Could wearing the same thing each day yield more capacity for decision-making?  Or is this a weak excuse on my part to explain poor fashion sense?

Colin Powell’s 4 Rules For Getting To The Point

Colin Powell's 4 Rules For Getting To The Point

Colin Powell: Lots of leadership lessons and tactics

In line with yesterday’s post about handling problems as a leader, I thought it appropriate to share how Colin Powell instructed his staff to bring him problems.  Being a retired four-star general in the United States Army, and having served as the 65th U.S. Secretary of State (under President George W. Bush) from 2001 to 2005, Mr. Powell definitely knows a thing or two about running organizations at scale and getting the best from those around you.

In his new book “It Worked For Me: In Life and Leadership“, Colin shares some simple rules for getting to the point when raising a problem:

  • First, tell me what you know.  He advises asking your team to give you the facts of the situation, as objectively as possible.  He doesn’t want personal interpretation.  He’ll often probe to see how the facts were obtained to ensure that the data are as accurate as possible.
  • Second, tell me what you don’t know.  As important as communicating the known facts, Colin advises asking for clarity around what is unknown.  If you have the right people in the right positions, they’ll most likely realize what they don’t know.  Colin feels that getting people to articulate these things is as important as getting the facts.  The unknowns give way to follow-up actions to obtain that information (if possible).
  • Then, tell me what you think.  This is where the person is asked to add their interpretation of the data, provide insight based on experience, and/or anything else they think is relevant given the situation.  This is where he allows people to use the facts to build an argument, or offer an opinion.
  • And remember: Always distinguish one from the other.  Colin suggests that it is imperative to ensure that you are clear in asking that people provide you information and clearly distinguish which type of information they’re giving.  If they’re telling you what they think, don’t allow them to misconstrue that as a representation of the facts.

I think #4, while subtle, is brilliant and essential.  Especially when situations are stressful, I notice that people tend to add color to a situation by incorporating their personal perspectives, which in some cases is wrong or biased.  I know I do the same and wrestle with trying to keep these things separate in my own head; perhaps it is human nature to immediately draw conclusions (did I just jump to a conclusion there?).

What do you think of Colin Powell’s 4 Rules?  Do you think they are helpful in communicating information and getting to the point?

What If You Gave Yourself Permission To Rest?

Like many of you, I’ve worked hard all my life. I expect those I work with to do the same.

As I’ve gotten older and the demands on my time have continued to increase, I actively ask myself whether (or not) I’m working on the right stuff.  Is what I’m doing right now going to make any difference?

Similarly, when asking others to do something, I try to ensure they are like-wise focused on things that matter.  I’d hate to contribute to someone else wasting portions of their life.

Another way to look at this is that I don’t like to generate make-work. Make-work is the crap we do that consumes our time, but doesn’t really move us forward. It may make us feel good, since we’re working and moving around, but it’s really unnecessary and doesn’t make a darn difference.

As the past 48 hours have once again reminded me, a complete life includes much (much) more than just work.  And certainly a lot more than make-work.

We need our families. We need time to rest. We need to cultivate outside interests and hobbies. We need time to learn something new. And we need the time and space to pursue these things. 

That’s why I believe it is important to cultivate a spirit and discipline of sabbath, both literally and figuratively.

Colin Powell puts it like this:

Don’t run if you can walk; don’t stand up if you can sit down; don’t sit down if you can lie down, and don’t stay awake if you can go to sleep.

Amen.

Where can you cultivate this spirit in your life?  What would happen if you gave yourself permission to rest?

Gmail Productivity Hack: How To Get Unlimited Email Aliases

Gmail Productivity Hack

Gmail Productivity Hack

Here’s a productivity tip I just picked up from Amir, one of our marketing automation engineers: say you’re in a situation where you need a bunch of email addresses (for QA-ing your apps, or testing various marketing automation personas, etc.).

You could certainly create a bunch of free email addresses, but it can be a pain in the butt to monitor a bazillion email accounts — not to mention the time it takes to create each account.

Here’s how you can create an unlimited number of aliases, using only one Gmail account:

  • Grab yourself a Gmail account (say, billgates@gmail.com)
  • Anything like billgates+whatever_you_make_up@gmail.com will route to your billgates@gmail.com email address

Google is smart enough (go figure!) to resolve anything formatted in this way to your address.  Using this method, you can create virtually an unlimited number of aliases.

This is especially helpful if you’re testing a series of marketing automation workflows, where you’re creating a series of test Contacts that each manifest a different behavior.  Using this method, it is pretty easy to test these scenarios with different email address while minimizing the amount of work you have to do.

Pretty cool, huh?

What other Gmail hacks do you use to increase productivity?

Mind Hack: Increase Your Ability To Foresee The Future By 30%

I’m not a negative person, but here’s something I’ve noticed: projects fail at an alarming rate.  One reason seems to be that people are afraid to speak up during the planning phase.  Unless you’ve fostered a safe environment that encourages people to raise issues, concerns may fester in silence and only become evident when its too late.

A premortem is a technique (pioneered by a psychologist named Gary Klein) for minimizing this kind of risk.  Instead of being held after an event like a postmortem, the premortem is Read more of this post

Screencast Recording Tips: Preparing A Script

Screencasts are very helpful for communicating ideas, features, and information about your product.  We’ve recorded a number over the years, and I have experimented with a variety of methods to produce the best results in the shortest amount of time.  I’ve found there are some processes that make preparing, recording, editing, and sharing screencasts easier. (I’ve included an example at the end of the post which uses the tips contained here — let me know what you think.)

In this post, we’ll focus on preparing a script — although I have found there are situations where extemporaneous recording works well too.

Here’s what we’ve found helpful in preparing a script:

  • Create a document with two columns: the column on the left contains the words you intend to use for your video, and the column on the right contains short descriptions of what you intend to show on the screen, like “Show Login Page” or “Show the user searching for a widget”.  If you create this document using Google Docs, it makes it super easy to share with people you want to get feedback from.
  • Create a rough outline of the major thoughts you want to communicate. Don’t worry about the specific words; just create an ordered flow of ideas you want to communicate.  Try to put them in a logical order.
  • Sit in a quiet place; using your outline, start speaking as if you’re talking to someone sitting next to you. I’ll often record what comes to mind, and then create my first draft by transcribing the recording.  At this stage, don’t worry about making it perfect – you just want to capture the spirit of what you want to say.
  • Read your draft out loud, and refine it so that there are no major errors. Check to see if your ideas still seem to be in logical order.

After creating a first draft, I’ve found it helpful to review it with a group of 2-3 people who have subject matter insight or are clear thinkers.  Inserting this step into my process has dramatically improved the end result.

Here’s how I use this feedback and review session:

  • I ask everyone to read the script in advance.  If they don’t, I’ve found that their input seems more limited and less helpful, so try to give everyone enough time to prepare.
  • Do a read through.  I’ll usually read the script out loud from top to bottom, and ask for general feedback about the flow. Does it make sense? Are the thoughts in a logical order?  How’s my inflection?
  • If necessary, we’ll make changes to the flow, and then begin to work on each sentence, one at a time.  I’ll ask if each word is the best choice to communicate the idea.  I’ll also try to cut out as many words as possible.  This is an iterative process and can be a lot of fun if you have a good group!
  • After you’ve revised your draft, let it sit for a bit. Maybe wait a day, and then go back and re-read it (out loud — not in your head) and see if it still makes sense. With a clear mind, you can make additional changes you think are appropriate.

At this point, you should have a relatively good draft to record from.  Get your vocal cords ready!  In another post, I’ll cover some of the things we’ve found helpful in recording a screencast.

What about you? Have you found any tips that are helpful in recording screencasts? If you’ve recorded them in the past, which part of the process is most difficult for you?

Here’s a 3 minute example that used the methods described in this post.  Enjoy!

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