Work-life balance achieved

January 19, 2013

Meet Bob.

Bob works as a programmer for a “critical infrastructure company” in the United States.

Bob begins a typical workday by reading Reddit and watching online videos for a couple of hours. Having sated his appetite for Internet flame wars and footage of kittens being frightened by yarn, Bob breaks for lunch.

After lunch, it’s time to explore eBay, then maybe spend some time on Facebook. When 4:30 rolls around, he fires off an email to management outlining all he’s accomplished.

At 5 o’clock, he goes home.

Bob receives fantastic performance reviews. His code is clean. It’s delivered on time. He’s an exemplar of his profession.

What’s wrong with this picture? If the Verizon Business Security Blog is to be believed, a lot.

A writer at that blog recently summarized a case study describing an employee who had effectively outsourced his own job.

The company for which Bob worked allowed employees to telecommute, meaning they could work from home by signing in to the company’s network. Members of the company’s IT department were surprised one day to find an active connection to their servers from Shenyang, China.

Moreover, the person logged on from across the Pacific Ocean was using the credentials of an employee who was in the office, sitting at his desk: Bob.

The IT department was convinced Bob’s computer had been infected with malware that was routing data from his computer to China and back.

Perhaps Bob hadn’t even downloaded anything dangerous, and the malignant code had shipped with the workstation’s software, an alarming act of corporate espionage.

As it turns out, the network administrators should have adhered to Occam’s Razor: The simplest hypothesis is likely the correct one.

Bob, a nondescript, 40ish family man, had contracted with a Chinese consulting firm to perform his work, going so far as to FedEx a fob containing encryption data to Shenyang. Bob earned a six-figure salary, so he could easily afford the company’s $50,000 fee.

Who can say how true this story is? For all I know, Verizon is gearing up to sell corporate America a subscription to its brand-new EmployeeTracker 2013 software. But the story’s plausibility makes it a delicious one to chew over.

First, it points up the disparity in wages and lifestyle experienced by workers in America and workers in emerging economies like China and India. A nation where famine is reality or a living memory is going to produce an inordinate share of go-getters willing to do our work for a fraction of the cost.

Second, were Bob’s actions morally wrong? One assumes he lost his position with his company, though the blog post doesn’t explicitly say he did.

We subcontract work all the time. I didn’t make the enchilada I had for dinner the other night. We don’t name-check the dry cleaner when someone compliments our appearance. Parents don’t give the daycare center half-credit for their children not turning out to be rabid little animals.

But then there are the words “critical infrastructure company” and “China.” Would it have been better if Bob had found a poor, American engineering student to do his work for him?

More to the point, is Bob available for light housekeeping? I’ve been meaning to get caught up on some TV.

Dave Penn is a copy editor for the Observer-Reporter. Contact him at



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