One of my first student jobs was on a construction site. The company that employed me was building apartment blocks and wanted to sell them as fast as possible, before they were fully built. A construction site is a messy affair (in French, construction site and mess are synonyms). My role consisted in swiping the floor to create a path for potential clients visiting the site. I removed from one to five millimeters of dust each day as it accumulated. The next day, I had to do it all again, and so on every day. My introduction to bullshit jobs was complete.
I left the job after five weeks, first to go on vacation and then onto my studies. I was glad to escape the difficult working conditions, presumably forever as I chose software developer as a career. Little did I know that on the job bullshit scale this was to be considered a very modest beginning.
On the construction site, there was a parking in the basement. It had to allow vehicles up to two meters high. To verify that requirement, we built a wooden two-meter high frame and starting moving it around to simulate a small truck. Although all doors and ceiling were higher than two meters, it soon got stuck. Why? Slopes. A slope leading to a flat floor will make a vehicle slightly higher as its back wheels are still on the slope. Solution: we tilted the frame, and management considered the problem solved.
Did you know that software architects exist? What do they do? More or less the same, they design software with two-meter heights everywhere, most often failing in real-world situations. Product owners? They spend their time asking developers to swipe floors. Developers? They bend wooden frames at $150 per hour.
And why two meters? Who knows.
Can this gentle madness be avoided? Here is my Non-Bullshit Job Checklist:
1. You are helping another person
You enable the person to fullfill a need that she can not meet by herself.
2. You know this person and regularly interact with her
If you do not know the person, how do you know that you are really helping her?
4. You have set the terms of your services
You have not been pressured financially or through other means to do something that you do not want to do. Sell your services, not yourself. You know best what you do well. You will not be of any help if your talents are not used the way they should be. If you are a screwdriver and people want to use you as a hammer, say no.
5. This person is willingly using your service
She has a choice of other providers. The service is not mandated by an external entity. Running a racket does not help people.
3. This person pays you for the service that you provide
There are no intermediaries. If the person is not willing to pay you for your services, you are probably not helping her enough. Paying yourself through other means like selling her information (or worse) is theft.
6. You are able to live on the compensation that you receive for your services
You do not require external help from your family, the government or other organizations. How can you set your terms if you are not financially independent?
This checklist boils down to helping people without becoming a slave. Aren’t things simple when there is no bullshit?
Is it too simple? Some objections I can foresee:
- Some people are too poor to afford my services. You could give them money with no strings attached, see what they do with it.
- I am participating in a project that is so big that not all workers can interact with the customer. 95% of the people on the project have a bullshit job. Hopefully you are in the remaining 5%… for now!
- I work for a regulatory agency. Regulating the big project above that is harming its users I presume?
- The final customer is not known. Aka you have no idea what you are doing.
- Some people need my services but are not aware of it. Go talk to them.
- Tragedy of commons: my services are needed by a group of persons but no one is willing to pay individually. Go talk to them.
- I am helping a person that is not mentally fit and cannot choose what is good for her. You are doing charity work, which is good for your karma. But if you want to make it your job, the checklist still applies.
Shoot me an email if you find other objections, I’d like to reach something practical.