New gender neutral restroom just dropped

Also, a short story on my first programming job.

Oh my god he’s dead

I never bothered to follow McAfee’s situation too closely, because I didn’t really care, so I don’t have much to say here. It’s a bit sad to lose such a great source of content, and I’m definitely going to miss his tweets about whale fucking.

Of course, his actual death isn’t what people care about. The news cycle is instead focused on the people who are claiming that his suicide was actually an assassination by the “deep state”, which is being fueled by his Instagram account posting a “Q” after his death was confirmed. What’s most likely is that one of his Instagram account managers posted it for the lolz (the driving spirit behind almost everything ever done on the internet), but I guess it’s more fun to believe that McAfee was killed by satanic Democrats who are hiding children in tunnels and turning their blood into L'Oreal.

Why do QAnon people think that McAfee was assassinated by the “deep state”? Partly because at one point he posted a short clip where he criticized the US government for being corrupt. I reckon that if that was enough to do it, then socialists would be getting assassinated every day (oh wait, they are).

Anyway. F to John McAfee. I hope there aren’t any whales in hell.

New gender neutral restroom just dropped

A cool thing

https://jsisweird.com/

It’s a quiz on JS behavior. I got most of it wrong!

Bullshit tech jobs

I’ve been reading David Graeber’s “Bullshit Jobs” lately, and it prompted me to post a couple tweets about my own experience:

I didn’t expect so many other developers to agree and share their own bullshit job experiences in the comments and quote tweets. For some reason I thought that tech jobs were largely immune to this, maybe because of the script we’re fed about developers being super important gold-star employees who do real work, unlike all those other office bureaucrats. It’s refreshing to see that idea being dismantled a little bit.

If you’re not yet familiar with Graeber’s concept of “Bullshit Jobs”, here’s a snippet from his STRIKE! article that summarizes the idea:

In the year 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that, by century's end, technology would have advanced sufficiently that countries like Great Britain or the United States would have achieved a 15-hour work week. There's every reason to believe he was right. In technological terms, we are quite capable of this. And yet it didn't happen. Instead, technology has been marshaled, if anything, to figure out ways to make us all work more. In order to achieve this, jobs have had to be created that are, effectively, pointless. Huge swathes of people, in Europe and North America in particular, spend their entire working lives performing tasks they secretly believe do not really need to be performed. The moral and spiritual damage that comes from this situation is profound. It is a scar across our collective soul. Yet virtually no one talks about it.

I’ve worked several tech jobs that I’d consider to have been bullshit, if not outright net negatives for humanity. But the most bullshit tech job I ever worked also happened to be my first one:

I had moved out shortly after starting uni, and needed to find some way to pay rent and keep myself alive. I was fortunate that a friend of a friend worked for a place that happened to be looking for a C++ developer, and he put me in touch with the business owner (at the time my friend said that they needed a “C Plus” developer, and I mentally corrected it). After a small chat with the owner, I was invited in for an interview. I got to the office 30 minutes early and stood outside shaking, on what I vaguely recall to have been a summer day. I was convinced that I’d fuck the interview up somehow and be homeless and die and people in business suits would step over me as the city birds pecked at my corpse. Here lies Kat, never should have moved out.

Eventually I was called into a small cramped office of about 20 people. Instead of an interview, the boss asked me to sit down at a desk and see if I understood any of the codebase. It was tens of thousands of lines of uncommented code, save for one comment at the end of a 1,000 line function that said only “that’ll do pig. that’ll do.” Almost immediately I could tell that the code was written not in C++ (or “C Plus”, as the boss kept calling it), but in C#, a language that I had never touched. I was told that the developer who wrote it had quit without notice and was uncontactable. I silently wondered if the previous dev had told the boss that the code required a replacement developer proficient in a language that didn’t even exist as an act of deliberate sabotage.

The boss asked me if I can fix the code. I thought about the birds pecking at my corpse, and said yes of course I can.

I started almost immediately, for two days a week. The pay was minimum wage, to the exact cent, but needless to say I considered it a preferable alternative to what I had imagined1. For the first month I was regularly taking work home with me, shirking my coursework to try to understand what the hell was going on in the codebase.

But within half a year, I was spending two days a week doing absolutely nothing. I had fixed and refactored most of the code, and it ran on its own just fine. The only time it ever needed fixing was when an API it relied on got updated. I once begged the boss for more tasks, but he told me to come up with something myself. Nonetheless, I had to look busy, because the boss was an enormous asshole who’d get really snide if anyone ever looked like they were slacking off.

Faced with the choice of either getting my hours cut and being eaten by the bin chickens or coming up with bullshit ways to keep myself occupied, I ended up with the following hobbies:

  • Endlessly refactoring the already refactored code

  • Adding comments anywhere I could

  • Writing docs that only I would read

  • Learning Javascript and seeing how much of the desktop app I could port over into a webapp version (we did not need a webapp version)

  • Opening the documentation for APIs that we used and using inspect element to copy and paste books into the docs, that I would then discretely read

  • Occasionally helping a coworker by writing a script for them that automated some aspect of their own job, and they would keep it secret and spend the reclaimed time browsing Facebook whenever the boss was away on client meetings. These were the happiest moments I’ve had in my career.

As you can probably figure, most of my time at work was spent being miserable and feeling like I had no positive effect on the world, because for the most part I didn’t. This experience probably shaped most of my anti-work philosophy way before I ever even became an anarchist. It’s hard to describe the depression that comes with such a job to someone who hasn’t had one themselves, but I like what Graeber said here:

Whatever the ambiguities, almost all sources concur that the worst thing about a bullshit job is simply the knowledge that it’s bullshit. As noted in chapter 3, much of our sense of being a self, a being discrete from its surrounding environment, comes from the joyful realization that we can have predictable effects on that environment. This is true for infants and remains true throughout life. To take away that joy entirely is to squash a human like a bug.

Anyway, that’s just one of my bullshit tech experiences. Most of my other ones were bullshit too, although they involved doing genuine work for industries that really shouldn’t exist, and I’ll share those another day maybe. I’m really curious to see how many other tech people have been in a similar position - please comment, or if you’d prefer you can send your stories through to my email (contact@katmaddox.com) and I can share them anonymously in the next issue. I think the more we talk about this, the more we can start to imagine a world where our skills in software can be used to actually benefit humanity.


Twitter: https://twitter.com/ctrlshifti

Tip jar: https://ko-fi.com/katmaddox

Massive thank you to DGriffin91, Kevin, mhp and one anonymous supporter for tipping since the last issue. I promise I didn’t spend it all on booze. Really.

Any typos in the above post are caused by bit flips and are not my fault.

1

For my US-based readers who’ve certainly never heard of anyone surviving on a 2 day minimum wage job: the Australian government provides university students with a small allowance that doesn’t quite cover living expenses. A 2 day/week minimum wage job to supplement it ends up being just enough to get by.