'Do you like anything about this job?' Dale asked.
'Hmmmm.' I said. And for fifteen billable minutes I considered his question.
'My favourite thing about this job is that my salary is based on contingency.'
'Contingency?' asked Dale.
'You know as well as I do that almost everything I do requires no specific skill. Sure, it does take some talent to handball the assigned tasks I get emailed to other team members the amount I do, but for the most part my job is to follow the client or the support ticket's precise instructions and give someone a ring when I'm done. A well designed Perl script could probably do what I do. Worse, possibly even a call centre drone in Mumbai!'
'However, the reason I'm still cashing a weekly pay-check more than what nurses and police officers and the school teachers who educate this country's children do is because there's a risk - however small - that someday, something will go wrong with the system and I will be the only employed person who can fix it. There's an extensive chain of managers starting with our boss that you can trace all the way to corporate headquarters, and not one of them would even know how to log on to the remote server when our client calls to report their application is displaying an error. So, instead of paying me based on some tangible target they pay me to sit around waiting for that error. And when it happens I will fix it and explain in readable English to management on both sides why it occurred and reassure them it probably won't happen again.'
'That's your favourite thing?' asked Dale.
'It's the good thing. Before I worked here - when I was studying - I used to work at Subway in the city. Did you know that every employee at Subway has a documented "sandwich rate"? I had a rating of 1.2, meaning that in an hour I could make seventy-two sandwiches. I was paid just over eleven dollars an hour. Do you know what that means?'
'No.' Dale's chair was undisguisably rotated, his feet pointing into my cubicle.
'It means every time I spent a dollar I would know I made six and a half sandwiches to earn that dollar; more than that, really, taking into consideration tax, opportunity cost and every other factor, none of which improve the statistic. Whenever I bought a beer I would think that I had constructed forty sandwiches to earn it. When I bought a condom from the vending machine in the toilets I couldn't avoid thinking I'd made thirteen sandwiches in exchange. I had to make five thousand, one-hundred and fifty-five sandwiches to register my self-destructing Ford Focus for twelve months, and another four hundred and twenty-five sandwiches every time I filled it with petrol. Every time I bought a sandwich... well, it was very cheap because back then Subway staff could get any footlong sandwich for the price of a six inch salad sub. Other than that though every dollar I spent would conjure a parade of sandwiches through my mind.'
'Wow,' said Dale. 'Sounds tough..'
'It completely depressed me.' I said. 'I quit after four days. I am much happier with this current arrangement.'
'OK, but, how do they know?' asked Dale. 'What proof is there that you will be able to fix a problem with the system when it goes down?'
'I do actually have a degree in Computer Science, Dale. You know, a recognised qualification that you gained by demonstrating how to fix problems when systems go down? And I have ten years' experience in this industry. Don't you at least have a degree?'
'I'm definitely qualified enough to confidently state that I don't really understand the system' said Dale.
'Ah, well...' I pondered. 'In that case the plan is simple: book a day of leave every week and keep taking time off until the system has a major outage on a day that you're away. After that Attribution Theory will tell every manager and service delivery administrator that your presence equals a running system.'
'That works?' asked Dale.
'It should do. It did ten years ago.'