LXM Chronicles: The Dilemma of the On-Demand Worker
Some people are awful, like my friend Linus X. Macwin. Almost everyone I know agrees that he's the only truly deplorable person they've met (sorry, Hillary). It’s not that he means to be offensive, it’s, well, as he explained to me, “a natural consequence of my imposing intellect. Although some say I am a condescending, self-possessed, irritatingly rational prig, I simply wear my truth on my sleeve for the good of mankind.” Despite his ability to tick me off, I'm drawn to Linus, and he counts me as one of his few remaining friends.
Our friendship means that he writes to me. I thought I'd occasionally share a few of Linus's letters. Although I'm never sure what to expect when I open one of his envelopes, I’m taking a risk that a kernel of truth somehow might have slipped through his self-righteous filter.
November 20, 2017
I have two purposes in writing you this evening.
First, though I am pleased to see that you finally established your online training business, the name you chose is terrible. LeanED??? Please. Just how does one pronounce this unwieldy Frankenstein’s monster of a noun? Does it sound like the past tense of what happened to the Tower of Pisa after it was built? Have you been reading Shakespeare (hah!, as if you could) and fancy yourself Elizabethan (as in “What ho! My cow hath lean-ed his head upon my betrothed's shoulder…”)? Or is truncating “Education” and shoving it against an unsuspecting “lean” your best attempt at cleverness?
My second and primary reason for writing to you, is to share yet another on-the-road life-altering experience I have bestowed on another individual. As you know, my wife Catherine and I are making our way in my great grandfather’s trusty caravan from the East Coast to the Promised Land of Cupertino in hopes of attending the Apple Event in 2019. After two weeks of travel, we have reached Metuchen, N.J., about 35 miles from our departure point (slow-going, I know, but the headwinds have been abominable).
While Catherine continues to work remotely with the NSA on her A.I. project (all Neural Networks and other inhumane nonsense), I have secured employment at the library check-out desk. You might consider this a menial position, but serving a public comprised of people like you, my friend, is mentally and emotionally taxing. It requires the utmost in self-control and decorum as you will see by the following incident.
The doors opened promptly at 9 a.m., and after 15 minutes or so, the first patron approached my window. He was your typical 20-something in one of those neat un-tuckable plaid shirts, sported a kempt beard and a mustache whose ends he had cleverly waxed into spirals. He placed a single book on the counter and handed me his library card.
“Ah,” I said with pleasure, admiring his selection through my pince nez. "The C Programming Language by Kernighan and Ritchie. Now this is a classic! Planning to write a few operating systems, are you?” I snickered.
“Nah, I’m not that ambitious,” he replied with a half-smile.
“Are you taking a course?” I inquired.
“No, just curious.”
“No one is just curious about C,” I said incredulously. “The second half of this book is tough sledding for most people. Seems like an odd choice for an average young fellow like yourself.”
What appeared to be a nervous tick flashed across the man’s face. “Well,” he said, slowly regaining his composure, “I’ve heard a lot about C from other programmers and thought it would be good to find out what they were talking about.” I could tell he was uncomfortable with my line of questioning. I was honor-bound to probe further.
“So, you’re learning to program." I said, setting the book aside.
His eyes narrowed. “No, I’m already a programmer,” he muttered.
"Oh, really? Where do you work?" I asked.
"I'm between gigs right now. As a matter of fact, I've got to get going. I've got to call into an interview. Can you…"
"Oh, so you are a contractor. Did you know that 85% of business executives interviewed by Accenture said they are planning to increase their use of on-demand labor? That probably makes you happy, doesn't it?"
“Well it shouldn’t.” I interjected. “Why, you ask? Because that means you are going to face even more competition from people who are laid off, graduate from college, or have been churned out by a coding bootcamp. These people will be knocking on the same doors you are: Upwork, Catalant, Guru, and many others.”
"I haven't thought about it, to tell you the truth. I…"
"Goodness, young man, you should be thinking about it! People are already flooding the on-demand market. How are you going to keep up?"
He leaned into my window, his eyes brimming with sincerity. "Thank you. Seriously. I really appreciate your concern. Would you mind checking out my book now?"
“Of course,” I replied. As I picked up the book, another thought occurred to me and I set it down again.
"You are keeping up with changes in your field, aren't you?" I asked pleadingly.
He exhaled loudly. "Yeah, yeah, I know what I’m doing. I’ve been doing this for years. I'm self-taught! I really want to read that book, so please check it out!"
“That’s impossible,” I exclaimed and waved my hand at him dismissively.
His brow furrowed. “What’s impossible?”
“Sir, no one is self-taught.” I rolled my eyes at him to underscore my point.
I explained further, “Reading a book is simply being taught by someone else through an intellectual artifact. Was that too deep for you? Hmmm, probably was. What I am saying is that reading a book is simply someone teaching others through writing.”
“Look,” he said sternly, “this conversation is over, give me my book. Now.”
“That, young man is your problem. You have time to read, watch videos, and play with your expensive anime action figures from Comicon, but you don’t get out of your cave to meet and converse with others about what’s really happening in your field.”
"Who are you?" he asked incredulously. “Listen,”—he was beet red at this point (probably ashamed by his ignorance), “I don’t know what your deal is, but all I want…”
“Young man, it’s not about what you want it's about what you need. If you want to stand out in this market, you’ve got to get out of your comfort zone! You need to learn how to learn, how to recognize and use all the sources of information around you, how to challenge yourself to get to the next level of performance. And you…"
“Hey!” he shouted. “I don’t need a lecture, I need you to check out my book, ok!” Suddenly, the deepest hush fell on the library as the echo of the man's voice slowly faded. Patrons stood frozen, watching the window.
I continued. "And you also owe a $10 fine for The Art of Programming, volume 1, by Knuth. Would you like to pay with cash or credit?"
The bearded gentleman, his once somber face now contorted by a demonic scowl, reached across the counter, grasped the book, took it from my hand, and backed away from my window. With his chest heaving and teeth clinching his lower lip, he made numerous distinctly rude gestures toward me, and then bolted out the door.
Garrett, I am convinced that I made a significant impression on this young man. I do hope to make his acquaintance again, after he returns the books and pays the fine, of course. There is so much more I would like to tell him.
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Founder & President
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