Why Overemployment Is Now Rampant in the IT Industry

Peter Chang


Having worked in IT – an industry with high turnover – for all my life, I have trained myself to spot a coder who may be guilty of overemployment.


Coding is largely done in a solitary manner, sans the perfunctory “collaboration” and “teamwork”. And in an era when Agile project management methodology is all the rage, a coder’s tangible exposure to team collaboration seldom goes beyond giving a 40-second status update in the morning Scrum standup. To a coder, teamwork is a minimal overhead of time expenditure. Writing code is mostly an endeavor fully at the disposal of the coder, as long as they meet the deadlines.


You get me? As long as the coder finds a way to stack these overheads in a day’s schedule skillfully, there is no hard and fast rule as to when and how the coding is done. And code snippets are by nature reusable and can be assembled to meet the specifications of deliverables from different employers at once.


There is a famous quotation attributed to Otto von Bismarck: “If you like laws and sausages, you should never watch either one being made.” Enter remote work. What the eyes do not see does not bother the mind. Nobody has to watch how a coder generates the deliverables, including but are not limited to, frequent Google searches that bring back ChatGPT generated or other people’s code snippets and frantic debugging when coders bite way more than what they could chew.



And the magic sausage machine a coder uses to disguise the fact he or she is working for multiple employers and to generate the optics of always available, is something called KVM.


A KMV connects multiple computers to a single set of camera and audio devices, keyboard and mouse. In theory, if a coder is not doing a presentation or serving as the subject matter speaker, he or she can be attending multiple meetings at the same time. And the archetypal full-staff remoting in the IT industry has forced employers to discourage their employees to universally turn on their camera for network bandwidth concerns.


I met – virtually – a fellow coder a few months back during a full-day orientation given by a new employer. Throughout the day, I noticed his camera would occasionally be turned off for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Many a time, he appeared to be reading something intently and punching the keyboard when the orientation moved through a segment that did not require any reading or typing. The guy was no doubt responding to a Teams chat with colleagues with a different employer.


Even when he stayed on camera for an extended period of time, his eyes focused on something else on his screen, and I could tell he was also typing something that had nothing to do with the stages of the orientation. I therefore concluded that he is someone who dabbles in overemployment.


Overemployment is a reality and the zeitgeist of today's remote IT workforce, as a Vanity Fair article also pointed out in 2022. (There is even a website dedicated to helping those actively seeking overemployment.)



But it is an extreme sport, and hence there are players who prosper, as well as those who get hurt. The good ones often claim they work on as many as seven jobs at the same time and rack up an annual income in the $1 million-dollar range. There are revelations and discussions on this subject everywhere, on Reddit in particular.


This beginner’s guide, so to speak, only provides the basic know-hows. To become a successful practitioner of overemployment, one must accumulate real-life experiences. The following is a bare minimum of prerequisites to get started:


Invest in a good set of KMV. An expensive set of KVM, which is a humble acronym that stands for Keyboard, Video(monitors) and Mouse, can set you back for a thousand bucks or more. But it is infrastructure you must have in order to react to challenging and multithreaded workflows. It allows you to send your camera signal to one computer on which you are attending a meeting while your keyboard input to another computer where you are answering an email.


Try to avoid federal government or government contractor employers. There are potential pitfalls if one of the computers you plug into your fancy KVM is a government asset. Since KVM uses one single set of keyboard, monitors and mouse, the coder is potentially inappropriately accessing or exposing confidential government data. Plus, government-sector jobs come with high overhead in terms of suitability and security clearance requirements. For example, marijuana may be legal in many states but it is federally illegal and if you happen to be a hobbyist, it's hard to stay with a government job for the long run. Plus, many government jobs require you to report all side income and require pre-approval when accepting outside employment.



Always find extra jobs at any given time. No matter how skillful one is in handling multiple jobs with the help of a KVM, you will get caught occasionally. You could post a chat in the wrong forum or send out an email asking for help with a Microsoft SQL Server setup – except you send it to the HelpDesk of a computer that only uses Oracle database in their ecosystem, hence confirming others’ suspicions that you are working on side gigs.


Invest in a good calendar or calendar management software. Your professional persona as a coder is defined by the appearances of your calendar entries. Some of these fancy calendar management software can build in a configurable fuzziness into your calendar entries. That way when you have one entry blocking out 30 minutes in your day for a meeting with company A, it may also appear as a vague “busy” 30 minutes when viewed in the context of another company. There are way too many techniques and tricks you can employ to disguise your overemployment, with a calendar cheatware.


This one is pretty obvious: Only accept job offers that permit full-time remote work. And emotionally or socially, have a Chinese wall around you. The bottom line is: Never volunteer any information about yourself when not required. It’s a small world. Someone in company A may know someone in company B and if you talk too much, one of them may eventually be able to put two and two together.


Build up risk tolerance. On paper, when you are involved in overemployment, you will be looking at employment contracts that inevitably stipulate legalese such as nondisclosure and non-compete agreements. But statistics show that companies do not really go through the hard work of litigating against a coder. Firing is good enough for them and much less costly.



Are overemployed coders burning the bridges every time they get caught and fired? Not really. Sing your praises as you like for the Agile methodology that has become the de facto political correctness of IT nowadays, as opposed to the conventional methodology of Watershed that facilitated historical breakthroughs as high caliber as Windows 95, Macbook, and embedded operating systems such as Sony and Samsung Smart TV. Coders no longer command the mandate of Leave-Me-Alone and Check-Back-with-Me in a couple of months,


In other words, coders were once treated like Tolstoy and worked on their War and Peace without anyone breathing down their neck. Today, coders are treated like farmhands or migrant crop workers. They come and go. Other than the code snippets they leave in a company’s repository, they become largely irrelevant to an IT firm’s future pursuit. In fact, the Chinese refer to coders as literally “source-code peasants.” For a coder to worry about being blacklisted by the IT sector or the firms from which they have been dismissed is, ironically, a self-aggrandizing delusion.


Finally, make hay while the sun shines. The IT job market has been on a tear, despite many rounds of layoffs by tech giants such as Google, Microsoft and Amazon.


Author Bio:

Peter Chang is a pseudonym of an IT professional who contributes articles to Highbrow Magazine.


For Highbrow Magazine.


Photo Credits: Depositphotos.com


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