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Book Review: Bullshit Jobs – A theory

Bullshit Jobs

Bullshit Jobs

A Theory

David Graeber

Explores one of society’s most vexing and deeply felt concerns, indicting among other villains a particular strain of finance capitalism that betrays ideals shared by thinkers ranging from Keynes to Lincoln.

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Why I read this book

With most of the world going into in lock-down during 2020, I figured there was going to be a whole new opportunity to part take in one of my favourite past times! I also wanted to take a break from reading tech based books.

I tend to read mainly, Tech, Science, Engineering, History based books with a healthy dose of conspiracy theory and the occasional psychological thriller. I have to confess, I have also been reading a few business based books lately. It was scanning through the titles I came across this book and lets be honest the title is quite a catchy.

The premise of the book, happens to be in line with where my current thought process is these days, and especially when we're in these unprecedented times and everything we perceive as normal has just been thrown up in the air! It may be the best opportunity we will all ever get to re-evaluate the world and our role in it!

What I like about this book

This is an entertaining book of anecdotes and statistics on what turns out to be a common phenomena that there are large proportion of jobs that are so completely pointless and meaningless that even the people doing them can't even justify them!

a form of paid employment that is so completely pointless, unnecessary, or pernicious that even the employee cannot justify its existence even though, as part of the conditions of employment, the employee feels obliged to pretend that this is not the case’.

Bullshit Job definition

It is one of the most refreshing reads that a higher-educated conscious working professional can have in their library. Put down every other garbage business book that supposedly empowers you. You don't need to practice mindfulness, or rules for life, or launch a cool kids lean startup with ping pong tables and bean bags!

The book offers an interesting perspective, especially coming at from the world of a Software Engineer/Developer. For the most part, one of the primary objectives of software developers is to automate the mundane, and to replace complex business processes with efficient software solutions. In my career there have been several occasions when I replaced entire departments with one software application.

I can remember one occasion when I demoed a new software application to business unit I had wrote it for, and one of the ladies in the department actually break down in tears, when I presented one feature. The reason was that I found out a couple of days later, is that my solution had completely automated the only aspect of her job that she actually enjoyed doing!

There have also been a few occasions when I have been sent into the business departments to learn everything they do, and then write systems to completely replace everybody!

While reading this book, there were a number of occasions of Rework: Change the way you work forever , perfect playbook for anyone who's ever dreamed of doing it on their own. Hardcore entrepreneurs, small-business owners, people stuck in day jobs who want to get out, and artists who don't want to starve anymore will all find valuable inspiration and guidance in these pages.  A large portion of the principles defined in Rework, is to obliterate the unnecessary elements and the least productive processes in business and your company.

This concurs with my experience of the workplace, when you really question why certain jobs, processes or procedures are preformed or needed it usually comes down to that somebody thought they needed to be done, or its because they wanted it done and nobody ever questioned why it should be done. Which also reminds me of Simon Sineks, Start with Why


Change The Way You Work Forever

Read it and you'll know why plans are actually harmful, why you don't need outside investors, and why you're better off ignoring the competition.


Reading this book, reminded me of several times in my career, that I have worked on several several teams that have developed software projects that have been assigned straight to the shelf. We talking some fairly large software project teams, comprising of Programme Directors, Project Managers, Project Management Officers, Quality Assurance, several software development teams etc.

These projects were often funded to the tune of several millions of pounds and often kicked off with much pomp and praise,but ultimately were just someones vanity project. Usually these projects get months in a couple of instances years down the road before somewhere in a meeting room it's decided that the entire purpose of the project is questionable and the perceived value it was proposed to deliver was never really there.

Often, this comes with the announcement, that the project is going to "Moth Balled", on the very odd occasion the organisation will admit that the whole idea and drive behind the project was fundamentally flawed. I have to admit that many of these projects were during the late 90's to late 00's. At the time, many Project Management methodologies and practices were also gradually evolving.

Over the years, software development projects rates of failure still fluctuate between 70 - 50% failure rates. That is a lot of shelf-ware moth balled and just waiting to be re-activated. In my experience, this is very equally balanced between the Private and Public sector.

I would also attest that software projects in general also create a number of Bullshit jobs - according to Graebers definition - and the people I have met and worked with on these projects. In fact, in reflection I can even recall several points, whereby I personally had fulfilled a bullshit job. I spent at least 6 months on a project, whereby I had not actually committed a line of code to the project and the vast majority of my time was dedicated to attending "meetings", generating pointless unread documents and working on personal projects. I wouldn't have minded, but I was commuting over an hour and half each way, to sit in a open planned office in central London. I even had one of those supervisors that, actually believed that if you were sat at your desk, then you must be working!

A human being unable to have a meaningful impact on the world ceases to exist

David Graeber

I remember, one occasion, that he pulled me up one day, for being 10 minutes late from lunch, gave me some kind of token telling off. On my way back to my desk, I just laughed because the reality was for the previous 4 weeks prior to that, I honestly had not done one stitch of actual work at all, primarily due to the fact that there really wasn't any work for the entire team to do. The entire team had spent the previous weeks, ultimately spinning their wheels! This was despite all of us, being diligently being seated at our desks.

It's fair to say, that at the next contract renewal, which was only in another 2 months time, I didn't bother extending. That particular project was also moth-balled several months later. It is now also to my understanding that project has never been re-activated and even the major consultancy I was contracted to, no longer even exists!

Those months on that particular project, actually had a lot of impact on my physical health. Due to the commuting commitment, circa 3+ hours a day due to the vagaries of the British rail system, I was unable to attend the gym or part take in any other exercise activity. It was also during the time, as young family with 3 kids under 5, spare time was scarce.

These factors coupled with the realization that I was fulfilling, inevitably turned out to be a completely bullshit job!. I was demotivated and I have to admit only primarily driven to clock the day to get money. I have to admit, that this took every fiber of my soul just to get out of bed in the morning. Face the crowds in the morning and afternoon in the shared sado-masochistic world of commuterdom! To go spend 8+ hours in a really shitty opened plan office, with other people who are going through exactly the same levels of miserableness all in pursuit just to get money to put food on the table.

I was also drinking almost every night, not excessively but also way above my daily government sanctioned daily limits. This coupled with the fact that I was making use of public transport and exposed to generally useless air conditioning systems, I always felt terrible and seemed to always be coming down with some form of cold.

I had never been as depressed and cynical about the state of the world, as I was at that particular time of my career! This is exactly the effect a bullshit job has on people, as I discovered while reading the testimonies inside this book!

Why I recommend this book

I would caution and advise, that this is all just a theory and just a perspective of the modern workplace. Although I would have to admit, with a bit of retrospection on my career, I would have to agree in many respects, even though I have worked as a software developer, I have worked in not only pointless positions, but as it turns out even pointless companies building ultimately pointless products!

I don't know whether it is because during the same period of time, I was reading this book I was also read Daylight Robbery: How Tax Shaped Our Past and Will Change Our Future and Life After the State: Why We Don't Need Government ,coupled with everything that has been going on with the world lately, that I am just naturally questioning and cynical of the state of the world and society.

It is just interesting to note that after the Crisis of the Late Middle Ages and was associated with great social change, gave birth to the Renaissance period, are we about to enter another period of Humanism?

Gary Woodfine
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