Unsub

Unsub, as you fellow fans of the all-too-brief David Soul television series know, means Unknown Subject in television law enforcement, or it did briefly in the first Bush administration.

In the IT world, it could refer to Unknown Subcontractor. And while it’s not a crime, it’s unethical.

Have you ever sat in on a conference call with a developer who talks a good game at a high level, but when asked specific questions, he defers and dissembles? Someone who is not very responsive to issues: when you call him or email him about something in the morning, you can’t reach him, but the problem is solved (or is taken a stab at) overnight?

You know why he’s like that? Because he’s not the one doing the work. And sometimes, contractors hide that they’re subcontracting from their clients.

We use only the most highly trained subcontractors
This cat will test your application for t4/hr.
On the Internet and in remote/distributed work environments, nobody knows you’re a cat or if you’re using a cat as a subcontractor

I can see how it would happen semi-innocently. You’ve been working with a bunch of clients, and they’ve all got tasks that suddenly overlap. So you reach out to a colleague and offer him a couple dollars less just this one time. That works out, so you think, “Hey, maybe I’ll use Joe for this client….” and suddenly someone’s running a clandestine contracting company without the client or clients knowing.

It’s unethical to present your resume to a client and then to use someone else to do the work. It’s okay if you plan to do this at the outset and make sure your client understands you’ve got staff that will handle the work. That’s about the only way a day laborer like an IT consultant can grow a business. But if you say or hint that you’re going to do the work but don’t, that’s lying.

Our mobile testers try everything
This hidden subcontractor is testing your mobile app for t4/hr. (Four Treats an hour).

If the ethical considerations don’t stop you, consider the practical risks. One day you’re a beloved national treasure of a composer, the next you’re an embarrassment with a ghost composer. Or you’re a highly respected scientist/politician who ends up on a Cracked.com list because your behind-the-scenes temporary hires are lazy.

Don’t do it. And if you’re hiring or contracting the work out, make sure to ask, “So you will be doing this work, won’t you?”

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