I have been working as a temporary worker at a large ($13+ billion/yr) company for some time now. My job is a typical $15/hr office job where I do paperwork, place orders and bill people. At some point, I automated half my job and the higher ups found out. Recently, I figured out how to completely automate my job and I let it slip in the presence of the vice president of our division that I could do so. Moral of the story, they want me to completely automate the ordering process and billing processes for our division of the company, which would effectively replace my job... as a temp worker... who's not supposed to be doing this (outside my job description)... for $15 an hour.

Now I'm no expert, but that doesn't seem to be a smart move. I have raised my concerns and stated that I wish to have a more permanent position in the company before doing this, to which they basically told me to look around the company and maybe I'll get something somewhere and I can continue working on this on the side.

I need advice here. As someone new to the workplace, I do not know the proper way to handle something like this. Do I complete the program as a temp, take some random job here and complete it, or let my time expire here and not look back? Or some fourth option I'm not thinking of? Any help/opinions would be greatly appreciated!

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Dec 9 at 2:23

15 Answers 15

up vote 388 down vote accepted

I was hired for a 2.5 month contract. I was warned by friends and family not to throw myself into the work and not finish too quickly.

I ignored them, and did the job in 3 weeks. My employer had me budgeted for the full 2.5 months (I did not know this when I did the job). When I finished early, I was asked to assist with a process that was taking 10 hours to run, I sped it up considerably. (about 100 times faster). I did this knowing my contract was ending, but I still did my best.

End result: They asked me to come to work full-time perm.

No, you may not end up in the same place that I did, but dragging your heels, complaining about your pay rate, and saying that things are out of scope of your job are certainly not going to get you a perm job offer.

TLDR:

  1. Do your best
  2. Do what is asked of you
  3. Express interest in the company
  4. Apply to any openings
  5. Update your resume
  6. Apply outside the company.

Demonstrating that you are a good, hard, and ethical worker will either get you hired full time by this company, or give you bragging points at your next interview where you can ask for more money

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    That is the best answer that could have been given. Working hard or outside your scope won't ever harm you. – Aziris Morora Dec 11 at 13:29
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    "Ever" is a long time... My first supervisor ever had the motto "Work is scarce resource that must be used sparingly". – gnasher729 Dec 11 at 14:27
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    @gnasher729 I one day hope to appreciate the wisdom in that saying. – Richard U Dec 11 at 14:37

The problem here is you already proved to them you can and will do it for $15/hr as you already did part of it.

Unfortunately, we often don't get to pick and choose our tasks.

If you decline doing this, you will more than likely be terminated for not doing what was asked of you and they will just hire someone who is willing to do it for $15/hr (trust me there is someone who will). Then, instead of working yourself out of a job (which you can plan for), you will just find yourself jobless quicker.

Being terminated will look worse on your CV than saying you were able to save a company so much time and money that they no longer needed you.

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    It seems unclear to me that the company could actually find someone to write programs capable of eliminating entire jobs for $15/hr. Finding a software developer to work for $15/hr is quite different from finding someone to do data entry for $15/hr. – reirab Dec 7 at 7:17
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    If this is just a PTJ with no intentions of extending it, renegotiate the contract. – David Dec 7 at 7:27
  • @reirab I saw someone in my area take a project lead that required 5 years experience as a project for $2 above min wage. There is always someone willing to do it. – SaggingRufus Dec 7 at 11:07
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    @SaggingRufus If there were always someone willing (and qualified) to do it, companies wouldn't be taking months for job opening searches and shelling out six-figure salaries to software developers. Perhaps they'll be lucky and stumble across someone else like the OP, but that seems far from a certainty at $15/hr. – reirab Dec 7 at 17:15
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    @reirab These kind of comments always hurt me as a software developer who's earning $10/hr in Uruguay... and this isn't below average in my country. – Agustín Lado Dec 10 at 22:18

You have an opportunity here.

Let's say you don't do what you've been tasked with: They will fire you. You don't have a job and you were fired, which is a bad mark for someone who is searching for a new job.

Let's say you do what you've been tasked with: Either they lay you off or you get hired permanently. If you get laid off it's not as bad as being fired, and while it sucks, at least you didn't get fired. If you get hired then great!

Additionally, you:

  1. Performed requirements discovery about a new position
  2. Developed a system of some kind to automate 1/2 of the job, saving the company $15k/y, doubling your own productivity, reducing error introduced by manual processing
  3. Continued developing this system until you were able to completely automate the job, saving an additional 15k/y, reducing errors further and allowing the company to focus on their bottom line and big picture.

What sounds better on the resume then that?

  • Sounds likeOP is doing the work of a computer systems administrator, even a computer programmer. The company is getting your expertise for $15 / hr instead of $25 / hr... it's a win for them and an excellent opportunity for you. Odds are you'll have more opportunities there after you finish this task... be positive, go a good job, and ask for a pay rise if they want to make you permanent :) – vikingsteve Dec 10 at 8:17

I'm on the similar boat as you.

Currently on an temp office job doing data maintenance for a 1 year contract (agency). Saw that lots of processes and procedures are all over the place, so it takes extra work to know what you need to do.

That was a hassle for me. So, I compiled the procedures, autofill what's necessary, and have an automated system to upload the changes with guaranteed accuracy. Shared my work to the management, was impressed, and asked to explain how I did it. Went and asked me to continue upgrading what I worked on and they will implement it on their current procedures. They also asked me to work with two of their permanent staff for this, since they're more knowledgeable in regards to the processes.

And get this - I'm still a temp but my profile already has a full-time staff access. Without me even trying to apply.

Now, I have a system that makes my job 100x easier and guarantees my performance, and a possible full-time offer. Score!

In your case, just go with it. Go create the program. While you're at it, think of other possible workflow or process that can be improved. Show-off your skills even if it's outside your position. If your management is smart enough, you'll definitely be a keeper. You may even be asked to stay to keep maintaining your automated program or create new ones.

Professional software developer here. First of all, congratulations on your success at automating your job! You've demonstrated a level of problem-solving and abstract thinking ability that will serve you well in the future.

I do want to offer a word of caution, though. There's a huge difference between automating a single step or component of a process and automating the entire billing and ordering process for your division. The approach you took to automate a small part of the process won't necessarily scale to the larger process, and you could quickly find yourself overwhelmed.

So to answer your question, I would not advise you to try to tackle the full automation, not because you'll automate yourself out of a job, but because, in effect, you'd be committing to do—all by yourself, on the strength of one successful project—something that would typically be handled by a small team of experienced software developers at a significantly higher cost.

Please understand, this is not meant a condescending "leave it to the professionals" type of answer. I just want to make sure you're aware that what you're being asked to do would typically be handled by people trained to do that specific thing. In fact, many highly skilled software developers have started out exactly where you are!

Great first question. You are right, there is a phenomena of "automating yourself out of the job". I think first time I read about it in Tom Limoncelli's @tomontime blog, he's is extremely bright sysadmin who used to run operations of Google servers, and now works for Stack Exchange (this website).

On a practical note, @SaggingRufus writes correctly about what might happen. You should do your job, and do what's been asked. Refusing to do so is not going to work well for you.

You have the right though to re-negotiate your position. You say yourself:

as a temp worker... who's not supposed to be doing this (outside my job description)... for $15 an hour.

Each of these points can be used for negotiation. I would suggest you approach it as possibility of promotion, mentioning these points:

  • this is outside of my job description, I am not comfortable to take more responsibility
  • this project might take longer to finish, and I need job stability to fully commit to it
  • this pay rate is much lower than market-rate for similar skills and responsibility
  • you are interested in staying within the company

Meanwhile, you have to follow the instructions from your management, as that is your current position. You might wanna start look for employment elsewhere to know what's your skills really worth.

There is another thing working to your advantage:

I have been working as a temporary worker at a large ($13+ billion/yr) company

Large company means large bureaucracy. There is a risk that they don't care about firing you, but I bet management would rather promote you within the company than to work with outside org to hire somebody to replace you. Any company has infinite amount of problems and finite amount of smart/good workers who know how to solve them.

Quoting Tom:

There's another way to think about it: This is totally different than the auto industry where the introduction of robots resulted in layoffs. In IT, you are the robot!

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    What action would you recommend the querent take? These are fair observations, but there doesn't seem to be any specific recommendations about what actions the querent should take to address or resolve their situation, which tend to be important for solving the problem. – doppelgreener Dec 6 at 18:58
  • @doppelgreener thanks, i will clarify. My suggestion would be present a case for promotion – aaaaaa Dec 6 at 19:00
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    Don't worry about "automating yourself out of a job." If what you described happens across the company (and the fact that you have proved it's possible may encourage the top management to make it happen) the result is likely to be that the $13bn company becomes a $130bn company, but with only twice as many employees as before, not 10 times as many. That's something for their competitors to worry about, not you! – alephzero Dec 6 at 22:24

I love hiring people who have this attitude. I've had many interviews with people where they mentioned that they were in a fairly boring job, and found ways to automate it; those people were much more likely to be hired than people who didn't.

Even when I was working in retail management, I was much more interested in hiring people who had this attitude and competency than weren't. I want people with initiative and the ability to do things like this, rather than people who just push buttons. (Well, sometimes we want button-pushers too, but you probably don't want to be in that role, so, better to avoid it.)

Keep automating, automate your job away, and look for other work. If you're in a temp agency, let your temp agency know to be looking early; if you're doing it on your own, look in the company and elsewhere.

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    I always felt that "boring office job" is pretty much synonymous to "just waiting for automation". To be boring, it must be predictable, which means easy to automate. And if it turns out it's not as easy to automate as you expected, well, that's even more exciting, isn't it? :D – Luaan Dec 7 at 6:16
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    I agree with both of you. I am a software developer who openly tells my bosses “I am a rurally lazy person. And I will work as hard as I can so that I can continue to be lazy” – with a grin ;-) Hence, I am constantly developing little tools which my life easier, especially automating the boring stuff, so that I can spend more time on the interesting – and I never run out of work. If it benefits my co-workers, so much the belter, and bosses always appreciate it, plus they gain a good opinion of me ... -> – Mawg Dec 7 at 7:29
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    .... -> I have discussed this with a few people and we all agree - if you have do something twice, at least consider automating it; if you must do it for third time – don’t do it. Stop right there and automate it. – Mawg Dec 7 at 7:30
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    @Mawg: That's a little simplistic. xkcd.com/1205 – Oddthinking Dec 8 at 2:11
  • Ha ha ha ha! And I thought that I had meorized all of xkcd :-) – Mawg Dec 8 at 7:40

I'm going to throw my bone in here with a completely different view. OP has been asked to perform a job that typically commands a higher pay rate at a lower pay rate. When asked to be made FTE, OP was given a classic go around answer of "we'll place you somewhere sometime".

Based on this let's assume the employer's a cow, and what do you do with cows? You milk them! Automating yourself out of a job should take about the same amount of time as you're willing to work there, and if at the end you have another job lined and they make an offer, that's when you consider it... for the first time.

Otherwise, you may be opening yourself up to exploitation by your employer, where you're doing all sorts of things for $15 an hour and the employer sees you as a "good deal", but doesn't have your best interests in mind.

  • Exactly what I was thinking of. The bigger picture here is doing highly qualified work for the price of flipping burgers. – Rui F Ribeiro Dec 7 at 9:45

One option I haven't seen mentioned yet, is to back out of your claim, e.g.:

I think I've misrepresented things a little, I was frustrated and letting off steam at the time. I'm sure the automation could be done, and I have done some of the easier parts, but if I personally had the skill to do all of it, I wouldn't be working temp jobs, I'd be a contractor.

Or from another approach:

I think the automation could be done, but there is a lot of detail to the ordering and billing which I don't have the experience to handle properly - legal, financial, auditing concerns. Because they are so important and would cause problems if they went wrong, it would be irresponsible of me to keep saying I can do it {but I would be happy be on a team of people making that happen, if you would}.

This approach won't be great for career progress, but it might be a way to keep working without simply being fired for refusing to do the work you were told to do.

I've done something similar at my company. My solution was to go about getting a pay raise. My pay is pretty bad because I'm in the public sector and hired in an office that's generally not in my field, but I do have a permanent position and I do make more money than I need because I'm good at budgeting.

What I would suggest is making it clear that you won't do this anymore for a meager $15 per hour. Look up what the market pay for your job is and make an argument for how much you should be making doing this.

Have you considered that they might need you after you perform the automation?

If you successfully automate the process then there are still a substantial number of things that can go wrong. Maybe there is a bug in your code that isn't immediately apparent. Maybe in a years time there is a software update which invalidates some part of the process.

These kinds of problems are often easiest to solve for the person who created a process as they are already very familiar with it. In this case that would be you!

I can't guarantee that your company will decide to hang on to you after the work is complete but they would be stupid not to do so.

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The automation job deserves a raise, however you havent really proven yourself yet. You have to set with your employer a short term milestone, maybe 1 to 3 months, with a given set of objectives. If you complete the milestone with demonstrable results, you'll be in a position to ask for a raise.

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There are many good answers already, but one thing none of them mention: Ask for a raise.

At many large companies, creating a new position is a big deal involving lots of approvals and paperwork, and may be straight up impossible for months at a time (hiring freezes). Changing the terms for a contract worker is comparatively small, usually requiring approval from only one or two people. Figure out what a good hourly wage is for a software developer (two to three times your current pay, probably), come up with justifications that you're worth that much, and bring it up with your manager.

This is what I did when I was in a similar situation to you. I was able to get a raise from $18 an hour to $36 an hour because I liked working there (I'd asked for $40), but made it clear that I could get double the money elsewhere.

From their wishy washy response on making you permanent, I'd wager you don't have that good a chance of finding gainful employment with them after they no longer need you.

Here's my suggestion - Figure out what it costs them to pay someone to do this task for a year. Say... they pay someone $20/hr, and it takes 20 hours a week to do this task - That's $20k per year spent on this task. Now, figure that if you automate it for them, they'll not need to pay someone ever again, aside from upkeep. Offer then a solid deal - $40,000 for the design, testing, and implementation and two years of support (or something).

Employment is adversarial - they want to get as much from you as they can, for as cheap as they can. They might hire you afterwards if you write this, but they might not. If you automate the code and wait on their good will, all the power is in their hands. If you reach a good business agreement with them, they'll not have any reasonable choice besides paying you.

They may fire you for proposing the idea, but if they're business minded and looking to maximize their profits, they would be foolish to fire you and lose the money they stand to save.

Protip: Have a neat proof of concept

  1. that isn't actually functional for their needs
  2. that you wrote on your own time at home to demo for them.

Anything you wrote at work is almost certainly their property. Anything you wrote at home with knowledge of their systems they'll probably try to argue is also their property. Easier to just not have anything worth money until they've handed over their deposit.

I was in this same position when I was in college. I had a temp position where I began automating some small tasks. This got up to the department manager and I was officially reassigned without a change in pay. I was continually asked to automate more (new and old processes, bits and end to end), which caught the attention of one of their largest clients. I was on conference calls directly with the customer regularly. I am no longer with the company, but I was offered a full-time permanent position there.

My biggest gain was not only experience, but the resume items and a glowing letter of recommendation from my supervisor. I recently accepted a new position with a full-fledged tech company thanks to the experience and recommendation.

Side note, any later in one's career than in school or fresh out and this may not be the fastest path to career growth.

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    I was going to upvote until I got to that final sentence. A company doesn't care if you're 20 or 60: if you can automate a process and save them money, they're going to like it. – Kevin Dec 10 at 21:35
  • @Kevin Good point. It should still be a positive effect to follow such a path at any age. I changed my post to say it may not be the fastest path. – Mooseman Dec 11 at 11:21

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