When you pump your own gas at the filling station...

...are you working for the gas station or for yourself? Are all those people waiting in line behind the ATM machine more highly evolved bank customers or just nonpaid bank tellers? When you take a pregnancy test at home, are you a savvy self-helper, or part of the HMO's plan to reduce costs? The answer, of course, is both. When everyone is linked into a web, it's impossible to tell which side you are on.

Web sites and 800 numbers can invite customers into the internal knowledge banks of a company to almost the same degree of "inside" that employees stationed on the other side of the line enjoy. Many technical companies post the same technical information and diagnostic guidelines on their help sites that their own support professionals work from when you call their hotline. You can have someone trained to look up and then read troubleshooting answers for you, or if you are in a hurry, you can try to find it yourself. Who's working for whom?

At the same time the complexity of an employee contract, particularly in high-tech fields, is quickly approaching the complexity of a contract with an outside vendor. Stock options, vestment periods, a thousand insurance and benefit combinations, severance clauses, noncompete agreements, performance goals--each one uniquely negotiated for each person. A highly paid technical employee becomes in essence a permanent consultant. He or she is an outsider on staff.



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This is a blog version of a book of mine first published in 1998. I am re-issuing it (two posts per week) unaltered on its 10th anniversary. Comments welcomed. More details here.
-- KK