One of the first things I learned about journalism was  ”check your sources”. That was when I was an editor of the school magazine aged about 14. One of the next things I learned about journalism – from journalists – is that journalist get lots of their stories from each other.

This struck me again over the last few days over the fantastic story of a developer who outsourced his own job to China. It’s a great story –  during a security audit Verizon discovers that there is VPN traffic coming into a corporate Network from China

Plainly stated, the VPN logs showed him logged in from China, yet the employee is right there, sitting at his desk, staring into his monitor.

The profile of the employee is

Employee profile –mid-40’s software developer versed in C, C++, perl, java, Ruby, php, python, etc. Relatively long tenure with the company, family man, inoffensive and quiet. Someone you wouldn’t look at twice in an elevator. For the sake of case study, let’s call him “Bob.”

Long story short, the employee had outsourced his own job

As it turns out, Bob had simply outsourced his own job to a Chinese consulting firm. Bob spent less that one fifth of his six-figure salary for a Chinese firm to do his job for him. Authentication was no problem, he physically FedExed his RSA token to China so that the third-party contractor could log-in under his credentials during the workday. It would appear that he was working an average 9 to 5 work day

Even better

Evidence even suggested he had the same scam going across multiple companies in the area. All told, it looked like he earned several hundred thousand dollars a year, and only had to pay the Chinese consulting firm about fifty grand annually.

It’s a great story. A really great story. So great it goes viral. The Register has it. The BBC has it. The Next Web, Gawker, The Verge, The Irish Times, Fast Company, ABC News all cover it. ABC appeared to have spoken to Valentine the author of the piece. Most of the others had gotten it from each other. Aside from the Irish Times few even linked to the original piece. (In this journalism seems very like academia where many people cite and reference without checking the original source material.)

I have to say that I’m unconvinced by the story. A few people in the comments had the same reaction with one of the comments in the piece saying

This story sets off a lot of BS alarms. Seems likely to be at least embellished, if not downright bogus. The “typical work day” stuff sounds particularly fishy.

This set off a number of alarm bells with me – first there was the similarity to another story that dates back to 2004. It was originally on Slashdot but I can’t find it in their archive, and the Times of India story linked to is also gone. It concerns a US programmer who outsourced his job to India for 20% of his salary. There are enough links from trusted sources to show the story had a little bit of traction in 2004/5.

The story as I remember and have used finishes with the idea that it took him about a day a week to do his own job with the other developer, and he paid $12K of his $67K salary to the Indian developer . He apparently thought about getting another job but really didn’t want the bother of working a second day a week. The story from what I could check out later turned out to be false.

And now we have this really great story.

And it rings false.

I have lots of questions – they range from the mundane to the slightly more mundane.

How did this developer get two RSA tokens?  Large US Corporates generally take very good care of these and they are only given out when people absolutely need them. If “Bob” ever needed to work from home he’d have needed two tokens. No one gives out a second one of these without cancelling the other one first.

“Bob” had taken on several jobs at very high rates of pay if he was “it looked like he earned several hundred thousand dollars a year” Yet he appeared to do no work? And thankfully none of these jobs needed any work on Bobs part either? And as we all know communicating to outsourced staff requires no work. No code integration, no interaction with other workers, no fixing things – ever? Even the other 2004 story had the worker doing a days work per week. How did Bob manage his feat? Has this single IT worker cracked the holy grail of outsourcing. It’s  sounds as plausible as cold fusion did to physicists in 1989.

He was also the best coder in the office.  He produced well written code and got excellent performance reviews. And left at 5pm every night – after taking a 90 minute lunch break. In a US Corporate environment.  Colour me just a little doubtful.

In his forties he spent his time on Reddit, Ebay, Facebook and watching Cat Videos? Really.

The story is superb. It feels fake because it sounds too perfect. It is entirely possible that it is real. I want it to be real. I’d love to know more. I’ve emailed the original author. I’ll let you know if I hear anything.