The (Stealth) War for Talent

A Spy in the House of Work

It was time to reinvent my career. Being Jeff Bezos (no, not that Jeff Bezos!) was a failure. But as we all know, on the Net, “failure” is just an alternative spelling of “IPO.” It was time for me to move on.


According to one Web pundit, there are more than a million job listings online at all times. Yeah, a million jobs that nobody wants — full-time, clock-punching snooze-a-thons. No thanks. Like so many free-agent geniuses, I have the schedule, the wardrobe, and the television-viewing habits of an e-lancer.

So I visited one of those independent-contractor Web sites — the ones where you put your talents up for auction, Beanie Baby-style, and bid for jobs on a project-by-project basis. You have no contact with your clients, except through email. Now we’re talking!

There was a job with my name on it: “Create a top-notch e-commerce Web site from start to finish!” A $250,000 job, which I landed easily with a bid of $50K. I was so thrilled about getting the job that I immediately left to visit a buddy in Florida for a few days. When I got back, someone in a brick-and-mortar office in Ely, Nevada wanted to know where the hell his “top-notch e-commerce Web site” was.

I readjusted my sights. I went to, typed in the name of my city, and — bingo! A Mrs. McArdle, who lived just two streets away from me, needed someone to rake leaves. She left a rake for me on her porch, along with a yard-debris bag and a $5 bill. No more e-bucks! This was the real thing — dead presidents!

I returned from raking leaves and came across another request, also from Mrs. McArdle. She needed someone to pick up the dog poop that was on her property. Hey, once you’ve been part of a product-free software company, there’s nothing you won’t pick up.

I should have known then that Mrs. McArdle was too Net-savvy to be an ordinary pensioner with a PC, but I never imagined that she was an HR honcho in disguise. Soon she had me changing water filters and pruning fruit trees. I was on a roll!


Success makes you cocky. It also makes you forget one of life’s great adages: Be nice to people on the way up, because you never know whom you’re going to meet on the way down — or on the way further up, for that matter.

I was transplanting some daylilies when Darth, a 13-year-old with an earplug, rode up on his skateboard and accosted me. He claimed that I was stealing his accounts and infringing on the Brand Called Darth. I ripped up his Pokémon cards and tossed his board into the bushes. Big mistake.

One day, Mrs. McArdle needed a lift to the eye doctor ($15!). While on the way there, she said, “My son is beginning an online venture, and he’s looking for people who are willing to work their asses off for no money — at least in the beginning.”

I went to the address Mrs. McArdle gave me. It was a garage, which was pretty much empty, except for a bunch of boxes and an unfinished door set atop some dented filing cabinets. Looking under the door, I saw a pair of orange high-tops. Could it be … my old boss?

“Spud?” I asked. “Is that you?”

“Hey,” he said, “I sold PotatoWare for a bundle! Wanna start a company?”


Quicker than you can say “stock options,” I was already planning where in the garage I would put my door — um, I mean “desk.”

Then Spud said, “The guy who’s actually developing the venture went out to get some burgers…. Oh, here he is now.”

And who should skate up but Darth, my future partner in

This is the latest episode in the Spy’s continuing saga, “Working Behind Enemy Lines.” You can find the entire Spy chronicles at (