People Are Not Resources

My job hasn’t been replaced by a robot just yet, which means last time I checked software engineers were squishy meat-bags called “people”

People Are Not Resources
Photo by Andrew Moca / Unsplash

Just about every company, everywhere, uses metrics for just about everything. Well, the successful ones at least. Ye olde mom-and-pop shops probably aren’t neck-deep in SAP Hana every day looking for profound insights, but a lot of companies are. And with good reason: there’s a lot that can be learned from mining data and some cool things can come out of it.

But sometimes it's not-so-cool.

One of those things that share at least a tentative correlation with the rise of big data is the trend of calling employees — especially engineers — “resources”. It's a word that in and of itself is fine, like “moist”, but some people have really bad reactions to it. I am one of those people.

(Not with moist, moist is fine, but my wife hates it. Which is actually really funny because we like to watch cooking shows like Master Chef and Great British Baking Show where they absolutely love to use the word. I get a strange glee out of watching her squirm every time Mary Berry talks about a moist sponge.)

As far as I know the Great AI Singularity has yet to come, and my job hasn’t been replaced by a robot just yet, which means last time I checked software engineers were squishy meat-bags called “people”. I am a person, not a resource. CPU cycles are resources, as are websites, books, money, RAM, Laserdiscs, bandwidth, time, cars, roads, pucks, fluids, moist sponges, and just about everything that ever existed, except people. People are not resources. People are engineers, developers, architects, designers, artists, dog whisperers, cooks, pump attendants, oil drillers, astronauts, lawyers, sports-ballers, hockey players (except the Penguins), thatchers, shoe shiners, fish breeders, public sanitation technicians, and even the same HR personnel that would label us as things (although just barely, and then only technically; most HR people I know either don’t have or are in the process of losing that vestigial organ we call a beating heart).

Labeling people as resources has only one benefit: allowing managers and HR to make decisions that affect the lives of their employees without trivial things like empathy or humanity coming into scope. Which sounds better, “laying off a few thousand employees” or “removing redundant resources”? It's no wonder that what used to be a two-way partnership between company and employee is now a slightly abusive one-way relationship between company and resource. Company loyalty is all but a fantasy and the days of people working their entire careers have crested the horizon never to be seen again because it's easy to be disloyal to a resource, a “thing” with no emotions or humanity of its own. And the irony of this reality is that while the employment landscape has become much more volatile it's those same HR robots that demand to know why someone would bounce from company to company after only a year or so at each place. When HR-Bot 2000 asks why you don’t stick around longer at your previous jobs you can hardly answer truthfully — because you people don’t value the people you have — because you need the job, after all. Your resource-dependents have their own requirements that you need to provide for.

“Surely you’re exaggerating for the sake of comedy or satire”, you might say. I wish I was, then we could all sit back and laugh at the situation and how the words we use don’t have ripple effects. I would like to say that there’s an easy fix to this and that all it takes is to start rediscovering the humanity behind the language, but I can’t.

Because I’m just a resource; I can’t have an opinion.