Xerox Guy (2014)

Epistemic Status

This is literally like, a quarter finished thing from my miscellaneous text files. Don't expect total coherence.

Have you ever had a guy who came into your workplace or building whose sole job was to fix the printer? Have you ever been the Xerox guy? How long did it take you to get his job? I'm going to be honest, I have no idea how long it takes to become the Xerox guy. But I'm going to postulate that you live in the world where becoming the Xerox guy takes about three weeks.

That might seem a little insane, after all, if the Xerox guy only spent three weks becoming the Xerox guy, why don't companies just spend a month training an in-house Xerox guy? Well one thought to consider is that for the vast majority of organizations, the cost to train somebody for three weeks is higher than their yearly broken printer budget. The Return on Investment for training an in-house Xerox technician is at best slightly positive and in all liklihood negative.

However, the concept of "you could be the guy in three weeks if you spent the time on it" is actually fairly valuable. Because for one thing it suggests that we can measure a lot of things by training time. Xerox guy is probably at the low end of time to train, but I wouldn't be surprised if you could learn most things you need to know to work on your car in two months. So why do people go to mechanics? Well for one thing the tricky problems probably don't lend themselves well to being fixed by people who only put two months in. For another, asking everybody to devote two months of their life to anything is a huge commitment. If you live to be 100, you'll have 1200 months to your credit. We can immediately probably discount the months before the age of about ten. So let's call it 1100 months. Here's the thing, if you spend a month becoming the Xerox guy, two becoming an amateur car mechanic, you'll never have time to do actual productive economic work. So even if the barrier to entry for a job isn't objectively high, it's relatively high for the people who require service.

If you think of this in terms of paying yourself, a month to become the Xerox guy or two months to become a fraction of the mechanic probably costs more than your annual budget for either of those things. In fact, it probably costs more than your multiple year budget for those things. Sometimes it's absolutely worth it, and other times it's better to just pay somebody else to do a thing for you. One of the big places where a lot of money is sitting on the table is the intersection between things that you know and do because it's cheaper than paying somebody else, and things you would have to put in more effort to learn than it would be worth to you. So that would be things which you can learn for cheaper than it costs to have somebody else do them.

There are a thousand things you could become if you spent a month on it, but then you'd be an old man.