Uber Tales – Working for an Algorithm, Edition

Over the last six years, I’ve worked for an algorithm. Prior to that, I worked for humans for seventeen years (give or take). And I’ll take the algorithm over the humans because as one of my passengers said to me recently when we got to talking about human vs. algorithms: with the algorithm it’s nothing personal.

Over the last six years or so since I’ve done gig work as it’s called, I’ve read a fair number of articles about working for an algorithm vs. working for humans. In my definitely not-so-humble opinion, most of these articles weren’t written by people with the level of experience I have working for both humans and algorithms. So, with that being said, I’ll talk about working for an algorithm vs. working for humans and yes, I will point out both the pros and cons of each.

First, are algorithms biased or flawed? Hell yes because they’re designed and programmed by humans. Anyone expecting perfection from an algorithm is an idiot, so this argument is bullshit in my opinion. Because to me, if an algorithm can be programmed with biases, it can also be programmed without those biases and go strictly by the data it’s fed. In my experience, algorithms mostly go by data and honestly, I don’t see how they factor in my age and gender for example. I’ve busted my ass to have the stats I have and in corporate America, that didn’t always translate into success.

Second, do algorithms change? All the time and sometimes I can see it and sometimes it’s subtle I can’t. Is there anything I can do about it? No, and that’s because computer programming and algorithms are way above my pay grade so I won’t claim any knowledge or expertise on how they work or anything like that (unlike some people on this planet unfortunately).

For me, the algorithm just wants me to do my job. And my job as an Uber driver isn’t that hard to be honest. I drive safely, get my passengers where they need to go, and be nice to them. I also do reserve rides and I go online when the app tells me to, get to my pickup early, wait patiently, and get my passengers where they need to go. The more I do this, the more opportunities I get. Also, I don’t turn down every other ride or cancel every other ride. I’m online to do a job and if I don’t want to do it, then I need to go offline. One big problem I’ve seen with some people is they want to dictate the schedule and the work and that’s not how it works at all. When you work for wages as my daddy once told me, you do what the boss tells you to.

How about the money, you may ask. There has been speculation that the algorithm adjusts rates in many ways, but I have no knowledge of this at all as again, that kind of thing is way above my pay grade. Also, there has been speculation of disparities in rates in cities and yes, even among drivers. Again, way above my pay grade so no speculation on that from me here. But I will say this: there were pay  disparities were in corporate America, and I knew that for certain. Those disparities are why employers erroneously tell their employees not to discuss pay rates with each other. Trust me, it pissed me off back in my corporate chicken-shit salad days to find out someone with less experience and tenure got paid more than I did simply because the company chose to hire them at a higher pay rate than me.

Now about equal pay for equal work: is there such a thing as equal work? By this I mean what if you have someone who meets or exceeds set metrics for their job, who shows a commitment to quality work, and who shows up on time and doesn’t create extra work and messes for other people to clean up? Shouldn’t they be compensated accordingly? Is it fair to pay them the exact same wage as someone who doesn’t really do the job well and at times makes things difficult for everyone else? I worked with people who did the bare minimum and as long as they didn’t cause too much trouble or act like an asshole too often, I left them alone. But for the most part, that’s not the case.

I’m not saying everyone who gets canned or de-activated from an app is a slacker or has an attitude problem. Apps and algorithms are flawed because of the humans that design and program them. In the event something goes wrong, there are humans behind the app you can reach out to. I will admit I’ve had very few issues with the apps I’ve worked for, and they’ve all been resolved fairly and in my favor. Back in my corporate days, that wasn’t always the case.

For me, the best thing I like about working for the algorithm is the fact it’s not riding my ass every five minutes like some humans I worked for. It’s not petty or stupid like some of the humans I worked for. I like the fact that unless I take on a reserve ride, the algorithm doesn’t care when I work or how long I work. So, if I’m just not feeling it, I can log off and go home. Now I know not all jobs are like mine here but trust me, I don’t need to be told when to work or how long. I’m an adult and yes, I can manage my time.

Finally, the financial hardships I’ve had with this job are due to the nature of the business and it’s not just gig-work this happens in. A lot of jobs are ebb and flow, and you just have to ride those tides out as best as you can. But if anyone thinks things are perfectly stable, they obviously didn’t live though 2020, or if they did, they’re in a serious case of denial.

In the end if you ask me what I prefer, I prefer the algorithm because it lets me do my job without having to deal with the whims, politics, and the mental and emotional hemorrhoids of some humans.

Author: Michele

Writer by day, Uber driver by night. Single mom to two fur-kids (a dog and a cat).

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