📆 September 5, 2023 | ⏱️ 8 minute read | 🏷️ computing

Gaining Clarity After Walking Off a Job on Orientation Day

Over the past year, I’ve been trying to break into teaching as a career since there’s no money in free software. So I earned a TEFL certification and was recently offered an English teaching job at a highly-respected educational institution in Mexico, where I live.

It came as a surprise because this type of job normally wouldn’t be offered to an “unqualified” person like myself. In fact, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t even legal for me to occupy the position given how “unqualified” I am, but there was a desperate need to fill it and, in this country, corruption is the rule.

It started with an interview with the English program director. We discussed the details of the job for a while and got to know each other. The director was surprised to learn that I didn’t have a phone or a phone number. After realizing that I’d need a phone, a phone number, and WhatsApp to contact the director and my coworkers, I told the director I would be willing to get those things. I also learned that I’d need a Mexican bank app to get paid. I wasn’t happy about it, but I tried to remind myself that I needed the job since I’ve lacked stable employment for quite a while now.

Before I’d even discovered the teaching opportunity, I’d already made the rounds at large Mexican banks in a futile attempt to find one that didn’t require a proprietary mobile application just to use the fucking account. I ended up finding an alternative to banking that’s good enough for now. So imagine how annoyed I was finding out that I’d need an account and the app anyways. One of the biggest problems with these bank apps, besides them being proprietary spyware, is that they refuse to work if you use a custom rom or try to exercise any real control over your own device.

I’d need a real mobile phone to get the bank app since my computers lack the CPU instructions to spin up Android VMs. I certainly wasn’t going to spend money on a closed hardware computer or mobile phone, so a family member gave me their old Android device. Thanks to planned obsolescence, I could not upgrade the system past Android 8.1, meaning it probably contained unpatched security vulnerabilities. I was unable to install a custom degoogled rom either.

Thus the phone had all the standard spyware one would expect from an off-the-shelf Android device, including a manufacturer backdoor. I removed as much of it as I could using the Universal Android Debloater, but it was still an outdated Googled Android rom. There was no real way to make it private or secure. This on top of the other reasons I don’t want a smartphone was making me progressively more agitated about the entire situation.

Then I went to the store and gave money to the Mexican telecommunications monopoly Telmex in exchange for a SIM card. After putting it in the phone, I knew it would allow my location to be constantly tracked by the telecom, at least while I was at work and when I didn’t remember to put the phone in airplane mode.

I used my new phone number to download WhatsApp. WhatsApp is an app owned by Facebook, a company so evil and dangerous for democracy that it should’ve been forcibly dissolved years ago, but instead it makes up a large part of the world’s digital communication infrastructure. I was not happy about giving the Zuck my data, but I told myself that I had no choice. I needed the job.

I still hadn’t created the bank account, but I was all set up for it. I had an Android phone and a SIM card. I let the director know that I’d gotten that far.

The next day, I went to the job orientation. The first thing I noticed was that everyone except me was dressed up in suits. It was then explained in the presentation that we were not allowed to wear “anything that made us look like a student”, including tennis shoes. I find formal attire uncomfortable and any expectation for me to wear it, especially on a long term basis, feels oppressive. But whatever. I needed the job.

I also noticed that the classrooms had surveillance cameras, which made me uncomfortable because I had no idea what sort of system lied behind them. I might be okay with it if I knew for certain that the video surveillance feed data was never transmitted over the internet and only a human being was watching it, but I didn’t know that. For all I knew, it sent video surveillance data to some third party which used AI to analyze human faces.

After the orientation, we were shuffled off to a conference room. In the conference room, we were emailed a document to complete as some kind of Google form. While everyone was using their phones to complete the form, I wasn’t even aware that I’d need to access my email on my phone while at work, so I didn’t prepare it and couldn’t access the form. I was also very apprehensive about putting any information in a Google form. Why should I have to give data to the corporate surveillance monster that is Google just to have a job?

Eventually everyone in that group had completed the form and went to get their pictures taken, except for me since I could not access the form. I became frustrated and stressed, so I left to sit down on a bench outside the conference room to calm down, then headed towards the English language coordinator’s office to discuss the matter. They had to continue the orientation soon, but they gave me a few minutes anyways.

At that point, I’d had enough. I didn’t want a phone. I didn’t want a phone number. I didn’t want WhatsApp. I didn’t want a bank app. I didn’t want to use Google. I originally thought I could put up with it all given how badly I needed a stable job, but it turns out I was wrong.

I decided to confront the director about the software we were required to use and why I didn’t want to use it. We ended up having a fairly long discussion. I mentioned that I was on the verge of quitting before I had even begun the job because the software was so bothersome. The director said they wanted to keep me, that I didn’t need to use the technologies I didn’t like, and that they would be willing to work with me towards that goal.

I was slightly relieved, but knowing how large institutions work, I was also skeptical that the English teaching director had the influence to make such an exception just for me. It was time for them to give their speech, so I left to sit outside and consider whether to leave then and there or give it a shot. I ultimately decided that I would give it a shot as long as certain concessions could be made from the very beginning. Specifically that:

The director messaged asking me to return and I did. I tried to state the terms under which I was willing to work, but I and all the other teachers were shuffled into another room and paired into our groups before I had a chance to say anything. After being put into a group, the group leader asked me if there was a problem. I told them there was: I didn’t want to use WhatsApp. They said that my refusal to use it would be very inconvenient and cause problems for the group; exactly the situation I didn’t want to happen.

The leader proceeded to lecture me, saying that sometimes it’s necessary to do things I don’t like to fit in with the group and that if I had a problem with that, I’d need to talk with the director. I believe that was the moment when I decided for certain I wasn’t going to work there.

I sat through the rest of the debriefing anyways, where I noticed that the online grading system wasn’t even protected by a TLS certificate, meaning that anyone smart enough to use Wireshark could capture all institutional data including student grades and teacher and administrator login credentials.

After the debriefing, I informed my group leader that I’d decided not to take the job and that they needed to tell the systems people to fix their TLS because the site was unsecured. I explained the severity of this and the importance of fixing it, but I was told that the systems people “would not listen to them”. After hearing that, I walked straight out the door.

Lessons Learned

The reasons I decided to pursue the teaching position in an institution were the pay being reliable, gaining much-needed professional experience, and possibly finding an even better opportunity after.

However, as I’ve realized, working in an institution has some major drawbacks. It means using WhatsApp and other proprietary spyware, making me a victim-coperpetrator of the surveillance apparatus that’s undermining everyone’s digital freedom. It means existing within a rigid command hierarchy where I work my ass off for an unlivable wage meanwhile the value I generate goes towards paper-pushing administrators who pretend to make sure certain requirements are being met.

All in all, I’m glad I had this experience despite it being stressful. It helped me get clear on my career objectives by showing me that there’s absolutely no way I’ll be able to work or study inside any institution or normal workplace. I cannot fit inside “the system”, so I won’t spend any more time trying. The only viable option for me seems to be self-employment, so that’s what I’m going to focus on.