At 9 am every weekday, Abel clocks in from a private office he recently started renting in Chicago. He doesn’t have breakfast and works solidly until 2 pm, when he logs off and eats a meal. But that’s where the similarities with most other tech workers ends. Abel isn’t working one, but four full-time jobs in secret, all for enterprise startups. His combined annual salary is $680,000.
He started juggling jobs on the sly a year ago, when he realized he was completing tasks to a higher quality and at a faster pace than his colleagues. “I found myself with a lot of free time,” says the 35-year-old. “With rising inflation and annual raises not matching that, I figured taking a second job was a good way to get ahead of the curve. My wife and I have three kids and we’re trying to save to buy a house.”
He’s been doing the first job (which he calls “J1”) for just over four years, and started J2 and J3 just over a year ago before taking on J4 at the start of the summer. Ideally, he wants to keep them all for the next year, which he thinks is sustainable, especially since he now has a dedicated space for his army of laptops and electronics.
“One of the points of stress is the sheer amount of meetings, many of which could be written up or dealt with in an asynchronous Slack,” says Abel, who, like the other tech workers WIRED spoke to for this story, asked that we not use his real name so as to protect his privacy. If two meetings clash in his diary, Abel attends both with two separate headphones. “It takes some practice, but now I can process both streams of information at the same time and pay loose attention to both,” he claims. Abel will tune in if he hears his name mentioned. Excuses of a bad connection help if ever there’s a delay. Three-meeting overlaps can get “crazy,” Abel says.
With four salaries, Abel isn’t fazed by the tech downturn and mass layoffs. He sends out applications for new roles on a monthly basis to keep the interviews, and the job pipeline, going. “Then I can jump into another role if something goes wrong—I’ve seen people do five roles, but I’m at my limit right now.”
In the solitude of their home offices, employees are able to work far more flexibly than before the pandemic. Without having to excuse themselves from in-person engagements, they can fit in virtual meets and interviews with other companies; some of them are able to accept and juggle multiple roles. Faced with stagnating wages and increased living costs, the practice of having more than one form of employment has risen steadily over the past decade in the US, and the national unemployment rate is at a 50-year low.