The tech industry's image can seem as sleek and glossy as the products it sells, but as oh-so-many of us know, geek isn't always synonymous with glamour. In fact, some tech careers are wretched: soul-killing factory work, mind-numbing support gigs, and retail positions ranging from embarrassing to exploitative. And then there are the jobs involving serious, physical peril.
Before you start bemoaning your workplace's lack of casual Fridays, take a gander at this list of the ten worst jobs in tech. You may just realize that an annoying cubicle neighbor isn't such a bad deal.
Google content cop
Imagine gawking at the most horrific images you can find online--the kind of stuff that makes 4chan's /b/ board look tame. Now, imagine doing that all day, every day, and you get an idea of what it's like to be a Google contractor tasked with keeping tabs on YouTube and Blogger for inappropriate content.
One ex-Google contractor wrote a piece for BuzzFeed in August 2012, describing a job where he spent nine months--nine months--weeding out images of child porn, sexual fetishes, bestiality, and other offensive imagery. After spending the better part of a year bathed in all that digital horror, the worker says he received little emotional support from the company and was ultimately let go despite being promised a non-contract job.
Microsoft store employee
In 2012, The New York Times claimed that working in an Apple retail store was a rip-off, since employees are paid the slightest, smallest sliver relative to the bucketloads of cash each Apple drone brings in. But even so, most Apple Store employees really, truly like those Macs and iPhones they're hawking--and the ones who don't are really good at faking it.
Compare that to the Microsoft Store above, where employees were shambled and shook in a display of forced exuberance so bad it hurts just to watch. I'm not sure how much you get paid at the Microsoft Store, but the mortification factor of being caught in one of these "impromptu" dance lines should be enough to deter even the most desperate job seeker.
And while I'm at it: Is that woman in the white shirt visible at the 2:10 mark swiping merch, or was she just a Microsoft plant in consumer clothing?
The good news: Semiconductors are still being made in the USA. The bad news: The people who oversee their production are slowly being replaced by job-killing robots.
And that's why, despite the fact that these jobs pay moderately well and require some post-secondary education, employment prospects for semiconductor processors are pretty bleak going forward, according to a Kiplinger report. The business forecasting firm took a look at data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor and says that job growth for semiconductor processors will shrink even faster than Intel's chip transistors.
Sure, your job may suck, but CareerBliss says your boss has it even worse. The online jobs site took a look at its user-review data and determined that IT directors loathe their jobs more than anyone else, giving the career the not-so-grand title of the Most Hated Job in America. Sure, the pay is good, but settling endless debates between whether Windows or Linux offers the better server system is liable to drive you nuts.
Fulfillment centers for online retail
Amazon's logo may sport a sly smirk, but the people schlepping boxes in the warehouses of online retailers don't do a lot of smiling, according to a slew of scathing reports like Gawker's True Stories of Life as an Amazon Worker and Mother Jones's I Was a Warehouse Wage Slave.
The tell-alls describe a workplace that continually pushes employees to work faster and faster and faster, where people are forced to work overtime, where it's virtually impossible to chill out and grab some lunch, and where chronic physical injuries are common. All the while, in a point system for poor performance you're racking up points until you're ultimately fired.
As bad as the choreographed cha-cha at that Microsoft Store was, working retail can be a lot worse than shuffling around with a Surface--just ask anybody who works at RadioShack.
In June 2012, AOL Jobs looked into the most poorly reviewed retail jobs on Glassdoor.com and found RadioShack ranked among the worst. Shack employees complained of low pay (average hourly wage for sales associates: $7.92) and high pressure to meet sales targets, while managers say their schedules left little time to spend at home. But hey, where else are you going to find a job with enough spare parts to make super-awesome stuff like this?
Technical support specialist/software support engineer
Who ya gonna call when you got ghosts in your machine? Tech support! And they absolutely hate you for it.
In March, CareerBliss said call center workers have the ninth unhappiest job in America, while Salary Explorer ranks technical support specialist as the most boring job in tech, with an overall rating of 2.5 out of 5. Check out PCWorld's guide to dummy-proofing the PCs of your friends and family before your nontechie pals drive those poor tech support workers to drink.
Cell tower climber
Can you hear me screaming now?
While there are only a relatively scarce 10,000 cell tower climbers nationwide, these daring scramblers have a death rate about ten times higher than construction workers, according to a 2012 report by Pro Publica and PBS's Frontline. The bad news doesn't end there: In 2008, the head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration called tower climbing the most dangerous job in America. The Wall Street Journal reported that by August 2013, ten workers had already plunged to their deaths from communications towers this year. Nine of those were on cell towers, a spike attributed to carriers racing to build out their 4G networks.
Even if the thought of hanging hundreds of feet in the air by a thin strap appeals to you, Pro Publica reports that the extreme time crunch under which cell climbers constantly work forces many workers to disregard basic safety procedures. Overnight hours, dangerous working conditions, and poor training have all plagued the profession in the past, despite tower climbing's relatively modest pay of $10 per hour on average.
To top it off, most cell climbers are subcontractors working for other subcontractors working for other subcontractors, to insulate the actual network providers from legal responsibility for the carnage. Geez, thanks.
Apple factory worker
Some of the worst jobs in tech are overseas. The most obviously crappy careers belong to the contractors that build iPhones, iPads, Macs, and more in Chinese factories. Reams have been written about the poor working conditions, riots, and rash of suicides at Foxconn, but working conditions at Pegatron, another major Apple supplier, may be even worse.
To be fair, things aren't much better in most Chinese mega-factories. Samsung and others have been accused of forcing long hours and atrocious conditions on its workers--some of whom are allegedly underage.
Amazon Mechanical Turk
Amazon's Mechanical Turk program is only tangentially a tech job--hey, you do it on the Internet!--but any job that has you manually inputting text from pictures of Walmart receipts or filling out lengthy surveys for mere pennies is worth an honorable mention on any list of crappy tech careers worth its salt. Named after an 18th-century chess "machine" that was actually powered by hidden humans, Mechanical Turk tasks are the kinds of menial chores that are normally left to software bots, but they can't be done by said automatons for one reason or another.
Fortunately, one NYU study found that only a fraction of all Mechanical Turks rely on the site as a primary source of income. It's easy to see why: For all the time spent earning pennies from inane tasks, most Turks take home a whopping $1 to $5 per week.