Why data scientists should never use Upwork

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Last month, I got an interesting request for a contract assignment on Upwork. An HR company called “FS consulting” tasked me with building an algorithm relating demographics to job performance. As a data scientist I was pretty intrigued because I had previously worked in the jobs industry, a start-up where I built candidate-job matching algorithms off of millions of data points.

And I had also never used Upwork before. I had created an account a year ago when I had a month long gap between my last job and my current one and felt bored for some work. So I was surprised when I got this message out of the blue.

This was the first task I ever received and it flickered my curiosity. In the problem set, the dataset contained survey and demographic attributes like race, age, computer proficiency, immigration status….etc.. to predict actual work performance.

I worked on the dataset, built a model, and followed their instructions to send back the Python code and predictions in a CSV as deliverables to judge performance. Their offer was $80/hr for 5 hours of work and Upwork took a steep 20% cut so the payout was $64/hr at $400 dollars total.

A week later I checked Upwork and saw that FS consulting disputed the contract job.

They asked me to complete a survey at the end of the task that I had never seen or got an email about. Instead I had ended the task beforehand. It was a common misunderstanding and I wanted to resolve it immediately by finishing the survey.

Upwork however had given me a limited timeframe to actually respond to the dispute.

Given three days to respond over the July 4th weeked, I completed the survey which was asking me workplace situational questions testing my unconscious biases and then quickly rejected the dispute.

Two days later, I receive this email from Upwork customer success.

Are you joking me.

If Upwork’s customer success team had actually reviewed the messages between the client and I, Upwork would have understood it was a misunderstanding. The client was completely fine with paying me after I had accidentally not filled out the ten minute survey.

Instead I was penalized and had to refund the client all of the money from the contract because I literally did not follow their “correct way” to log my hours which did not guarantee me payment.

Their rules state that you must have the Upwork Desktop App on you computer which installs some sort of video malware onto your laptop AND have your webcam visible and on at all times so that the customer success agent can audit that you looked like you were working through the webcam while staring at a screen. How is that not the creepiest shit ever?

If Upwork was competent in any way they would read the work messages instead of instantly finding manually logging as a violation of their rules. But Upwork guarantees that your hours are automatically refunded to the client if I didn’t respond to the dispute within three days.

It seems to me, as if Upwork will fail to consider any other alternative but to screw over the contractors given any failure into a set of terms and conditions you blindly agree to when you sign up. If this is the means to which data scientists and engineers should be getting contracts, then Upwork is already ripe for disruption.

How does Upwork, as a company, fail this badly in their job, and not realize the easy misunderstand?

I don’t know, maybe it’s because they eat their own dog food, and hire their own customer success agents over the platform, and then end up having to use their own product.

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