Published: June 18 2012

I tried Exec for the first time today.   

TL;DR - don't half-ass the task description/understanding what you actually need.

Motivation:
I had found a blog post with a ton of discussion online that had some great comments showing a deep understanding of the material.  "These people are awesome," I thought. "Let's see who among them we could hire!".

Huzzah, finally a chance to try TaskRabbit andExec.

My description:

I'm looking for contact info for a few (about 10-15) posters from a couple of blog posts (links below)

Result: I'd like an excel spreadsheet that looks like this, for every commenter that seems to be well-received.  You may need to start with the Username and google for all of their other info.

Spreadsheet format:
Username | What They Said (+Link) | Contact Info (email?) | Github | Personal Website | Current Occupation

After posting on TaskRabbit and getting no bites for an hour or so, I went to Exec instead. Within 10 minutes, I got a call from my new Exec and Sarah (name changed) got started.

Correspondance with the Exec (edited for brevity)
30 minutes in

Sarah: Would you prefer not to post a 'conversation' between the user and other users who are commenting back to the main user?

Or shall I post some of those as well?

Me: A link to the comment and a snippet of their comment (about a sentence) would be great!  I'll follow the link if I'm looking for more context.

55 minutes in

SarahExcuse me, what does 'github' mean, please? Also may I add a column showing what they have posted...as in those links?  I'm also having trouble getting their personal info from the first URL you gave me.  

Me: 

- I'd take their username and google around to see if you can find them somewhere else online.  No worries if you can't find contact info for all of them, but most should have a github/blog/etc which will have an email address.  
- Github is github.com, a website that many engineers use to display code they have worked on. It's reasonable to expect most everybody who made a comment is going to have a github account as well, probably with the same username as the comment

2 hours in

Sarah: I have 8...still working...wanted to give you an update!

2:15 in

Sarah:  OK...here it is...10 total now.

Me:  Looks good!  [review briskly in the middle of other work] The one detail I'd love to have, that I wasn't clear about in retrospect, would be the name of their current employer (in position, rather than the title, I'm also interested in who they are working for).

Sarah:  Most of them don't say who they are working for, but I'll add that tab and go back and look at them again.,..if this goes longer than 3 hours.  is that OK with you? Or do you want me to stop at 3 hours? We are at 2hr.25 min right now.

Me: Sure, stop at 3 hours.
Cost: $75 ($25/hour)

Aftermath 
Later that night, I pulled open the spreadsheet.  The people Sarah had chosen were not necessarily the ones I felt had made particularly insightful comments. Sarah didn't have any domain expertise; as a result, I discarded a few of the 11 almost immediately and started to read through on the rest.
My workflow with the Spreadsheet was not optimal - I ended up bouncing back and forth between the links provided to figure out if this person was worth contacting. I was duplicating a lot of the work that I had hoped to have Exec handle for me, and am not sure how much time I saved (I ended up googling about half of their usernames anyway to find more things about them).

I did end up emailing a few people that were worthwhile, but I'm not convinced that between specifying the task, managing Sarah and then looking through the spreadsheet I saved myself all that much time. Sarah was very friendly and responsive, but ultimately I tried to outsource judgment that required domain expertise, and was only marginally successful.
My first time with an Exec
Takeaways for next time:
  1. Do it yourself first. I saw the opportunity and got excited about using Exec. The right thing would have been to go through 2 or 3 people myself first, understand my workflow, verify whether it was outsourceable, and only then document it and pass it on.  If I were doing this again, I would probably read the comments myself and only ask to get the executive summary of a commenter be done for me externally.  This would have probably only taken about 1 hour of exec-time.
  2. Give feedback early.  I should have asked Sarah to check in after she finished each of the first few people so that I could give feedback and refine the task. In a couple of the cases, she added information that wasn't useful that I could have blocked earlier on.
  3. The Exec is not your clone. I expected too much tech-related domain knowledge out of my Exec. My description was wishy-washy and hoped for the best.  Part of this, I'm sure, will come with expertise, but from now on I will try to describe too much rather than too little if I'm working with somebody new.

Verdict: I'll be back on Exec, less naive and frivolous about asking for tasks before I understand what I really want.  Here's $5 off if you'd care to try it out.