7 Cyberpunk Jobs that Aren’t Law Enforcement or Programming

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So you’ve watched Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell, and you want to live that life. You want to type with a thousand fingers! Well, that may not be possible yet, but you can nudge your lifestyle a little closer to the digital wild side. Presumably you don’t want to be a cop like many of the main characters in cyberpunk media, because hey, it’s cyberpunk not cybernarc. So what other cyberpunk jobs are available?

Photo by The Preiser Project.
Photo by The Preiser Project.

Anecdotally, many of the genre’s enthusiasts work in software development, web development, or the general IT industry, but those aren’t the only options. Being a super 1337 haxor isn’t achievable for everyone (although penetration testers like Sean Roesner are making a go of it on their own). In a Reddit thread four months ago, the top upvoted suggestion was “Living off disability welfare, popping painkillers every day, cruising reddit in a big city in a low light room at night” [sic]. That’s also not practical, especially in the United States where getting welfare can be a months-long rigmarole.

To spark your imagination, here are seven cyberpunk jobs that a normal person without advanced credentials could get. Not all of them would be fun or pay well, but sometimes the aesthetic is more important. Listed in no particular order — obviously I haven’t done these jobs myself, since I’m only a lowly writer; I can’t say which ones are best or worst. And remember, this is by no means a comprehensive list, just a few possibilities to consider.

1) DIY Pharmacist

DIY pharmacist is one of the cyberpunk jobs. Photo by Rudolf Ammann.
Photo by Rudolf Ammann.

You might think that “DIY pharmacist” is a polite euphemism for “drug dealer” — which can be true — but it doesn’t have to be. This suggestion was inspired by the same Reddit thread I linked in the beginning. User L3TH4L_BR wrote, “How about the ‘unlicensed pharmacist’ in most clubs and large offices? Very cyberpunk and very real.” Another way of going about it has been covered by outlets like Vice’s Motherboard:

“Ryan Hammond, an artist and tactical biologist based in Baltimore, wants to make the process easier using genetically modified plants. He plans to engineer transgenic tobacco plants to produce gender hormones like estrogen and testosterone, allowing anyone to grow their own supplements at home. […] Hammond said after launching the project he received a barrage of messages from people concerned about the plausibility and safety of the endeavor. However, he has consulted with government entities, including FBI agents, who say this kind of at-home biohacking is perfectly legal.”

Sadly the Open Source Gendercodes project did not meet its crowdfunding goal, and plant-based biohacking is definitely not an established career path. The nootropics angle may be more fruitful financially, since the audience tends toward techies with plenty of discretionary income. Buy supplements on Amazon, set up a WooCommerce store, and sell “brain-boost bundles” or something along those lines.

2) Gadget Flipper

Snap up out-of-vogue TVs, old computers, and any other tech you see at yard sales. Sell it on eBay. If you play it smart, you can bootstrap $20 into much more. Business “guru” Amy Hoy has written about her experiences hawking various goods on eBay, which would be a decent jumping-off point.

Photo of obsolete old gadgets by Betsy Weber.
Photo by Betsy Weber.

Alternately, develop a relationship with a factory in Shenzhen or somewhere similar, and sell the goods you import to western consumers for twice as much as you paid. If you already live in a cheap manufacturing mecca, be an even middle-er middleman, and introduce western wantrepreneurs to your factory connections (for a fee on both sides, natch).

3) Chatbot Backend

Become one of the humans behind the “conversational commerce” bot craze, as described by Ellen Huet:

“A handful of companies employ humans pretending to be robots pretending to be humans. In the past two years, companies offering do-anything concierges (Magic, Facebook’s M, GoButler); shopping assistants (Operator, Mezi); and e-mail schedulers (X.ai, Clara) have sprung up. The goal for most of these businesses is to require as few humans as possible. People are expensive. They don’t scale. They need health insurance. But for now, the companies are largely powered by people, clicking behind the curtain and making it look like magic.”

This kind of obfuscation — “Soon we’ll have a full-fledged AI, I swear!” — is extremely cyberpunk. Get down in the trenches and schedule meetings for tech executives who have too much money.

4) Social Media Spammer

Spammer is one of the cyberpunk jobs. Graphic via rabble.
Graphic via rabble.

This should be self-explanatory if you’ve ever spent time on Twitter and been auto-followed by various spam accounts. Shoddy affiliate marketing can apparently be lucrative! A lot of Twitter spam accounts are bots, but you could create a careful undercover one that seemed more human because it was administered by hand. Or become an “influencer” on Instagram and hawk laxative teas. Party like a Snapchat star. Being a sellout might be pathetic, or it might be a way to milk inefficient corporate promotion processes and consumerist sheeple at the same time…

5) Video Game QA Tester

A video game QA tester tries to break the game, to discover its bugs and glitches. Rachel Gillett warned on Business Insider, “if you dream of endless days spent playing your favorite video games, you’ll be sorely disappointed.” The QA tester whose Reddit AMA she was summing up had written:

“While I do work on video games most of the day, I definitely don’t play them like a normal, sane person would. […] Some folks pound on specific systems. Some folks go through all of the text with a fine-toothed comb. Any bugs we find, we simply write up and send off to the member of the dev team responsible for fixing the particular issue. […] For every game I have enjoyed working on, there are three or four games that just make me want to claw my eyes out.”

But this person also said that they love their work, despite the crunch time and the low wages.

Why does video game QA tester belong on a list of cyberpunk jobs? You’re working for The Man in an industry that bleeds people’s creativity dry in exchange for the privilege of building a product that you’re passionate about. You’re trying to find the cracks in constructed virtual worlds so that the company employing you can do a better job immersing players in a digital reality, all the easier to wring money out of them. Need I go on?

A woman playing video games. Photo by Shane K.
Photo by Shane K.

6) iPhone Jailbreaker

Jailbreaking an iPhone isn’t super hard, but it’s a pain and a potentially glitchy process. Despite the security risk, some people see upsides. Lifehacker extols the rewards at the end of the rainbow:

“While the freedom of a jailbroken iOS device isn’t quite the same as being freed from a cage after years of captivity, the idea is similar. Jailbreaking provides you with solutions to problems Apple takes months, and sometimes years, to fix. Jailbreaking lets you use your device the way you want, limiting you only by your own ability or interest in making your device work how you want it to. Perhaps most importantly, jailbreaking will let you discover things you can do with your phone that you didn’t necessarily realize you could do. There are risks involved, but if you’re up for it, the rewards are greater.”

You could conceivably get people to pay $50 a pop for this. Alternately, get a job berating people into choosing Android instead.

7) Soda Can Gatherer

Digging in the trash for beverage cans and turning them in at recycling centers won’t make you middle-class, but you can probably survive if you don’t pay rent and have access to a hodgepodge of urban services. Can gatherer doesn’t qualify for a list of cyberpunk jobs on its own merit, but the surrounding context cinches the deal. As I’ve previously written about San Francisco:

“He pointed out the animated software ads wrapped around bus shelters and glowing on the sides of buildings. He reminded me that the streets smelled of urine and we were passing homeless people wrapped in rags. Sleeping on the damp sidewalk. Meanwhile, money churned in and out of Silicon Valley’s sister city.”

And the Bay Area is not the only hyper-stratified hellscape where anyone who’s not part of the elite is destitute! Many cities across the globe meet these conditions, and informal scavenger jobs abound.

What other cyberpunk jobs can you come up with? Or maybe you want to complain about something? Tell us on the Neon Dystopia Facebook page.

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About the author...
Sonya Mann is a writer and serial project-starter. She runs the cyberpunk newsletter Exolymph.

12 Responses to “7 Cyberpunk Jobs that Aren’t Law Enforcement or Programming”

  1. How about privately-owned technology repair? It includes things like jailbreaking/rooting phones, and keeps user’s technology out of big corporate hands.

  2. Anonymous

    About the gadget-flipper thing. In the Far East and in almost all former countries of Soviet Union it has developed into specialised electronics markets like this one: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yongsan_Electronics_Market They are called radio markets in ex-Union since back then they were (and guess what, still are) selling things like lamp radios and whatnot. There is not one thing that runs on electricity and cannot be bought, swapped for, rooted or pirated (if a program) there with a help from a guy who knows a guy. These places are unbelievable.

  3. Nomads, who rush whereever something bad happens ( like natural disasters or bombings) in order to help with restoration, nursing, or trade, scavange.
    Food engineers.

  4. I know I’m late to this discussion only just found it by accident but on a more corporate side like the game tester I feel cctv systems engineer should have been included it’s a bit more physical but has a lot of IT involvement as well

  5. EvanR

    I think being a labor worker, like someone in a factory or a warehouse is kinda Cyberpunk-ish as well. Think about it, you spend 8 to 10 hours a day doing something you don’t like to make a sometimes a pretty crummy pay. I guess I could be wrong depending on your view of cyberpunk as a whole. But just having the bleak and dark undertone of doing something you dislike in order to just get by seems to fit in well with the cog in the machine, dystopian setting.

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