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Sloan the DEV Moderator
Sloan the DEV Moderator

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What to do if my current workplace doesn't allow me to do what I want in my free time?

I'm working for a big multinational corporation as a developer. I decided to do some side-projects and coding in my free time, after work hours.
But the company does not allow me to do the following after work hours:

  • Contribute to open-source projects - If I do, I need to get written approval from the company for each repository I would like to contribute to.
  • Do any kind of side-projects which are related to coding - As they think I will be their competitor. They have billions of revenue each year...

After I realized how much they are limiting my free will, I started to look for other jobs.

The problem is that if I make my side projects public, they could sue me. But, if I don't do it, how should I get a job, without anything to show in the interview or in the application?

Was somebody in the same situation? What can I do?

I prefer a remote job, as I do not want to relocate my whole family. But, it's hard to find without any 'portfolio' to show. I have several IT skills besides coding as I'm working for 10 years in IT.

Top comments (22)

byrro profile image
Renato Byrro • Edited

Check your country laws, but it's likely that either:

  • They have to pay you for the time they want to have a say over your work; or
  • This clause is probably illegal;

If your side projects aren't related to their business, they can't claim anti competition grounds. And if they're not paying for your time, they can't have a say over what you do with it, as long as what you're doing is not illegal, risks damaging their reputation or their business.

If your projects are related, but not really competing, a way around might be teaching other people. Publish your code and instructions. Having educational purposes helps to rule out any intentions to compete against them and you can argue that teaching is a good way of learning, as is widely known.

Look for a lawyer to get professional advice, as I'm not one.

victorioberra profile image
Victorio Berra

risks damaging their reputation or their business.

  • This is probably their main concern. If everyone knows John Doe works for ABC and John writes some pretty horrible code that could end up looking very bad for the company.
  • Even worse, if John Doe contributes some code with obvious security holes one might think to try some specific attacks against ABCs apps.

In both of these situations, ABC might want to talk to John and give him permission about which projects he should be contributing to.

Otherwise, create an anonymous GitHub, do whatever you want, if you quit or get fired change the GitHub name to your real name (surprise! it was me John all along! muahaha) and then call their bluff on the lawsuit part.

byrro profile image
Renato Byrro

I was thinking more about profanity, obscenity, getting involved in violent extremist groups, or the like. I wouldn't want an employee contributing to web apps related to KKK, Antifa or anything violent such as. But that's more about whether the person fits the company culture or not.

Although I get your point of view, I still don't think it should be grounds to limit what an employee can or cannot do in their free time.

What the company could state in their contract is: "You agree that we can monitor your public projects and contributions to open-source. The code contributed publicly can be used to assess your performance and continuity of the contract with Company XYZ".

That would be reasonable and acceptable.

Becoming a toll to proactively limit what the person can/cannot do is unacceptable. An employer is hiring hours of his time, not his life or free will.

ben profile image
Ben Halpern

Try to get an idea of whether they could sue you for real. I believe these kinds of clauses are often technically difficult to enforce.

If I do, I need to get written approval from the company for each repository I would like to contribute to.

Can you get this permission in a way that will help you build your profile out?

adam_cyclones profile image
Adam Crockett

I am going to say this as objectively as possible. It bothers you, so much so that you posted this, so you have probably thought about leaving. If you are like me you cant not code. People say relax but making shit is my relaxing. So if you are like this, you can either call thier bluff and Dev your own stuff, get another laptop if you have to even a Chromebook will do and just do what you want. Work is work, it is not your life. Or quit and find 99% of companies do let you do this. BUT it's not easy to start a new job, I'm 3 weeks old in my new job I can tell you with conviction.

glennmen profile image
Glenn Carremans

I heard about companies that don't allow employees to work on side-projects in their free time but this mostly only applies if the side-project is related to the company core business.
For example if your work makes software for conferencing but your side project will be some kind of mobile game, completely different core business and public then it shouldn't be an issue.

itsasine profile image
ItsASine (Kayla)

Yeah, I'm not making FHIR or other healthcare adjacent stuff out of office, so my employer doesn't care. It's not like my Pokemon playthings hurt their bottom line.

I'd be really surprised if a company had a non-compete such that all software infringes on them. And I'd be more shocked if it was enforceable -- though it's likely not worth the time and money to find out.

@OP, I don't think you need a portfolio to get a new job. It would just be helpful, but you'll still be expected to do virtual whiteboarding and whatnot if a company wants to see your code in action.

jenc profile image
Jen Chan

Get legal advice on whether the terms are enforceable (or maybe ask Reddit legal advice even though technically the people on there are not giving official legal advice, just opinion) I don't know of companies who wouldn't wish employees aren't advancing skills in their free time. I did have a company saying I couldn't freelance on the side but again was told it's not enforceable. It is true however that you can't use the same code verbatim from a company project and present it as your own in public

enigmaticsoulrg profile image
Virgo Clarity

So much great feedback provided for you and I hope it gave you an idea of what your next steps are. Yes, I totally feel that they should not have control over what you are doing when off company time with respect to it not viewing badly on the company. Growth for the company and individual (you) should be of importance... different but also related. I hope the best come to you for your family, personal well-being, and not creating conditions that stunt your growth. Keep up the great work and keep standing up for yourself.

loftwah profile image
Dean W Lofts

Unless you're stuck there for other reasons I'd be out looking somewhere else. IMO if you're not competing against your employer, working using their resources or using their IP in any of your projects it should be fine.

pclundaahl profile image
Patrick Charles-Lundaahl

If you're genuinely worried about this, I'd +1 the other people who say ask a lawyer (or get a new job that's less strict, re-initialize your git repos to update the dates, and then publish them).

Regarding finding other work, while having open source contributions and a public Github full of examples is nice, I don't believe it's an absolute make-or-break for getting another job. Such a huge percentage of getting hired is how well you click with your interviewers, and if a company only hires people who are prolific in their evenings (after their 40-hour work week, cooking, cleaning, and trying to have some semblance of a social life), then you probably don't want to work there either. If you're not happy with the company, I think you should start hunting, and not worry about filling up your Github before you do.

As for that clause, there's definitely a similar clause in my contract, though it's by no means as strict. I know a number of people at my workplace that have side projects (I definitely do). In general, I think these clauses are used to protect corporate interests and dissuade employees from stealing proprietary knowledge and then later competing with them.

Good luck! Hope my rambling helps a bit. It sucks to find that out after you've been at a place a while, particularly if you've already put a bunch of time into your side projects. I hope you find a workplace that's more supportive of your personal endeavors!

jmkenn0 profile image

I would agree - unless you are in a super-specialized industry, have a very specific skill set, or in a pure software industry, you probably don't need to have side projects to demo or support open-source to get another job - this is from someone who hires IT professionals including the occasional programmer.

And lets be honest - they mostly worry about you doing side projects on "their" time 😊

bbessa profile image
Bernardo Bessa

I might be very out of the law context, but let's put it in these terms: if you worked for a restaurant, couldn't you be a volunteer in a free kitchen for the poors?

Of course I don't have the context of what is your company business, but still, not being able to do any public side project (even getting some revenue from them) looks like controlling you in an unacceptable way. I'd follow the suggestions on the other comments, of checking your legal rights and your context legislation. Maybe getting some legal counciling to study your particular case.

a1300 profile image

Please ask a lawyer. Don't take jurisdictional advice from strangers on the internet!

deciduously profile image
Ben Lovy

I don't have enough experience to actually give advice, but that sounds nuts to me, and I'm glad "find a new job" is near the top of your list.

mon_ste_cat profile image
Monica Stevens

Yikes, that sounds strict. Maybe you could have a lawyer take a look at your contract, if there's a workaround they'd be able to find one. Best of luck.

forkbomb profile image
Joe Buckle • Edited

Never heard of this crap before. I would be inclined to work on my side projects during work hours!

jouo profile image

That sounds awful, in my opinion it's not their business what employees do after work, I personally wouldn't have taken that offer

Why did you take it? :(

jvarness profile image
Jake Varness

Quit, find another position that'll be temporary, and then make your work public!

Timeless DEV post...

Git Concepts I Wish I Knew Years Ago

The most used technology by developers is not Javascript.

It's not Python or HTML.

It hardly even gets mentioned in interviews or listed as a pre-requisite for jobs.

I'm talking about Git and version control of course.

One does not simply learn git