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Working for free?

I work at a university in the admissions office doing boring data entry work. Nothing that has anything to do with programming.

My boss knows that I'm going to school for computer science and I've helped him in the past when there are some programming issues. I've also volunteered to be the school's webmaster because I enjoy doing it and it never taked more than 5-10 minutes out of my normal day.

But my boss now wants an iPhone (or other mobile platform) app for prospective students. I showed interest in designing and programming this iPhone app for him and even went as far as to create some mock ups and code snippets for a proposal.

He ended up hiring another person for the job (which is fine) but he wants all the proposal work I did to be sent to the other person since he liked my proposal and what I had planned.

I also know that he's going to have me help this person creating the app if they get stuck or need a second hand on the project, and after the person is done, I know I'll be the one to make any updates and fix any bugs. But I know that I won't get paid for contract work, only my normal salary.

Should I give up my ideas/work for this opportunity for experience? Does working for free like this (when not an intern) have it's advantages later in a career? Is this common practice for beginning programmers looking for experience?

Is there a point when I shouldn't offer my skills as a programmer any more? Where I should deny further assignments/jobs from an employer who isn't paying me for the job they hired me for?

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marked as duplicate by Anna Lear Oct 7 '11 at 19:08

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

@AnnaLear I don't think this is covered exactly in the previous question. My question is dealing with being asked to do a job that I wasn't hired for as well as giving up work I've already done so it can be outsourced to someone else, which will inevitably come back to me to fix any problems. Also, the answers on that question are the exact opposite to the one's I'm receiving on this question, which can argue that they are asking different things. –  OghmaOsiris Oct 7 '11 at 18:14
How long are you planning on working for the admissions office of the campus since you're a student? Won't someone else have to maintain the code once you leave? What you're saying you're worried about is exactly the thing that will happen once you leave. You are transient. –  jcolebrand Oct 7 '11 at 18:14
@jcolebrand I was planning on working there till I could afford to work for myself. And if they hired me as a contrac worker for the app, I would also maintain the app afterwords and still request to be paid as defined in any contract I would have signed. –  OghmaOsiris Oct 7 '11 at 18:16
@AnnaLear: I think he has point. Doesn't it seem that the degree of sameness of a question really ought to be determined by the degree of sameness of the respective answers? And in this case, the answers do seem to be pretty different. –  user25791 Oct 7 '11 at 18:44
I reopened this question briefly, but @MarkTrapp makes a good point as well. Perhaps we need to take this back to meta and hash things out. Some reopen votes or flags would be handy as well to gauge community support, if any. –  Anna Lear Oct 7 '11 at 19:09

7 Answers 7

Trust me. When you apply for that first programming job after you finish your education you are going to want to have some practical experience to talk about. This sounds like a good opportunity to get that experience.

You don't want to take a "that's not my job" attitude this early in your career. You probably don't have a lot of other bosses to use as references during a job search.

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Your question answered with a flowchart.

Do you want to do it? If you want to do it and you don't mind getting paid then go for it, the downside is he'll always want you to do bits of free work. If he was willing to hire someone to come in and do instead then ask why he wasn't willing to hire you if he liked your idea.

I personally won't do anything for free unless it's an idea I really like or the circumstances are exceptional (charity work being the biggest), or is OSS, purely because when you start going down the slippery slope it's hard to get back out.

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I know why this other person was hired over me. It was a financial aid issue. He hired the other person as a workstudy so the financial aid department would pay him and not the admissions department, which he couldn't do for me. –  OghmaOsiris Oct 7 '11 at 15:22
Welcome to government work. You now have to clean the floors because we fired the janitor to save money and we are hiring a team of consultants to do your job because we have a hiring freeze! –  Martin Beckett Oct 7 '11 at 15:44
+1 because I like the flowchart :) –  Rachel Oct 7 '11 at 16:35

Basically there are two factors to take into the equation: Is it worth something to you? and Do you want to do it?

First off, worth isn't just monetary. Yes, working on code and getting paid is nice, but even if you don't get paid for your work you can still say you did x which just makes you look that much better. You basically need to judge if this project can help you out in the future on your CV/Resume or if your time would be better spent on a personal project. Take into account the scope and size of the project along with your role in it against what you could accomplish on your own or with friends in the same amount of time.

Given that you wouldn't be getting paid for this you should also consider if you want to do it. Is this something that interests you and you don't mind working on? Nothing worse than working on something for nothing and then feeling bitter about it.

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In addition to the other answers, I would just add that it could be good experience for you to work with another programmer and see what s/he does with your proposal. Every bit of 'real world' experience comes with its own unique context and unique problems; working through them will shape how you respond to problems later...in programming and in life generally.

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Should I work for free?... But I know that I won't get paid for contract work, only my normal salary...

You are NOT working for Free! You are being paid. This is a real JOB. It's FAR better than an unpaid-Internship.

You are Nuts to not jump at this opportunity. If it really bugs you, Ask for a small change in title, to reflect your newly given responsibilities.

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What I mean by not getting paid is, I already do full time work as a data entry person. If I were to take on this project, I would have to work on it at home. Which would be time I'm not getting paid for. –  OghmaOsiris Oct 7 '11 at 15:33
You can definitely spin this project as part of your job in interviews later, and you should, especially the part about how you were a team player. –  user25791 Oct 7 '11 at 15:35
@OghmaOsiris - So basicly this would be a hobby project, one that will have something you can actually show for it, I think you already know the answer. –  Ramhound Oct 7 '11 at 18:06
@Ramhound I don't know the answer which is why I asked it. –  OghmaOsiris Oct 7 '11 at 18:06

He ended up hiring another person for the job (which is fine) but he wants all the proposal work I did to be sent to the other person since he liked my proposal and what I had planned.

Business depends on negotiated agreements.

You two sort of negotiated an agreement by which you get to do stuff they wouldn't hire you to do, and they let you use some of their resources and some of their time do that without paying you what they'd pay a professional. And, unless you did all that work without using any of their time and resources, they probably own all the artifacts.

Sort of agreements are a minefield. Don't do that any more.

If I were in your shoes, and I was certain I owned the proposal and all its artifacts, I'd be sorely tempted to throw them away, and tell him, "I'm sorry, but when you hired someone else to do the job, I threw all that stuff away."

But in this case I'd give him the stuff, and include a cover letter in which you say you'd like to work on the bug fixes and such in the future if the two of you can agree on a fair wage. You might decide that being paid nothing is fair. That's ok. But you might decide you should be paid the same as a developer, and that's ok, too. Y'all just have to agree. In writing.

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Work for free until you find someone to pay you. Do you have other offers? Is the time spent going to prevent you from having a life? If you get a bad vibe like this person is taking advantage of you and won't help you find a job, say no.

Having an influential person who cab offer a professional reference and vouch for your development experience is priceless. It's not what you know, but who knows what you know.

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