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Currently got a good job, spending 70% of my day doing what I love, the downside of this is of course that I am working for someone else and not my self.

Ideally would love to get something of my own going, a night project etc which could trickle in some funds. The downside of this of course if that it would be a conflict of interest.

I could of course just go ahead an start up my own little thing but if it got discovered I could risk my job. I could quit my job, but then I would miss the income (family + mortgage) and my ideas might not pan out.

Thinking about it tonight, I will discuss it with my boss tomorrow - he's a good guy but I just hope he doesn't burry it or just offer over time.

Anyone in this boat? Do what you love during the day (for someone else) and can't peruse it during the night....

Edit: Just to clarify, that what I want to do at night is very similar to what I do during the day. It's not a 'I love programming' in general, but I like doing data mining - and thats what I do at work. Very closely related.

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+1, I think this is a great question and one of the number one reasons why programmers (new ones especially) need to read and discuss their NDA with their prospective employers. Excellent article worth reading: joelonsoftware.com/articles/fog0000000071.html –  Kavet Kerek Nov 3 '10 at 20:07

5 Answers 5

up vote 7 down vote accepted

You need to tread carefully. First, go read the employment contract you signed, and look in the employee handbook, if there is one, specifically for information about "moonlighting". If your employer forbids it, the first step is to get the contract changed, if it means that much to you.

If you're allowed to moonlight, there's still an expectation that it a) won't interfere with your work and b) isn't competing with what they do. Err on the side of full disclosure. It's better to discuss your plans first, before you do anything the company could think is encroaching on their "turf". Plus, they'll respect you for being open about it.

A note about evening projects... I work on some open source projects, and I've had both recent employers sign an agreement like this:

Open Source Software Disclaimer

<Company Name> hereby disclaims all copyright interest in the 
open source program "<Program Name>" 
(<which makes passes at compilers>) written by <your name>.

x_____________________, Date: _________________

Printed: ____________________________, <Company Name>

(I got it from the bottom of this page.)

This protects both you and the open source project itself, should the company decide to do an about-face in the future. This is your evidence that you notified the employer and that they were onboard with it.

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I was in the same situation but from the opposite side, I was doing what I love in the evening and then by coincidence ended up getting a contract that became a little too related for comfort.

Turned out that upon projecting where both projects would go in the long term (goals and markets) they weren't actually that related, they just appeared to be very similar at first.

What I am saying is, is there a chance that if you started doing what you love in the evening it wouldn't stay on the same path and you would progress in different areas, if it is just a mirror of what you do during the day I think you need to be concerned.

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The approach I've taken in the past is to maintain a strict divide between your company projects and your private ones. Don't develop your private projects using company resources or equipment, or even on company premises. Browsing the internet for a solution to a problem on your private projects while you're at work may be OK depending on the attitudes of your managers, but to be safe don't do that either.

This isn't about being secretive, and there's nothing wrong with telling your boss about it, it's about not giving the company a chance to claim it as their property. In fact, you can tell them about it, and if they have any moonlighting objections you can debate them at that point. Depending on certain factors (whether you do any of the development in the company office, on company time or on company equipment being a principle one), you can sometimes claim it as a hobby, which is none of the company's business.

I'm personally limited in how I do this right now since I live in a 1-bedroom flat and the main PC is in the living room. There's just too many distractions, and my girlfriend often wants to use the computer anyway. Next time I move, an important feature of the property would be a room I can turn into a study where I can set up a PC to quietly work on my pet projects in the evening and on weekends. In the meantime I might buy a laptop to take to the library (right now, I have a netbook which isn't really powerful enough to run Visual Studio, and doesn't really have a big enough screen to do proper programming).

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Good question. I enjoy programming myself, though that's just the problem. It's not for myself, it's for my company. Part of me wishes I were working for Google because they allow their programmers to work on their own projects since genius unfortunately cannot be forced.

I'd love to start some side project on SourceForge but I can't quite find the right project. My advice to you would be to feel it out as you go along and not make any unnecessary risks.

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Unless you're working on a project which is a direct competitor to your company's product, this doesn't sound like a conflict of interest, it just sounds like moonlighting. Have a chat with your boss, tell him/her "I'd like to work on some personal projects, completely off work time, in order to expand my horizons. Is there a problem with that?" and in nearly every circumstance, the answer is going to be "No", especially if the company is interested in your growth as an employee.

However, if you do want to produce something which is a competitor to a product of your company's, you definitely want to tread lightly. That is a conflict of interest, and it's something you need to be careful with.

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