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I've been interviewing with a software company lately, and in my most recent (and final) interview I learned some more about the project I'd be working on: how it's architected, what needs maintenance, and what their primary concerns are for improving it in the future.

The thing is that I've done some independent research that would be perfect for integrating into their system, but I don't yet know how they feel my interview went. Should I prepare for the possibility that I'm not hired by beginning to develop my idea, which is tantamount to a direct competitor to their product?

It would be a significant time investment, but has two possible positive outcomes: I make bank on my idea on my own, or they eventually hire me anyway, giving me something to show for myself. The most likely negative outcome is the same as for any failed speculative software project: lost time that could've been spent on less risky ventures.

Just curious as to what I should do. I'm a busy guy and it's important I be decisive.

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Do you want to run a business? Unless you feel you can build, market and support the thing...I wouldn't bother. You should be prepared to exit the programming world. You wont have time to run a business and be a programmer. –  P.Brian.Mackey Apr 8 '11 at 21:36
    
@P.Brian.Mackey: I do indeed want to run a business, but I doubt this'd be it. –  Jon Purdy Apr 8 '11 at 21:55
    
if this isn't a business you'd want to be in, then it seems to me like the obvious answer is no. You might gain some short-term advantage from what you've learned, but that's not a good reason to get into a business you don't want to be in -- especially when the ethics (and possibly even legality) involved are tenuous at best. –  Jerry Coffin Apr 8 '11 at 22:15
    
@Jerry Coffin: Good point about the business. I can't stress enough, though, that I'm actually on firm ground ethically and legally. My work could be integrated into theirs, but the two fundamentally differ, and implementing my idea separately wouldn't show the remotest relation to how their product works now. –  Jon Purdy Apr 9 '11 at 0:49
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If you signed an NDA, and you were not aware of the product you would be working on before you interviewed with them, then I would think the NDA would cover the idea of the product, and you would be on thin ice trying to compete with a similar product even if developed independently (IMO - IANAL either).

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Oh, I was aware of the product before, and even roughly how it functioned. I just wasn't aware of which of their products I'd be working on. What few implementation details of their system they discussed with me have nothing to do with my implementation: the two are very different. –  Jon Purdy Apr 9 '11 at 0:46
    
@Jon, thx for clarifying that. –  tcrosley Apr 9 '11 at 7:20
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It sounds like to me you would be treading on some risky waters that could lead to a lawsuit if you tried to do this on your own or for a competitor... It depends on the nature of the information you received from them. I would say don't put the cart before the horse and wait to see what the outcome would be of the hiring decision first before making a decision like this. There's plenty of things to solve/improve out there in the meantime.

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IANAL but without an NDA, they'd be on tenuous footing to sue. –  Michael Todd Apr 8 '11 at 21:46
    
IP law is a valid concern, but in this case I haven't been given any information that would actually help me with my product; their approach is fundamentally different from mine. And yeah, I've got plenty I could be working on in the meantime. –  Jon Purdy Apr 8 '11 at 21:47
    
@Michael Todd: Me neither, but even though I signed an NDA, I haven't been given any information that's relevant to my project. –  Jon Purdy Apr 8 '11 at 21:48
    
@Jon Purdy: Hmmm... with an NDA, I'd see a lawyer. (Actually, I'd see a lawyer either way, just in case, but definitely if you signed something.) –  Michael Todd Apr 8 '11 at 21:49
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