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Background: I want to learn, try out new frameworks, tools, languages, but I'm terrible at coming up with something to build. The company I work for recently completed work on building a piece of software for internal use. I was not involved in the project at all. The software is purely internal, we do not sell it on. The results are not what people hoped for.

Is it acceptable for me to build my own solution in my own time but use the requirement documentation for the companies project? Are there pitfalls I should watch out for with this approach, things I can do to mitigate those risks?

Alternatively I could build it the way I think it should be done without referencing those docs. Is this the better approach as it definitely frees me to do what I like with the code afterwards?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 1 down vote accepted

Are you doing this just to give yourself something interesting to work on for amusement?

If so, and as such you don't plan to release it or compete with your employer, then I think you'd be fine. Some might say using the companies requirements doc is evil, but I don't think so.

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I don't see a problem with you coming up with your own solution on your own time for your own personal knowledge. I also don't see why you couldn't present your solution to the company you work for to see if they would use it, but that's up to you. As long as all of the work is your own, I don't see any legal issues here.

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IMO you are good as long as you aren't wholesale stealing the code. If you take the code as a basis and rewrite it to use your new technology/framework/tools, you aren't copying anything. I've thought about doing this myself, both to teach myself and to have a working proof that I could in theory show the company as "This is how real software is written, look how much nicer it is"

Standard Disclaimer I am not a lawyer, etc. etc. this is not legal advice, don't hold me responsible, etc. etc.

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I wouldn't be using any of the existing code, I would only be using the requirements documents as a basis. –  Kevin D May 6 '11 at 19:43
You should be good then, but again IANAL. –  Wayne M May 6 '11 at 19:44

Your rights may be much less than you think they are.

For instance in California the fact that you are building software in your own time that is relevant to your employer makes the copyright belong to your employer, not you. The fact that you used the spec that your employer prepared makes this case even stronger, but they wouldn't need that to own your effort.

California law is likely to be different than your local law. (Most states are more strongly on the employer's side than California is. Other countries may be less so.)

That said, I see absolutely nothing wrong with attempting to deliver on the spec as practice. As long as you don't intend to distribute it, resell it, etc, you should be in the clear. It is good practice, and you could get major brownie points giving it back to your employer if you do succeed.

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