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All Your Eyes Are Belong To Us

13 replies on 1 page. Most recent reply: Oct 13, 2005 10:15 AM by Michael Stover

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Michael Feathers

Posts: 448
Nickname: mfeathers
Registered: Jul, 2003

All Your Eyes Are Belong To Us (View in Weblogs)
Posted: Mar 7, 2005 2:54 PM
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Summary
Where work and life meet, we have a lot of choices.
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In the news recently, there has been a flurry of reports of people losing their jobs for conduct outside their work. A Michigan healthcare company decided to fire workers who won’t quit smoking, a beer distributor fired a man for appearing in a photograph holding a competitor’s brand of beer, and a man was fired recently for blogging candid opinions about his workplace. His firing was just one of a recent series of firings related to blogging. The interesting paradox, in his case, was that the business model of the company involved building social networks that promote self-expression among peers.

Superficially, these events appear to be an ominous turn in our culture, but in fairness, they are nothing new. People have been ‘let go’ for conduct outside for work for ages. Most work in the U.S. is termed "at will." Employers and employees are seen as equals in the employment relationship and either can terminate employment at any time. Beyond that, it is easy to forget that business thrives on reputation and perception. What we might feel encroached upon for not being able to say as employees, we might never consider saying if we owned a company or were responsible for one, just because of the way that communication can be misunderstood and misinterpreted.

My own hope is that employers learn from bad press, in the worst cases, and move on, and that we, as a society, become a little more tolerant so that employers don’t feel the need to react. It’s nice when work and off-time can be separate enough so that people don’t have to, say, be on-guard about what brand of beer they are seen with. But, that said, I am in favor letting people select the terms of their employment. I know many people who would not like to travel as much as I do, but it works for me. Doubtless, there are people who don't mind restricting parts of their off-job conduct as part of their terms of employment.

Which brings us to the original thought behind this blog (yes, there was one).

A few years ago, I learned something interesting at a conference. There are some software companies out there that forbid their developers from looking at open source software. I was kind of shocked when I heard about it. I'd heard of “clean room” product development where you find people who've never seen a competitor’s product and lock them away to create something similar in the hopes that that will hold any IP claims at bay, but I hadn't heard about this sort of thing being a permanent condition of employment.

How would you feel if a potential employer told you that you couldn’t look at open source in your own time? Would you take that job, or not? Could you do it permanently? Would you do it temporarily?

Note: The title 'All Your Eyes Are Belong To Us' is a bad pun on the phrase 'All Your Base Are Belong To Us'. If you haven't encountered that phrase before, its background is pretty funny; it's worth googling.


Jaakko Haapasalo

Posts: 1
Nickname: jhaapasa
Registered: Mar, 2005

Re: All Your Eyes Are Belong To Us Posted: Mar 8, 2005 7:26 AM
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I would decide based on expediency. If the money they paid made up for crippling my hobbies (most of them involve fiddling with code that could well come from an open source) and stunting my professional growth (not being able to participate in or learn from a significant part of the online developer community), I would sign the contract. If not, I wouldn't. Admittedly, putting a price tag on hobbies and professional fulfillment would be difficult (but also fun).

In practice, I would possibly accept short stints under such restrictions, but I wouldn't be "permanently" happy with them, as the cost in my cost-benefit analysis would approach infinity as my remaining professional years approached zero.

There are also a lot of details to consider. For example, I use Gentoo linux at home, for fun and profit. This entails downloading, building from source and using various open source and free software packages. Could I continue to do this, as long as I swore off less and cat and ... It's a good thing I'm not in principle opposed to absurd clauses in work contracts ;-)

Graham Lea

Posts: 3
Nickname: grlea
Registered: Nov, 2003

Re: All Your Eyes Are Belong To Us Posted: Mar 9, 2005 9:53 PM
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I would say:
"Why did you ask me in for an interview when my resume` clearly says that I work on open source projects in my spare time? You are a goose." :)

I find it hard to believe that there are workplaces that don't use open-source software. Most of the products I've worked on would have taken at least twice as long if we had to implement from scratch the functionality that we've gained from using open source libraries.

Michael Gratton

Posts: 4
Nickname: mjg
Registered: Apr, 2003

Re: All Your Eyes Are Belong To Us Posted: Mar 10, 2005 3:29 AM
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Would I refuse the job? That would depend. I can understand if the company didm't want me to work on some Free Software that are in direct competition with the company's products. You're unlikely to be tolerated if you work for a competitor, free or otherwise.

But if I wasn't allowed to work on a non-competing free software project? There's no way I'd take that job. What I do on my own time (as long as I'm not intentionally harming my employer) is my own business.

/Mike

Frank Sommers

Posts: 2642
Nickname: fsommers
Registered: Jan, 2002

Re: All Your Eyes Are Belong To Us Posted: Mar 10, 2005 3:32 PM
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I think this is a bit of a strawman: What company that relies on software doesn't use some kind of open-source software? I don't know any such company. Perhaps there are some, but I wouldn't work for them because the job would likely be short-lived anyhow. I company that fails to take advantage of a large body of tools available for free is doing a disservice to its customers, since those customers will ultimately have to make up the cost of re-inventing the wheel in-house, or purchasing expensive licenses for things that are available for free. If the cost is not passed onto customers, then the company's shareholds will have to suffer. If the company is private, then the owner's pockets will eventually be depleted because their competitors will take in more profit and they'll have to lower their prices. So, no, I wouldn't take such a job.

A more interesting question, though, is that I suspect a lot of employeers waste money because their employees spend work time on open-source projects. I don't quite understand how otherwise can anyone find time to work an open-source projects? I mean, after you've worked intensely for, say, 8-9 hours a day, then attended to your family, who has time and energy to work on open-source projects? I certainly don't, since I try to give 100% of my energy to the company I work for. I suspect that a lot of open-source code is being written in "stolen" work time, and that is a problem.

I also suspect that since there is not much security in jobs these days, no matter at what level or what company you work for, developers look to open-source projects to gain credentials and to improve their skills, even if they have to take some work-time to do that.

Aaron Holmes

Posts: 1
Nickname: aholmes
Registered: Oct, 2004

Re: All Your Eyes Are Belong To Us Posted: Mar 10, 2005 6:15 PM
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I would without a doubt either turn down the opportunity or resign immediately. It's not that I'm an open source zealot, but it seems like prohibiting programmers from looking at source code is somewhere between silly and downright stupid. There's a lot of work out there, and there's no need to give up your _entire_ life for upper management.

Cheers,
Aaron

bob

Posts: 3
Nickname: plmm
Registered: Mar, 2005

Re: All Your Eyes Are Belong To Us Posted: Mar 11, 2005 6:57 AM
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awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww m8888888888888888888888888888888

Jeroen Wenting

Posts: 88
Nickname: jwenting
Registered: Mar, 2004

Re: All Your Eyes Are Belong To Us Posted: Mar 14, 2005 4:14 AM
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It's pretty common here for employment contracts to state that all work you do belongs to the company (whether done on company time or off).
As OS work is implicitly donated to some outside party by you without the explicit consent of your employer that means you're already in violation of your contract if you do work on an OS project in your spare time.

I can understand why some companies don't want their staff to even look at OS source. The chances of being dragged off to court for some possible use of outside code in their applications are just too large in this littigation happy world and with OS projects ever more getting massive financial backing from certain people/groups they no longer are the financially challenged hobby projects of the past but potential tools for your political or business opponents.

Dan Creswell

Posts: 49
Nickname: dancres
Registered: Apr, 2003

Re: All Your Eyes Are Belong To Us Posted: Mar 24, 2005 6:19 AM
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> A more interesting question, though, is that I suspect a
> lot of employeers waste money because their employees
> spend work time on open-source projects. I don't quite
> understand how otherwise can anyone find time to work an
> open-source projects? I mean, after you've worked
> intensely for, say, 8-9 hours a day, then attended to your
> family, who has time and energy to work on open-source
> projects? I certainly don't, since I try to give 100% of
> my energy to the company I work for. I suspect that a lot
> of open-source code is being written in "stolen" work
> time, and that is a problem.
>

That may be the case but I'm not entirely convinced. I consult to external companies 3 days a week and use the other two days for opensource development. Those days are paid for by my own company Lone Crusader Ltd.

I am not the only one who has working arrangements like this. Others compensate for no time during the week by working on the weekend - The Linux mailing list volume goes up noticeably on weekends and that's when many open-sourcers I know do their work.

In addition, certain companies do what Lone Crusader does and pay people to develop opensource software.

I think we're actually getting to the stage where companies are being able to dictate far too much of our lives. If they only owned 8-9 hours or your time and they paid you for that it wouldn't be so bad, but you have the cost of commuting to bear in terms of time and money as well as a whole load of other incidental costs as the result of your job such as accrued fatigue which means family life suffers.

Many business' squeeze every last piece of juice from their employees on principle whilst providing minimal pay rises or bonuses. It's no surprise there's a backlash from employees who might browse the web, make phone calls or develop private/opensource software. Companies need to learn to engender loyalty by means other than insistence/expectation.

All of that said, I'm sure there are some cases where what you say is true.......

> I also suspect that since there is not much security in
> jobs these days, no matter at what level or what company
> you work for, developers look to open-source projects to
> gain credentials and to improve their skills, even if they
> have to take some work-time to do that.

I'd agree with that.

Michael Feathers

Posts: 448
Nickname: mfeathers
Registered: Jul, 2003

Re: All Your Eyes Are Belong To Us Posted: Mar 31, 2005 1:50 PM
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It's great to see so many responses on this topic. In my blog entry, I didn't mention my opinion on the topic. Here it is.

Frankly, I can understand why employers wouldn't want developers to give away work while employed, but attempting to control what they read or look at off the job goes beyond my personal bounds. I don't hold it against people who would work for someone under those terms, but if I had to put a dollar value on my ability and freedom to learn in this field, it would go far higher than any wage anyone would want to give me.

I think that if we peel away the layers, what this sort of work rule shows is that there are some odd issues in intellectual property law. When one's background reading can impact a company adversely in our legal system, well it's pretty sad.

John Clark

Posts: 1
Nickname: jdc
Registered: Apr, 2005

Re: All Your Eyes Are Belong To Us Posted: Apr 7, 2005 12:59 PM
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Isn't the issue here not that the employees are working on OS code in their spare time and somehow wasting corporate resources, but that they are potentially opening to challenge the claims the company has over the intellectual property of the product that the employee creates as part of his/her job?

If I am an open source hobbyist and I am exposed to the GPL implementation of an encryption technology (for example) and then I am asked by my company to implement an encryption technology - the argument could be made that due to my exposure to the GPL implementation, the implementation I create for the company is a derivative work of the "original" GPL implementation and therefore, the company's implementation needs to be published as open source as well.

Now - I am not saying that I would agree with such a claim, or that such a claim would stand up in a challenge, but I think that's the fear that motivates a company to say "you cannot look at Open Source Code"...

just my 2 cents....

-jdc

James

Posts: 1
Nickname: ruprecht
Registered: Sep, 2005

Re: All Your Eyes Are Belong To Us Posted: Sep 14, 2005 1:05 AM
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Imagine the following scenario:

1. You sign a contract to work for one such company.
2. You develop something in the course of your job that coincidentally turns out to resemble something in an open source project.
3. Your company is sued successfully (for the sake of the example - I don't know if this is likely to happen in reality) for violation of the GPL.

What does your company do? Well sport, you signed a contract that I would guess does not fall under protection from vicarious liability. They have "proof" (the court result) that you violated the contract. They sue you personally for the costs they incurred as a result of your "contract violation".

Would I sign such a contract? Not on your life. Furthermore, I don't see the point. What about code you were exposed to the week before you started? Should they include a clause in the contract that requires you to forget everything you learned from other projects before you started work for them?

Robert Parnell

Posts: 22
Nickname: robparnl
Registered: Jul, 2005

Re: All Your Eyes Are Belong To Us Posted: Oct 13, 2005 12:30 AM
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Perhaps,

However, what is the larger picture? (Just to answer the question. No, I would not work for such a company. Short answer: if they are that small minded? How far does it go to everything else?)

This is corporate America at it's finest. Double standard for the privilleged, keep the workers nailed in their graves.

= Do you think, for one minute, Mr. President has any qualms about: copying software twice (illegally) onto any machine, he wants. Or never has a secret meeting with the competition? Or never "cheats, lie, or steal" ideas / concepts / facts / or IP, in business dealings or anything (for that matter).

Heck, Infowrold just had an article about a boss stealing credit for an employees IP. http://weblog.infoworld.com/lewis/archives/2005/10/preventing_your.html

Rob

Michael Stover

Posts: 28
Nickname: mstover
Registered: Jul, 2005

Re: All Your Eyes Are Belong To Us Posted: Oct 13, 2005 10:15 AM
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This would be an awesome job! What better excuse to feed your not-invented-here mania - "my employee contract forbids I reuse anyone else's code". Super! Re-invent the wheel to your heart's content.

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