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Work Samples and the Non-Disclosure Agreement? 88

ahowl asks: "At my previous employer, I signed a traditional NDA, and when I was laid off, I signed another agreement stating I wasn't taking anything with me that belonged to the company. This included all the scripts, stored procedures, and anything else that I had created while employed. However, most of the subsequent jobs that I was looking at wanted work samples. If this continues I could have a ton of work I've done that I can't show anyone, so what can I do?"
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Work Samples and the Non-Disclosure Agreement?

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  • by Ouroboro ( 10725 ) <(moc.oohay) (ta) (tyoh_noraa)> on Saturday April 09, 2005 @02:47PM (#12188624) Homepage Journal
    Do some work on the side and use that as work samples.
    • I can't believe you're in this business and yet you haven't done any basement work. I have plenty fun projects lying around. Get in the game and create an application or two for FUN.

      p.s. Honestly, I would hire your ass if you can't show me things that you have done outside of work!
    • Alternately, since your writing code for a living, you can always just put together some source (even if it isn't in production somewhere) just to show some of the processes and your coding style etc. When I have asked for samples in the past I wanted to see more what type of commenting, variable naming etc was used.

      'cause we all know you can write the same thing a dozen different ways... some JavaScript examples.

      // addition function
      function addNums (iA, iB){
      var iR = iA + iB;
      return iR;
      }

      or

      // additio

  • by Seumas ( 6865 ) on Saturday April 09, 2005 @02:48PM (#12188635)
    Show it to them and then kill them.
  • Hobby Work (Score:4, Informative)

    by g_bowskill ( 801731 ) on Saturday April 09, 2005 @02:51PM (#12188648) Homepage
    Is there no computer related work you do as a hobby? For example work on open source projects etc... If there is then you could use this as evidence. Perhaps whilst job hunting you could work on a small project just to show your capabilities. Also, surely a company would understand this situation and be sympathetic? Especially if they have a similar N.D.A? Another point to consider, surely just detailing the projects you've worked on, what you did and how you did it could be enough evidence of your capabilities without actually showing them the code you made. Plus I'm sure you can display qualities to them such as your ability to work in a team etc... which are just as if not more important than the code you create, so if you appear strong in these areas and explain why you can't show past work then you could still be in the running for the job. Just my tuppence, Regards, Grant
    • It depends on how long he's been out of work. Take me for example, I still have a job as a contractor but I could see myself getting layed off soon with the others in my company. So I'd start looking for work ASAP.

      At my job I work a lot over the weekends and during the evenings to get stuff done. I'm an idiot and do stuff "off the record" because I'd rather hit a deadline with a finished product than deal with the red tape of going over the number of hours I'm contracted for.

      So, if I started looking fo
  • Easy (Score:3, Interesting)

    by HavokDevNull ( 99801 ) <eric@@@linuxsystems...net> on Saturday April 09, 2005 @02:51PM (#12188651) Homepage Journal
    Start an open source project! Help yourself as well as help the community.
    • Re:Easy (Score:5, Insightful)

      by fm6 ( 162816 ) on Saturday April 09, 2005 @02:56PM (#12188672) Homepage Journal
      Probably more practical to find an existing project that needs help. Easy enough to find on Sourceforge. Besides, your interactions with other project members will probably do more to establish your reputation than just creating some code that might or might not be interesting to others. Developing software is mostly a collaborative effort these days, and when you demonstrate your ability to collaborate, you're demonstrating a job skill that's just as important as coding.
  • What? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 09, 2005 @02:53PM (#12188657)
    I have never been asked for "work samples." I seriously doubt they are even asking for examples of work done at previous companies. That would be insane (releasing another companies IP?!).

    Usually they go by the interview and stuff like that.

    They probably are asking for code samples that you have written outside of work. If you haven't written any... well, write some! Especially if you're not working anyway, you have plenty of time available, no? Consider it part of the job searching process.

    Still seems a little bizarre to even be asked for code sample in the first place though. I have to think that this only happened at one specific company and now you think all companies are like that.
    • Re:What? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Scarblac ( 122480 )

      I was asked to bring code samples from my previous experience to the job interview for my current job. They basically want an idea of your coding style, they're not going to steal any IP. I had permission from my previous job to show code samples for this sort of thing.

      • Re:What? (Score:1, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward
        That still doesn't make any sense. I code in whatever style the company dictates. Style has nothing to do with my programming ability.
        • Style is more than just formatting. When I work on smaller projects, I tend to get to the point where I can tell who wrote what code just by looking at it.
          • agreed, its more like your handwriting. You can format it anyway you like, a formal letter, an imformal paragraph, a bulleted list, but it still looks like your handwriting.

            Sure you can try to make it look different but you will not be nearly as efficient when you are trying to replicate other handwriting.

    • I have never been asked for "work samples." I seriously doubt they are even asking for examples of work done at previous companies. That would be insane (releasing another companies IP?!).

      I completely agree. I often ask for code samples when I'm interviewing programmers. If somebody were foolish enough to bring in IP from a former employer, there's no way I'd hire them; I don't have time to ride herd on the clueless.

      Also, if somebody doesn't have any of their own personal code laying around, or some open
      • Also, if somebody doesn't have any of their own personal code laying around, or some open-source stuff they've released, I probably wouldn't hire them, either unless there was some other clear sign that they really loved their work.

        I've had contracts that (if I hadn't insisted on altering them) would have prohibited me from working on outside code, because I was supposed to direct my "full productive effort" to my corporate masters.

        • I've had contracts that (if I hadn't insisted on altering them) would have prohibited me from working on outside code, because I was supposed to direct my "full productive effort" to my corporate masters.

          I can imagine certain circumstances where that would even be legit. If somebody had worked for many years at PARC or Google or someplace that's more a lifestyle than a job, I could buy that they put everything they had into work, and that the employer keeping all the code would be reasonable.

          But otherwis
        • You had someone ask you to not work on any outside code for a CONTRACT position? If it were a very well paying fulltime position which was exactly what you wanted to do and with a company which offered great benefits, that would be one thing. But for some shitty contract job, I suspect the economy was really bad when these contracts came along, or perhaps this was in an area of the country where the demand for IT pros was never all that huge.
          • You had someone ask you to not work on any outside code for a CONTRACT position?

            Not just no outside code, but according to a strict reading pretty much no outside anything, as I was supposed to direct my "full productive effort" to my corporate masters. As I read that, I couldn't even teach my karate classes in the evenings [seidomd.com]. It was the contracting company's standard wording.

            This was in Annapolis MD, which would generally be part of the D.C. Metro area, in 2000. So neither a backwater nor a bust time,

            • Hmm, maybe that could've been worked to your advantage. I say that if a company wants you to do nothing but work on their stuff, then they should pay you your standard billing rate for every waking hour. To be reasonable, you could subtract time for shaving, showering, shitting, eating, etc. I wonder if they would think that was such a good idea. But good job sticking up for yourself, instead of quite literally signing your life away. If more people did that, conditions like that would go away.
    • I have never been asked for "work samples." I seriously doubt they are even asking for examples of work done at previous companies.

      Yes, it does happen. I've had two or three potential employers ask for such a thing. Usually my response is "sorry, don't have the rights to do that"...though last time it came up, I was at least able to give them a few hundred line Perl script I'd hacked up for my own purposes.

    • I've been asked, and I have always regarded it as a trick question. If I had showed them the work that I performed for another client, that would PROVE that I was unethical. So, my response, which works 100% of the time in my experience, is to act shocked that they would even ask, and then point out that it would be unethical for me to keep a copy of my clients' software without permission, let alone show it to them, and for that reason I have absolutely NO copies of previous work to show them. If they abso
    • I have never been asked for "work samples."
      And I never ask for work samples when I interview. I just ask many detailed questions and if the applicant can provide answers that aren't total gibberish, then as far as I am concerned, the applicant did the work.
  • by turgid ( 580780 ) on Saturday April 09, 2005 @02:55PM (#12188667) Journal
    Speak nicely to your old boss and ask permission to show samples to your new prospective employer. Let old employer and new employer work out the legal details between them (and in the mean time they might both learn a thing or two about the ludicrous nature of "intellectual property" laws). The fact that you've shown the initiative might count for something, and also might demonstrate that your inablity to produce said evidence is not due to its non-existence, but rather beurocracy not of your making.
    • As someone you might be dealing with to find that new job, I find it absurd that your prospective employer would presume to see work you've done which is owned by another company (I have asked if it would be possible on rare occasions, but never assumed it would be). Maybe someone who requests such samples will post a response, but I would hesitate to work for such an employer because I think asking for those samples is (borderline? I'm not sure) unethical.

      That said, the knowledge in your head is yours, n
      • Asking for a portfolio unethical? Hardly. What's more unethical would be forcing humonguous NDAs on employees like that one, when the competitive advantage of a small piece of code is somewhere between negligable and useless.
      • by rusty0101 ( 565565 ) on Saturday April 09, 2005 @07:43PM (#12190052) Homepage Journal
        Not speaking as a professional programer, but throwing the ideas out.

        A code sample would very rarely consist of an entire functional program, or need to provide a window into the IP of a company.

        It may consist of a function that was re-written in the code base. Or it might be a subroutine with comments indicating what this subroutine does, what parameters it may require, and what it returns. It may also consist of a set of requirements, so that a prospective employer can determine if you can program to the requirements.

        I would be very surprised if any developer has not worked on some project that snippets of code they developed would not be available for outside review. Projects that were canceled or never went into production would be prime candidates for places to look. Granted even those generate functions that developers re-use in other projects that are completed, but they are a place to look.

        -Rusty
        • I would be very surprised if any developer has not worked on some project that snippets of code they developed would not be available for outside review.

          I would be very surprised if any developer who hasn't worked for a company that released someting open source would have code legitimately available for outside review.

          The code I write for employers is "for hire". When I leave the company I have no legal rights to it. None. Zero. I can't take copies with me when I leave, I can't distribute copies to o

      • It depends alot on who you worked for and what you did.

        If you wrote scripts for a hospital, then a your next IT department might want to see something you have written before.

        If you are working on proprietary code that is another story.

  • by Free_Trial_Thinking ( 818686 ) on Saturday April 09, 2005 @03:05PM (#12188717)
    Plan A:
    Assuming you still have the work you did saved somewhere acaccessible.

    Put together some work samples that you believe present no possible harm to your previous employee, Do whatever you have to to make them safe (perhaps print them out, draw permanent marker over sensitive parts and scan them back in!)

    Email/mail the samples to your previous supervisor, and write the same message you wrote to slashdot here, but more emotional. Say you want to run your work samples by her to make sure they're ok. (emphasize how careful you'll be not to let anyone keep them or make copies)

    If he is reasonable then he'll ok, at least parts of your work samples.

    If not go to plan B:
    Plan B:
    Write some new samples! Spend up to a week writing a quick application that highlights your skills. It's time well spent and shows an employer that you program on your own time, and that you're self-motivated.

    Keep up all updated, we're all wishing you the best of luck!
    • think about it.. he's signed a
      "I HAVE NOTHING" NDA on his way out..
      and you want him to send samples of the very content covered by the contract he signed to the ex employer?

      sheya! that'll go over VERY WELL

  • Why?? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 09, 2005 @03:15PM (#12188758)
    when I was laid off, I signed another agreement stating I wasn't taking anything with me that belonged to the company.

    You are in a difficult position, my sympathies.

    Why did you sign? Did they offer a greater severance if you signed? You have no reason to sign or agree to anything new when you're being terminated unless there is a benefit to you. You've already lost your job...

    But even if you didn't sign, that wouldn't help much, since you're still covered by the orignal NDA.

    You might show a copy of the old NDA to the new company and explain that's why you can't show them examples. Or ask the old company to allow you to show the new company a few things.
    • Re:Why?? (Score:2, Informative)

      by AndroidCat ( 229562 )
      And always make sure that you keep a copy of any NDA you sign. I've worked for companies that were reasonable in the beginning, but grew more absurd over time. Sometimes they have the idea that they can revise the agreement over time without further agreement from you. (Make sure that there's no clause allowing them to do that.) One place even had the weird idea that they could forbid people from making a copy of a contract that they wanted people to sign.
      • The fun part about that company was that they got their start from two products that programmers had brought with them from other companies. (There were even faxes to one programmer at his old job that he'd taken with him that were still in the files. Idiots.)
    • Let the new company sign an nda that they do not disclose you showed them the code.

      Kind of: If you show the code to the old company they will kill (sue) me, but i will kill(sue) you for doing that.

      And as said before, i think if you print some sheets with code they will get an idea what you write, but without context this is no real use to them.
  • As easy as that. There are enough open-source databases, nothing stops you from setting up a simple example application.
  • Don't fall for this obvious ploy. This is like the rule "never marry your mistress."
  • by ivi ( 126837 ) on Saturday April 09, 2005 @03:21PM (#12188791)

    C'mon, people, just because you signed an NDA
    doesn't mean you can't get a variation agree-
    ment for a small, useful bit of code that you
    are proud of...

    I'd make it a habit of getting such an agree-
    ment (ie, variation) as early as possible, eg
    even during the signing of the NDA itself.

    Why not try adding a write-in clause (do it a
    bit professionally, eg, by sticking-on a pre-
    printed label, maybe) that says something like:

    "... small work sample(s) may be shown,
    but not left in the possession of other
    organisation(s), exclusively when inter-
    viewing for other positions.

    Such samples will not include 's
    trade secrets, etc."

    You lawyer should be able to help you with
    the details...
  • by ConceptJunkie ( 24823 ) on Saturday April 09, 2005 @03:40PM (#12188859) Homepage Journal
    I've gotten several employees to use _my_ code, while making sure beforehand to establish that while they can do what they want with it, so can I. Kind of a simplified version of the LGPL, under which I license the code.

    Of course, I haven't worked for jerks, at least in this regard, that there was never a problem over it. The license is clearly stated and the code (or at least a really old version... gotta update that) is available on Sourceforge.

  • If you design websites, demonstrate some savvy and leave your "author" name all over the website of your last employments.

    If it is an application that the prospective employer have, demonstrate your name by asking them to pull down a "Help->About" menu and show off your names, even if you put an easter egg in that menu (to get around your last boss's stingyness.)

    Good luck...
  • While in school for electrical engineering the professors covered the issues of patents, and what they taught was to do what you're going to do and don't worry about the lawsuits.

    The only risk point I see here is the new employer finding out that you violated an NDA. Most employer NDA's are enforced with termination, which has already happened to you.

    • There's more risk than losing your job. People do get sued for breaking NDAs. In some cases, you might even face criminal prosecution. I would be very cautious about doing something that runs that kind of risk, even if the risk is small.

      And suppose your NDA violation becomes common knowledge? Hard to get a job if nobody who might hire you trusts you.

      As for your father's story -- there's no law against do non-original research. But once your invention or discovery leaves the lab and enters the marketplac

      • What are they gonna sue you for? The increase in salary you received for disclosing that you have the knowledge to complete the project at hand?

        I have never heard of a case where criminal prosecution was pursued on someone who shared a code sample for a job interview... nor for any other situation that didn't involve using that information for direct financial gains. If you know where we can find examples of this, I would be grateful, as I'm likely to be ignorant of these cases since IANAL.

        I agree that
        • What are they gonna sue you for? The increase in salary you received for disclosing that you have the knowledge to complete the project at hand?
          No, for the damage you did to them by disclosing their secrets. Which could run to millions.

          I admit that you're unlikely to face criminal prosecution for disclosing a few lines of source code. All the same, stealing confidential information is a crime.

  • do the work at home and bring it to your new job. make sure it's released under some sort of OSS license and use it at your new job. when you get fired again at your new job you can take it to the next job and the next job.
  • Show them work you did at your former job, NDA be damned.

    NDAs are there so companies feel comfy and secure - don't let it impede your quest for a better job. Your company doesn't want to sue you, and they have nothing to gain by doing it, even if they know you're doing this. Now if you're giving up company secrets, that might be something else, but a straightforward work example isn't going to hurt them and isn't going to be worth their time to care about.

    • I wouldn't recommend this.

      If you show them code that you wrote under NDA, and they can see that you're wilfully ignoring the contract with your former employer, then why wouldn't they assume you'd be just as prepared to ignore any parts of their contract?

      It shows you to be an untrustworthy employee, with scant regard for contracts. Whether this is true or not, you don't want to advertise it in your interview.

  • Any company that wants to see work samples probably isn't one that you want to work for. A good company will interview you to see if you know your stuff so it doesn't matter if you have a sample. If they're relying on samples then the people you'll be working with/for are probably just smart enough to have downloaded some stuff off the Internet for their interview and learned enough to answer a few questions. These are people that I would not want to work with. You also have to consider that if the inte
  • Usually when a company asks for samples of what your done they don't so much care about specific implementations. I know when I look at code submitted by a possible member of my development group I'm usually just looking for style and some proof the guy actually knows what he says he knows.

    It also doesn't hurt to tell somebody that you signed an NDA and as a result feel like you can't show them any specific code from your previous job. They should respect that as they would probably require you to sign t
  • by jessecurry ( 820286 ) <jesse@jessecurry.net> on Saturday April 09, 2005 @06:39PM (#12189706) Homepage Journal
    ...I would request that they give you a programming challenge. Maybe some application that could be written in a day or two. Even if this company decides not to hire you, you'll have some sample code for the next company you apply at.
    Or you could ask them if they have some code laying around that you could work with, you could then spend a little time improving or adding to a project that they are working on, there's nothing like actually demonstrating your usefulness.
  • by Safety Cap ( 253500 ) on Saturday April 09, 2005 @07:23PM (#12189939) Homepage Journal
    Before you sign anything consult a lawyer

    The guy I use charges $150/hour. Reviewing a standard NDA takes about ... 1 hour. As a result, I've avoided signing things that would make a paper smeared with pig feces more attractive.

    Before you sign anything consult a lawyer

    Think about how much money you could potentially lose because you can't show your potential future employer any samples. Is that work 150 bones?

    So.

    Before you sign anything consult a lawyer

  • Laid off (Score:3, Insightful)

    by BrookHarty ( 9119 ) on Saturday April 09, 2005 @07:32PM (#12189981) Homepage Journal
    So they laid you off, and asked you to sign another agreement, and you agreed?

    WTF?! You allowed them to damage your resume and job search for no reason. Too many people are allowing corporations to control them by contracts. If you are out of school, dont sign your future away, they will let you go when times get tough, look after yourself first.

    Sheesh, maybe after everyone realizes that 100 hour weeks, no vacation, and NDA's are not worth after you are laid off and alone.
    • So they laid you off, and asked you to sign another agreement, and you agreed?

      Usually, these are required for a severance agreement. No signature? No severance. It's also pretty difficult to negotiate these things. I got laid off from a dot-com gig in 2001, and wasn't compensated for the vacation time that I didn't use. They were well within their rights was in to withhold it (according to state employment laws), but I worked hard for them, and didn't take any of it; so I tried to negotiate for wh

  • by acousticiris ( 656375 ) * on Saturday April 09, 2005 @07:55PM (#12190133)
    I, too, have been wrestling with this situation. I am being paid by my current employer to write complex software, but should I wish to leave, I want to be able to showcase the work I do to others.

    Enter Open Source (Select "Redundent" now...)!

    I started about a year back by just subscribing to the devel lists of about 15-20 different open-source apps that I used regularly (and a few that I didn't... but that interested me).
    My initial motivation was "Lets get my name somewhere on the 'credits' list and then I can add that to my resume", but that wore off quickly. I discovered that there was an incredible number of people who were far more capable at writing code than I was. So I took the opportunity to learn from them.
    Books, college classes, on-the-job learning and experience are all thrown away...if you find a good complicated project dealing in programming languages you don't understand and concepts you haven't explored, you'll eat it right up and it will have a ripple effect throughout your entire skillset (no matter how unrelated the project may be to your current work).
    So my advice (and point): Find some projects that are appealing to you, subscribe and read the devel mailing lists: you'll benefit. Even if you don't get the opportunity to "showcase your work", you'll become far better at your trade... and that might be obvious enough to an interviewer to make providing examples of your work irrelevant.
  • There was a similar discussion two weeks ago on Perl Monks: Code Samples and Previous Employers [perlmonks.org]

    (Although in that case, it was when an interviewer pushed him to violate his NDA)

  • when I was laid off, I signed another agreement stating I wasn't taking anything with me that belonged to the company.

    Why'd you sign anything after they laid you off? What were they going to do if you didn't sign - let you go?
  • I had worked long enough with a specific part of a project that I almost knew by heart, which I could just type in again to send. It was also something fairly complex and common that anyone in the same industry would recognize. The request didn't specify that it was a work sample from my previous work though, just a sample relevant to the position.
  • I guess you could change careers.
  • If he hadn't have signed it, i'm sure theres the all too real possibility of his companies lawyers sueing him. And i'm sure for something ridiculous also, like loss of profits, and then end up signing the NDA anyway. I think its a matter of what gives less of a headache.
  • Obviously it's not a work sample from a previous job, but starting an Open Source project is a good way of accumulating demonstrable proof of your skills. It also teaches you some things about putting a software project together from start-to-finish, mainly that actual coding is a small piece of a big pie (documentation, packaging, web site, UI design, etc.), which will make you a more aware coder and diversify your experience/qualifications. If you can communicate this knowledge-gain0 successfully to a p
  • I've actually been in the same situation lately. I just finished a job where I was required to sign an NDA which is applicable until the release of the product. My job was finished a couple of months ago, but the product itself is still a ways off from release. Now that I've been interviewing for new work, I've ran into the same problem "what do you say when you can't say anything about your previous work".
    The conclusion I came too, after talking to my old boss (with whom I still get along, and hold no
  • If they wanted you to sign something as you left the company, it seems to me that they didn't make you sign it when you were hired. You signed a standard NDA, but they didn't make you sign anything stating that whatever you produce is their sole property and you aren't allowed to keep a copy. How do I know this? Because if you had signed it at the start of the job, they wouldn't need you to sign it at the end. Once is enough.

    It seems like their legal department goofed and tried to fix the problem. Now, I

    • Unfortunatly they sometimes wave your last check at you saying "Sign ze paper or you never see this check"
      • Last check or severance check? They could easily make severance dependant on signing an agreement, but any attempt to deny you pay that you've already earned (even accrued vacation time in most places) would bring the company severe consequences. They would possibly have to pay you triple the amount of your last check if they refused to pay it in a timely manner. Please people, read at least a basic summary of employment law in your area, you never know when it will save your ass.
        • Severance check..

          The also use those to keep you in the job until they are ready for you to go. "Your getting laid off in two months, Stay the whole time and get this juicy check"
  • Just a couple of thoughts:

    1. Do not violate the NDA. Just not worth it. It might be evil and unreasonable, but if you violate it, then how does your prospective employer have any faith that you won't do that to them? Answer: they don't.

    2. Write some code. Write it at home. Show that to prospective employers. I know that when I've interviewed folks for my employer, I always ask if they have any code samples that they've written outside of work that they would be able to show me. That way, I'm not asking th

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