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I am a software developer and as such my productive output is easily repurposed.

Some background

A few years ago, long before I was employed at my current job, I made a piece of software in an attempt to persuade a client to upgrade their business processing system. That client didn't buy my software for various reasons unrelated to the quality of the software itself (competitors' bids were all scrapped as well).

Today one of my managers approached me and wanted to see how feasible it would be to make a moderately complicated piece of software - mobile app to collect data in a wizard-like manner and produce printable reports.

There are some gotchas in the project that make it less-than-trivial:

  • hundreds of data points

  • reports customizable per client, per region and per user

  • rules about the points that are needed can change at a whim

... all of which were features of the software I had previously created, along with some tools that help manage the system after it's up and running.

The current situation

It took me some 6 months to create that system and I could deploy it at my current employer's within a couple weeks (modifications/plugins will be needed), instead of the 6+ months it would otherwise take to create it from scratch (longer than my personal effort due to corporate overhead). I have been at my current employer for about 8 months.

I fully own the rights to my previous work. I would like to sell or license the software I've made to my current employer but I'm not sure how to approach that or how to raise the question - I wouldn't want my employer to think I'm holding back on my effort if they decide not develop from scratch in-house. It's also difficult to put a price tag on software and I wouldn't want my management to think I'm trying to rip them off.

How can I approach my current employer about buying my past work?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 62 down vote accepted

I've been down this road a couple of times.

Some things you want to make sure are absolutely clear, and in writing, for both sides:

  1. Scope of the License - What is the license you are granting your employer? Is it something they can resell or repackage as a value-add component? Is it to be limited to one location only? Can they "re-brand" it as their own product? How far can your employer deploy this software?
  2. Source code - Are you supposed to deliver a software product, or deliver source code?
  3. Continuing development - Are you to be allowed to continue development on this as your own product? Or is the company essentially "buying" the product from you in its entirety? Are all potential conflict of interest issues addressed in the agreement? (Thank you @ColinPickard.)
  4. Upkeep - If bugs are found, or the software needs to be customized to your company's environment, whose responsibility is that? Do you do that on the clock or on your own time as part of the purchase?

As always, everything is negotiable, but these are items that can cause pain points afterwards if you don't get them clearly defined up-front.

As to how to approach your employer:

  1. Don't wait - The longer you wait to bring this up, the more it would seem that you're "sandbagging" on the project. The sooner you bring it up, the better.
  2. How to Propose it - Try, "Boss, you know you asked us to make a utility to kerfluffle the widgets. It so happens I made a Widget Kerfluffler application as part of a pitch I made to another organization some time back. I think it handles everything you're looking for, and takes care of a couple of things you may not have thought of, yet. Would you be interested in evaluating my Kefluffler App before we dig in to making our own?"

It can be just that simple. If he says no, put it back on the shelf and don't bring it up again.

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2  
This question is part of this week's Broken Windows For Review on meta. –  jmort253 Oct 20 at 1:57
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@jmort253 - I disagree with the question being "too broad." It is a very specific set of circumstances that can arise to anyone who has worked in software development. It's happened to me, twice. The question also qualifies the circumstances, well. I believe the question could be closed to prevent "Me, too," but I believe the question itself is valid and should remain. You will notice the question has received a lot of upvotes, as well. –  Wesley Long Oct 22 at 16:39
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Hi @wesley. Do you mind creating an answer in the meta post and help get the discussion started? Your perspective as the top answerer is extremely valuable for getting community support. We've seen a good response so far in getting posts like this cleaned up slightly and reopened by 5 community reopen voters. Remember, part of these reviews is not just to weed out bad stuff but also highlight things worth saving. Thank you for all of your contributions! :) –  jmort253 Oct 23 at 0:16

Yes you can, but you should consider a few points:

  1. Since it will take you approximately six months to rebuild it you'll be lucky if they will perceive it's worth six months' salary.

  2. You "product" is not a tested one and maybe doesn't adehere to all their requirements. They will test it, open some bug tickets, expect you to fix it, etc. (Oh and wait for the "can you add this feature pls?")

  3. You can take other alternatives like:

    • OK, boss, I'll refactor my "product," but I need a few coworkers, a coffee machine, etc and can you raise my salary and promote me to the project team leader?

    • OK, boss I'll do it but since it's almost done, I can finish it faster at home. (Yeah few weeks of home office!)

    The alternative routes are a good thing if this product will require continuing development.

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I'm sorry but this is unreadable. I tried to edit it but I found I just couldn't understand it at all. –  David Richerby Aug 11 at 22:06
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all good points, I'll keep them in mind :) the product was built to to beat #2 10 times out of 10 because that was the usual case with the client it was originally targeted at –  user19202 Aug 12 at 2:57

If it makes their life easier and speeds up development, then yes, you should. Doing what you are told is nice, but taking initiative and offering something useful is even better.

First, calculate how much money they'd save. What's 6 months worth to them? Give them a discount, of course; I doubt anyone wants to pay an outrageous price on something already finished, so charge them 3 months worth for it, not including your 6 weeks. That's what I'd do, but I recommend making your own decisions as far as price goes.

Second, do not give them your price you calculated. Show it to them and tell them you'd be willing to implement your own software in less time. Say you'd like to be compensated for it for a fair price, then negotiate. You have the high ground in this barter.

Your company is a free entity, and will likely take the route that saves them time and money. It'd be madness on both your parts to not discuss this.

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