Yesterday, while talking with my boss, I mentioned I am working on a personal project in my free time at home. A senior was sitting nearby and he advised me not to tell the boss such things.

What consequences could there be? My senior says while scolding boss will use the personal project against me. Why would that matter?

Is it really a costly affair to tell such thing to boss? I am a fresher so don't know these things ... please tell me what and how can go wrong?

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    Cannot see all the circumstances of your case; however would advise to always think before saying anything at work. What was your reasoning behind blurting out about your own project at the time you said it (not now)? Apr 7 '13 at 6:23
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    Actually, my boss and me were discussing on a serious complex problem in a project and he asked me whether I thought about it at home o not? I answered I have no time at home, so he asked me why am I so busy? It put out the truth out of me...
    – user8575
    Apr 7 '13 at 7:00
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    That's his job, and yes, it was your mistake (he exploited your inner desire to brag about your accomplishments); however you have to be careful next time (and every time). You have to protect your free time from encroachment by managers and your privacy from their prying eyes. Apr 7 '13 at 9:15
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    In the United States you might have to tell your company about any projects you started before you were employed by the company. Otherwise they can claim the project as work related. Apr 7 '13 at 12:33
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    @mhoran_psprep I have started this project after joining the company and its my own project not any commercial project..
    – user8575
    Apr 7 '13 at 14:25

There are many possible reasons your co-worker may have for suggesting that you avoid telling your boss you have a project outside work. To be certain of why this specific co-worker said what he/she said, you need to ask him/her.

It is possible this co-worker said what was said for personal reasons. For example, he/she is frustrated that he/she doesn't get to work on at home projects.

There are also several valid reasons that wouldn't be personal. These reasons could be specific to this boss or this company, legal, cultural, or just general "good advice":

  • Maybe your boss is controlling and thinks you should spend all your time working for the organization, even when you aren't at work. Such a boss may perceive a project outside work as a lack of loyalty and this could lead to a deterioration of your relationship with your boss.

  • The opposite of the above reason may be that your boss wants you to take a break from you work so that have a clear mind when you get to work. Thus he/she believes you won't have that clear mind if you have a project at home.

  • The organization you work for may have a policy (which attempts) to claim any work you do while employed by them as theirs, even if it is done on your own time and with your own resources. Depending on the laws in your area, this may not be legal, but it would be better to avoid the legal issues - sometimes lawsuits are won and lost not on the facts, but because one party has significantly more resources for paying attorneys, investigations, etc. As a worst case scenario, the organization may end up making money from what you did during your personal time.

  • If you intend for your project to become a product that you sell, lease, license, etc. and it might compete with something your company does, then you are likely in violation of a no-compete clause in your employment agreement. This would definitely be seen as disloyal and could get you fired.

  • When the boss wants you to work overtime, you won't be able to argue that you need a break from this sort of work (assuming your home project is similar to what you are doing at work).

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    On your last point, I would contend that doing something you enjoy, or your own reasons, on your own time is extrmely relaxing, and can be a wonderful break from the same kind of stuff that is burning you out at work. Example being, I'm in IT and I am building and fixing computers all the time, but then when I get home, i relax by working with a friend or two on THEIR machines because the similar activity in a different setting is...peaceful.
    – acolyte
    Apr 8 '13 at 14:17
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    @acolyte: I'm not disagreeing with your contention, just saying the boss may think this way.
    – GreenMatt
    Apr 8 '13 at 14:31
  • why are people so illogical sometimes?
    – acolyte
    Apr 8 '13 at 15:05
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    @acolyte : illogical or Wisdom? You can't do the same thing over and over 24/7 for very long and maintain the same level of enthusiasm and drive. Once that goes, so does performance.
    – Dunk
    Apr 9 '13 at 22:40

As mentioned by others, the answer will vary depending on the country and state you live in. You need to look that up.

Moonlighting laws aside, some things to watch out for is:

Q: Does your project IP overlap with the companies?

A: You risk contaminating your companies product, and invalidating any IP/patents they are working on.

Q: Does your project compete with your companies?

A: The company can have a case to claim ownership/damages.

I'd also recommend reading this answer.



Yes there is a downside. The boss might decide to let you go. It could cause problems with your co-workers. You could get yourself a bad reputation if you break any of the rules below.

Rules about doing you own projects:

  1. Never do any of it at work.
  2. Never use company resources to do it whether it's a laptop or internet access. Don't even use the company printer or recycling bin for anything that even looks like your own project.
  3. Never tell your boss or co-workers, even if they seem like your best friends.
  4. Never talk about it at work.
  5. Make sure it has nothing to do with your work projects.
  6. Never try to sell something you developed at work as your own. It belongs to the company. That's just the way it is.

It depends on your company and where you live. Where I live, employees are not allowed to do any project other than work. If they do, it is considered freelancing, even if they do that project at home. Working on your own project isn't allowed as well. In my company if an employee is caught freelancing, he might be fired. So you should be very careful when mentioning such things.

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    Even if it's a non-commercial project? OP states in the comments that it's non-commercial. Apr 8 '13 at 14:00
  • That's...terrible.
    – acolyte
    Apr 8 '13 at 14:14
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    Weird. IMO the only things the company can require from you is that you do your work according to expectations/agreements, don't compete or use company materials. If you do e.g. heavy physical work, late-night theater performances, or code on your pet project till 4 in the morning, and those things negatively influence your day job, they have a ground for complaints, but otherwise your spare time is yours. [And I realize this is a 'formal' argument because if your superiors disagree on such things they can always build a dossier against you.]
    – user8036
    Apr 8 '13 at 15:11

This really depends on your particular boss and the relationship you've built up to this time. If you're not sure how she will react, don't mention it. You can also gauge the amount you should talk about by home much they talk about.

Was your boss just curious or really shocked when you told him you do not think of work at home? Maybe you've thought of other projects?

There are many who believe good programmers often program away from work on side projects.

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    Actually, he was asking how the project is different than the similar projects available in the market...also, he asked me if I am going to make it open-source..
    – user8575
    Apr 8 '13 at 15:01
  • @user8575 - sounds like a positive response, so I don't see what the sr. worker was so worried about.
    – user8365
    Apr 8 '13 at 21:38
  • I'm inclined to say that the better relationship you have with your boss the more reason for not saying anything to them. What if what you are working on comes out and senior management is unhappy with you working on it for whatever reason. If they find out that your boss knew about it then your boss could potentially get in trouble worse than you because they should have known better. So if you like your boss then don't put them in a position to potentially get in trouble for not representing the company's interests. Your telling them puts them in a position to rat you out or cover for you.
    – Dunk
    Apr 9 '13 at 22:50

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