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Characters:

  • Me - senior year college student. Back-end and infrastructure dev..
  • Boss X - junior year (different) college student
  • Colleague Y - junior year college student (same school as I, we meet around campus from time to time). Joined same period as I did. Jack of front-end & back-end, master of none.
  • Colleague Z - sophomore college student (different school from all above). Joined end of September. Skilled front-end dev.

Story:

All of us were working as part time dev engineers (except X, who did sales) in a previous company. X has his dreams of starting up a company and I had my health issues from this company so we quit around the same time together. Just before I quit in mid July, X asked me to join his team, so I did along with Y. Since the company just started, X promised to pay us when the company is on the right track. But until then, he's in our debt.

We worked on the project until X called it off in August when he and his marketing guy decided the market has no need for this product. All I thought was once X took some time to redo market research and getting VCs, we'd be back working.

Later on yesterday (Christmas eve) I noticed some activity in Slack and saw them having an online meeting via appearin. I listened anonymously to their conversations and found out they had another project at nearly 40% complete, all without me. I also heard Z saying "Alright let's get back to work, for the sake of XXX hourly wage".

This got me very furious with X and Y for going behind me. But especially furious with X for not upholding his moral obligation to give me a call given that I worked for him til August and also did another small job of setting up a pre-register page for his new product idea around September.

As for Y, he works as a free lance at other places too. Recently Y is worrying about his annual earning surpassing the 1.3 mil Yen limit (300K+ yen tax once over it) yet never gave me a single word about the new project.

To be clear, I have nothing in this new product yet I still have access to team Slack, all Bitbucket source code, and Firebase access. Also, none of us ever signed an NDA.

Questions:

1) I admit the product itself is nothing new and isn't going to be some killer app but I find it being a good technical challenge and I would really like to try it out. Assuming they let me "back" in, what kind of mindset do you think I should approach this situation as well as X with considering they already betrayed me once?

2) I confronted X and confirmed there's no funds so no hourly wage can be paid. Yet X promised Y and Z a (somewhat big) amount payment for a complete, initial version of the product. X claims he gave the job to Y because "we only have sufficient fund for one back-end dev, and he happened to be nearby when I had the thought". How should I treat Y from now knowing that he knew there's only one position available, and not informing me about it when he's worrying about earning too much (tax considerations) while I'm worrying about not having any job? His sense of lack of noblesse oblige is what's ticking me off.

Thanks!

  • 4
    Neither X, Y or Z owe you a single thing. Get over it and move on. – user1666620 Dec 25 '18 at 16:38
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    @Joe Strazzere Maybe you missed the part "I find it being a good technical challenge and I would really like to try it"? It's a small team, and how we worked before is more like "tell me what you want and I'll get it done" style. – niconuma Dec 25 '18 at 16:49
  • @Joe Strazzere Hmm now that makes sense. That "they would already be dead to me" helped me realize the similarity between the underlying reason behind my health issue in previous company (former boss slowly shifted my job to something else I wasn't mentioned first or wanted to do as much) and this case. Its just the difference of how fast the reality hit me. Good one. Thanks – niconuma Dec 25 '18 at 17:13
  • You say "all without me". Are they using some of the code you wrote for the first project? If so, you may have some leverage. If not, just walk away. – David Thornley Dec 27 '18 at 22:14
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Here's what it looks like to me: "Boss" X started a startup, with no money, and without a clue, but at least a dream. You all worked for him for free, or for a promise, which means you didn't have much of a clue either.

I recommend that you finish your studies, then find a job at some place that has money to pay its employees. You will not get any money from X, because he will never make any.

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You need to grow up and move on. X doesn't owe you a single thing, and neither do Y or Z. If you want, tell them you still have access to slack and source control, but you need to learn to leave a job behind you.

There's also no point in burning bridges behind you - who knows if you might end up working with them again some time in the future.

  • The first project (which fell through) was promised payment when the company gets on track. So yes, he owes me money to the extent the amount of work I did. Not mentioned above but the petty pre-register page work was promised a nice meal so that's more than nothing. – niconuma Dec 25 '18 at 16:52
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    I'm sure he will pay when the company gets on track, which will happen - never. That was the deal, so before that, he owes you nothing. – gnasher729 Dec 26 '18 at 10:54
  • @niconuma It isn't even clear if this manager, of a company without a customer base, working on this project even sees this effort as a continuation of the group you were a part of. In his mind, this could be a completely new, different, effort. Meaning your effort is zero, and your compensation will be zero. Also, these kinds of efforts are typically not solidified with written contracts, making it even harder to pursue your compensation, if you opted to do so. Personally, without customers, I wouldn't worry about compensation, as it is an impossibility. – Edwin Buck Dec 26 '18 at 17:39
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  • These are not you colleagues. These are a set of loose collaborators on half-related projects
  • They included you to work on the second project, but then excluded you. As to their motivation I do not speculate
  • My boss is - by definition - somebody who pays me money for my work. The guy is not your boss.

I have seen such behavior in my time in Japan (and also elsewhere, but not that pronounced) - investing any more time and thought about this is probably going nowhere, unless you think that the IP itself in the project is valuable - in that case you may have a bargaining chip. The best thing is to stop worrying about this and find other projects - and ask the guy for compensation the next time he asks you to do something, and never do anything for which there is no clear and agreed contract.

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It's hard news if you "own" your code. I would like to offer you a solution, reevaluate the way you "own" your code, making it not about who wrote it, but about who has legal ownership.

Your Boss, X, tried to get his company / project off the ground with you and failed. He didn't give up on his dream, and has decided to try again. He isn't interested in trying again the exact same way; because, that way failed. He's going to try again a different way, and this time the difference is in his staff.

It sucks to be the one out-of-the-group, but coming to him with feelings of exclusion will only cement your position as being outside. If you really want in this game, and from you statements "It's not a revolutionary product" that seems doubtful, you need to approach him from a position of enthusiasm.

I'd think long and hard before even approaching him about it. Don't let the natural feelings of exclusion motivate you to be part of something you're not really keen on doing. If you find you are not keen on doing it, it's OK to tell your boss you know about it, and you wish him well; as long as you do so carefully to not accidentally include yourself in a similar way as last time.

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1)
Is project A the same as B?

  • true
    X's obligation to pay you for work on Project A might be extended if B succeeds
  • false
    X has no obligation to let you work on B, nor inform you (same for Y and Z)

2)
Exists a written contract about compensation for work on project A?

  • true
    Should the company succeed or if 1) is true you may have a way to fight for compensation (depending on the contracts wording)
  • false
    you'll have a very difficult position to have payment enforced.

3)
Exists a written contract about working for the company of X?

  • true
    Should the company succeed you may have a way to fight for compensation (depending on the contracts wording)
  • false
    you'll have a very difficult position to have payment enforced.

SUGGESTION:
Chalk it up as lessons learned and stop hovering(arguably sneaking and spying) in the background at a company that apparently doesn't want you anymore.

Time for greener pastures.

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