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I work as a software developer for a company based in Spain. I really enjoy developing software and actually I do it in my free time quite often.

In my team we have a long list of "nice to have" features and tools that do not affect our production code, but would ease our daily tasks a lot. Actually our boss agrees that most of them should be performed but we never have the time slot to do so: we are a small team, currently looking for new developers as the work load we have is too much.

Personally I wouldn't mind to spend some of my free time to carry out some of these tasks, even without been paid and I would like to speak to my boss about this. My questions are:

  1. Can I legally do it? I guess it depends on country, and in my case, also European laws, but have no idea if this is even regularized.

  2. If that is not legally possible, any idea on how could I achieve this? (e.g. personal agreement with the company...?)

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Can I legally do it? I guess it depends on country, and in my case, also European laws, but have no idea if this is even regularized.

You are right about this. Many jurisdictions/countries/workplaces can mandate that all overtime be paid overtime, while some others can strictly enforce that an employee work no longer than X hours per week.

So, The best person to ask about this would be your boss, to check if you could work on these items in your extra time, beyond the usual work.

If that is not legally possible, any idea on how could I achieve this? (e.g. personal agreement with the company...?)

You mention that these "nice to have" features and tools do not affect production code, but would ease our daily tasks a lot. If that is the case, is developing open source tools an option for them? If yes, then check with your boss if you can develop these nice to have tools as open source modules on your time. While the inspiration to develop them may come from the work you do, here, you are not essentially working to solve the problem for your organization, but for the general people, as a personal hobby.


Personally I wouldn't mind to spend some of my free time to carry out some of these tasks, even without been paid

I find this part troublesome though. Not minding being paid may be ok for a smaller period of time, but over a period of time, this can basically reset management's expectation that its ok to overwork and overburden @Fran, without any extra payment. So be careful how you word your conversation with the boss.

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    Definitely agree with the last paragraph here. I've worked at enough places where the de facto expectation was that developers work way more than their normal paid hours to give me an appreciation for any role where this is not the case. Not that I mind putting in extra hours (like OP, it's something I enjoy), but I prefer it to be on my own terms and not something that's expected, and it's very easy to fall into that trap. – delinear Aug 30 at 10:48
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    I would say maybe offer to work on this stuff if you get "down time" instead. Time between projects, or while you are waiting on answers/assets/etc from others. That way, you can potentially still do some of it in your own time if you really want to, but it won't create an expectation that you will always be willing to take work home or work on it in your own time (of course, if you do too much this way, it may cause them to question why you have so much down time). – delinear Aug 30 at 10:51
  • @delinear That's a good line of thought, I think you should post that as a separate answer :) – mu 無 Aug 30 at 10:52
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Many places allow/encourage/expect unpaid overtime, some places discourage it (due to burn-out) or there may be regulation issues (such as mandatory breaks depending on hours worked) or even union issues.

It can be worth talking to your manager/boss about this, but beware of potential downsides: They may object to you working on your desired tasks and prefer you to work on business priorities, it could become expected of you or even your team (which would make you unpopular with them)

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    +1 for listing expectation & risk of unpopularity, two very real possibilities which may have huge impact on OP's career. Should you get labeled as the one going 'over and beyond' for free, your colleagues would be less than friendly (and with good reason imo) and the label may stick even when changing company. – Paolo Aug 30 at 11:58
  • @Paolo - Maybe. It really depends on what kind of work it is. Doing free "future roadmap" work can create nothing but trouble, for the reasons given in a different answer. Doing "investigative" or "exploratory" work, which doesn't interfere with planning, can show initiative and creativity. – Julie in Austin Aug 30 at 22:09
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You may be able to do this, but you really shouldn't

  • If the work isn't scheduled and prioritised you will be messing up the product plan/roadmap. So then the project managers should re-plan and re-prioritise and you'll end up working on the products they want rather than the fun stuff.
  • The company gets used to the idea that they can get free work from you. It starts of as a favour and becomes an expectation. I've met many people who get stuck in this situation, their lives change (relationships, children, caring for parents, etc.) but their job is now 100+ hours a week and their personal lives suffer badly.
  • Your colleagues, who want a different work-life balance, will see you as the cause of any pressure put on them to work extra hours, deliver extra features.
  • No good deed goes unpunished. Many, many years ago I was working to deliver a product to a customer. I wrote a little tool to analyse and verify some data, for my own use, as part of the deployment. I realised that this would be useful to the customer so I gave it to them. They loved it, came to rely on it and when the data format changed and my tool broke, they demanded support and withheld payment for the main product. This was for a feature that they didn't ask for, got for free and was outside the scope of the contract.
  • It's unprofessional, by definition, to work without pay.

There are plenty of other things you can do where you are in control and that don't have the potential to screw up the product, your relationships with co-workers, and your future work-life balance

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