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Background

I'm a web developer, currently I only have 1 year of experience and I'm working in a local company as a developer. I have a coworker who is in a different department (not a developer) and is highly interested in business and the current market that this company is working on. I don't have a CS degree, I only have a technical college degree (it's 2 years) and I'm good at my job, but I still need to improve in a lot of skills.

Current situation

This coworker is going to start his own company with a similar business model that the company where I work has. He has someone that wants to invest in his project and for now he needs someone with a technical profile to entrust the tech part of this project to. He's very excited about the idea and he asked me if I would like to join his company as a part-time developer. He wants me to build an API for his company basically, which I know how to but don't know anything about the technical details of the business yet. We planned a meeting in which he's going to explain how the company will work and what is expected from me to do. I have to say he has been very transparent, he knows me personally and he offered me the possibility to be the CTO once the company gets bigger (he mentioned 1-2 years). I personally thought that was too big for me, since I'm still getting experience, but it sounds really good for me as well. He also offered to pay for courses or anything that I would need to learn to fulfill my role in the company. He's going to work part time on the project and wanted me to do the same thing, since leaving a job is too risky. I agree with him and I 100% don't want to quit my full-time job until his company gets big enough to be as safe as any other company. Until then the idea is only working part-time on it.

My questions

  1. I know that a lot of university graduates start their own companies when they have good ideas, but in my case I'm not a CS graduate + only have 1 year of work experience. Is this situation normal?
  2. I have been honest to him by saying that maybe he needs a more senior profile for this project, but he told me that he can't hire anyone right now + doesn't know anyone that he trusts for this. I'm feeling overwhelmed because I feel like I will have a lot of responsibility with his project and that maybe it will go better for him if he chooses someone else. Did I do the right thing?
  3. My current course of action is telling him that for now I would work for him like a freelancer, and if it goes well then we consider what I mentioned above. He already asked me what salary do I want for this job. What should I say? (This is happening in Germany, Europe). Or should I not ask for a pay, use this for experience and then if it goes well ask for a position?
  4. In the case this company works, will I need to inform my current company that I'm working for another company in the same market? I'm guessing that they will not like it, right?
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  • Whole thing seems too risky without anything concrete to balance the risk. – Kilisi Feb 20 at 14:24
  • It can take years (well beyond the 1-2 years this individual quoted) for a company to get “bigger”, most companies fail in 1-2 years, and that’s with people with decades of experience (often like your coworker more than likely). You should accept it might be years for the company to become large enough for you to get competitive pay, you likely will be paid in equity, based purely on the amount of work you put in. It can pay off big eventually, but most companies never become large, and it took your current company probably a decade to get where they are at (or through experience of its ceo) – Donald Feb 20 at 16:30
  • As a software developer, you're going to receive dozens of offers from "unfunded entrepreneurs". Do not be eager to accept them. Also, read this book, the Partnership Charter amazon.com/Partnership-Charter-Start-Right-Business/dp/… It was written by a mediator who usually gets to see partnerships implode on themselves, so think of his book as pre-marriage counseling from the perspective of a divorce mediator, but for startup founders. And yes, a partnership can be like a marriage. Do not be so eager to accept partnership offers. – Stephan Branczyk Feb 20 at 21:09
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    Even accepting a freelance contract can be problematic, since you'll probably end up doing all the work and he's unlikely to pay you what you're worth. – Stephan Branczyk Feb 20 at 21:15
  • You can't have "side job" so forget that completely. That won't work. – Fattie Feb 20 at 22:15
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This coworker is going to start his own company with a similar business model that the company where I work has.

That could be a legally risky move right there. Did y'all sign an NDA with your current employer? If so then y'all could be opening yourselves up to a big lawsuit. Also, your company may have patents on their business processes.

I know that a lot of university graduates start their own companies when they have good ideas, but in my case I'm not a CS graduate + only have 1 year of work experience. Is this situation normal?

A lot of really good developers don't even have CS degrees.

I have been honest to him by saying that maybe he needs a more senior profile for this project, but he told me that he can't hire anyone right now + doesn't know anyone that he trusts for this. I'm feeling overwhelmed because I feel like I will have a lot of responsibility with his project and that maybe it will go better for him if he chooses someone else. Did I do the right thing?

NDA considerations notwithstanding, the "right thing", here, is pretty subjective.

My current course of action is telling him that for now I would work for him like a freelancer, and if it goes well then we consider what I mentioned above. He already asked me what salary do I want for this job. What should I say? (This is happening in Germany, Europe). Or should I not ask for a pay, use this for experience and then if it goes well ask for a position?

You've been up front with him about your own assessment of your own abilities so if he's happy paying you even knowing how you self assess yourself I'd accept payment.

In the case this company works, will I need to inform my current company that I'm working for another company in the same market? I'm guessing that they will not like it, right?

Yah, I doubt they'll like it. And, like I said, you and your friend could be exposing themselves up to a big civil suit, too. Has your friend talked to a lawyer about his idea?

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  • I don't see a big issue with NDAs, they only forbid you from using or disclosing confidential information of the previous employer. Non competes could be a bigger issue, but they're uncommon for ordinary employees and the legal limitations on them mean that they're unlikely to be a problem in practice (AFAIR the previous employer has to pay you an amount similar to a wage to exercise the non compete). – CodesInChaos Feb 20 at 13:21
  • @CodesInChaos - being unable to disclose information is going to make it difficult to hire new employees. A lot of NDAs also have a "no copying / modifying" clause. eg. "the recipient will not copy or modify any Confidential Information without the prior written consent of the Owner". Whether or not a "similar business modal" would constitute copying of confidential information is not clear but that lack of clarity is why a lawsuit would be likely. – neubert Feb 20 at 15:11
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    Non-compete clauses can end up in the employee handbook they have you sign as well as an NDA. – candied_orange Feb 20 at 15:29
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    non-compete's that remain in effect after the employee has left are illegal in some jurisdictions, though this is less common. Also a gray area in practice, since if strictly enforced in any small market, one would have to change careers to change jobs. Moonlighting for another company in the same market has no such ambiguity, so not advised. Be very careful – Pete W Feb 20 at 23:15
  • @candied_orange Employee handbooks are basically non-existent in Germany. I only know them from big multinational companies. – Chris Feb 22 at 23:08
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How would you think about it in five or ten years in case you had turned down that offer?

Even if that startup fails there will be some upsides from having tried new things. In a big company you are normally just one cog in the machinery. In the startup, you will be exposed to all what is needed to keep it running and you will gain experience in fields that you never knew existed from working in a big company. Now your decision depends on what is important to you.

  • Is security important to you or can you afford to live half a year out of work if things go south? Assume that work will grow quickly and soon you have to decide whether to work full time at the startup or stay where you are.
  • Is the politics and bureaucracy in large companies wearing you down? If yes, work in a startup will be exhilarating and teach you to avoid large companies like the plague!
  • Is it exciting for you to tackle new problems or do you prefer to stick to what you know?

You should worry less about the startup failing than you missing a chance to gain experience while you can afford the risk. Answer those questions, sleep it over and then make up your mind. And no regrets once you have decided what to do!

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I don't believe that he doesn't know any senior people in your company. I think he knows that they would require more money from him than he's willing or able to pay so he went to you. I also don't believe that he has any intention of making you CTO in the future as he claims. That would be highly unusual. If you said you had a business degree I might buy it.

Beyond that... I think you are selling yourself short when it comes to the skills you have. Your job only hired you because they believe you will earn them much more money than they pay you. Think about that.

I have been honest to him by saying that maybe he needs a more senior profile for this project, but he told me that he can't hire anyone right now + doesn't know anyone that he trusts for this.

Okay, you told him this fact and he has made a decision. It's not your responsibility to talk someone out of giving you an opportunity. What's the worse thing that can happen? It's not like somebody will die. If he had more money he'd hire a senior level person. He can say, "i don't know any senior people" but that's not true. He knows senior level people at your company just like he knows you. So this is really about him trying to find a lower price.

I'm feeling overwhelmed because I feel like I will have a lot of responsibility with his project and that maybe it will go better for him if he chooses someone else. Did I do the right thing?

When you first have more responsibility it's natural to have some doubts. If you ignore the feelings you'll train your mind to be more confident so it's better to try than not.

My current course of action is telling him that for now I would work for him like a freelancer, and if it goes well then we consider what I mentioned above. He already asked me what salary do I want for this job. What should I say? (This is happening in Germany, Europe). Or should I not ask for a pay, use this for experience and then if it goes well ask for a position?

Whatever you do, forget about what he said about CTO. Don't work based on the assumption/hope that you will be rewarded later. Unless it's written in a contract don't consider it a real promise when someone offers you something that is several steps/leaps beyond your experience level.

I'd ask for hourly pay and make sure it's more than I get paid on the day job but probably less than a senior since, as I said, I think he knows he can hire seniors if he has the money.

In the case this company works, will I need to inform my current company that I'm working for another company in the same market? I'm guessing that they will not like it, right?

As you mentioned... you can't tell your current company because it's not really a job if he has no funding to pay you with. It would be silly to lose your job for nothing. Just makes sure you don't violate any contractual obligations concerning intellectual property.

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  • Your answer seems to be based on him saying that he doesn't know anyone else who could take the role, but I don't see that in the question. Could you tell how you came to that assumption? – Chris Feb 22 at 22:56
  • @Chris In question 2 of his post he says the other co-worker "doesn't know anyone that he trusts for this." He also never said that the co-worker is a friend/any closer than other people at work. Typically senior level developers are readily available to anyone in the company who wants to talk to them. Or most of them are even if some are never available to talk to. So I'm skeptical that this co-worker didn't have any others to talk to. – HenryM Feb 23 at 14:28
  • I interpreted "he told me that he can't hire anyone right now + doesn't know anyone that he trusts for this" differently. I understood that of those who would work for him without being hired, OP is the only one he trusts. But yours is also possible, therefore it's ambiguous. Thank you for the clarification. – Chris Feb 23 at 17:08
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I know that a lot of university graduates start their own companies when they have good ideas, but in my case I'm not a CS graduate + only have 1 year of work experience. Is this situation normal?

But you aren't starting your own company - you will be working for someone else, initially part-time, with a higher profile. Right? Or is he asking you to work without pay and be a partner?

If you will be paid for your work, I view this positively because for a person starting out in any industry, gaining experience in their field should be the highest priority. Especially someone without a degree. And he is going to give you the opportunity to work at something challenging, where you will definitely need to upgrade your existing skills. And he is also willing to pay for courses for you to learn these new skills. That is a pretty good deal.

I'm feeling overwhelmed because I feel like I will have a lot of responsibility with his project and that maybe it will go better for him if he chooses someone else. Did I do the right thing?

You have honestly conveyed that to him. And in return he has reposed faith in your abilities. He is also willing to pay to upgrade your skills to ensure that you can complete the project. So it seems like both of you have been honest with each other and are willing to address each other's concern. Doubting yourself beyond that doesn't seem productive.

He already asked me what salary do I want for this job. What should I say? (This is happening in Germany, Europe). Or should I not ask for a pay, use this for experience and then if it goes well ask for a position?

We can't really help you with salary because we don't know your profile, and it is kind off off-topic for this forum. There are two options you can consider and propose:

  1. Demand the same salary that you are getting in the current job. It's fair considering you'll be doing more advanced work.

  2. Agree to work for reduced salary (perhaps half of what you are getting now), provided he is willing to pay for any certified courses you want to do. (By certified courses I mean like the one offered by Oracle or Microsoft. For those without degrees, certification is the best way to get better paying jobs and grow your career).

(The second option seems more fair to me - as a junior your only priority should be to gain more knowledge and experience, and money should come second).

In the case this company works, will I need to inform my current company that I'm working for another company in the same market? I'm guessing that they will not like it, right?

They'll most likely fire you. If you do this, you'll have to do it in secret.

Most companies have a clause in the working contract that you cannot work for another company, while you are working for them. Some even go beyond that and even add that any development work you do on your own, even outside the company, belongs to them.

If you have signed a contract, go through it carefully. Share these concerns with the other person. Apart from the legal ramification, there is certainly a real ethical dilemma here too - are you ok with working for your current company, and a potentially future competitor behind their back?

Personally, I feel we should always have a healthy level of balance between the love and gratitude for the place you work at and a healthy cynicism that you don't owe them anything beyond not breaking the law and being highly productive. They pay you to do a job, and you should do it well. Just remember that they will not hesitate to fire you, and downsize, if their bottomline demands it. If I were in your position, and there were no legal hurdles, I would certainly take the risk - It's hard to find people who believe in you and are willing to invest in you.

But that's my way of thinking. Your cultural upbringing may be different.

Ethics is a personal matter involving your personal values and culture, and hence you alone can satisfy your conscience.

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    As he is working in Germany they cannot fire him. But they can definitely forbid him to work for a competitor. – Chris Feb 22 at 22:57
  • Any dev work outside of company time, away from company resources, does not, in any shape or form, belong to the company. No matter what is written in the contract. – Nacorid Feb 25 at 15:03
  • @Nacorid Ideally that should be how it is - but it isn't in the US and some countries if you've willingly signed a contract giving away the rights to your work. – sfxedit Feb 27 at 2:26
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    Just wanted to point out how it is in Germany, as the question is about Germany. To be more clear about how it works in Germany, even if you wanted to, you couldn’t sign over the copyright, as it can only be inherited :) – Nacorid Feb 27 at 9:03
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  1. The guy is looking for cheap labor.

  2. You will be offered such absurd deals 10 times a year throughout your career as a programmer.

  3. When experienced programmers are offered such absurd deals - they just laugh and ignore it.

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  • I know these are exceptional cases but there are still many people in the valley and other places who certainly are happy they didn't "just laugh and ignore it" when they accepted their position in a small startup which raised millions years after. I agree there's a fair chance your point 1 is spot on, especially in this case, but still, I think some opportunities should be considered more attentively than others. – Laurent S. Feb 22 at 8:48
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Forget all the other answers, they are already one step too far.

Your employer won't let you do it

In Germany a common employee contract includes a clause saying that you must request approval for any side business. Normally your employer must approve this if he likes it or not, but in this case you want to work for a competitor and especially one with insights into your current company. This is the case, for which this clause was introduced and I would be really surprised if you get an approval.

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    This is not correct, the employer cannot approve of a side business. He can ask to be notified, in which case you have to tell your employer what you side business is, and may even, under certain conditions, disallow the continuation of the side business. But the employer is in no position to approve of a second job. – Nacorid Feb 25 at 15:25

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