The question is in the title, but some criteria might help break it down:

  • You wrote an application that emulates another architecture, perhaps a popular video game system (PSX2, Dolphin, SNES9x)
  • You wrote an application that aids in potential piracy (Sickbeard, NZBDrone, ShanaProject, FrostWire)
  • You wrote an application with questionable values (Firesheep, Cain and Abel)
  • You contributed to an application that could attributed to illegal activity (ThePirateBay, SilkRoad, torrent indexing, Usenet indexing)

Do programmers who have written this type of software keep it, visible to prospective employers, "on their resume"? Do some of them hide it from their real identity? Some of this software is a good technical feat and is seemingly impressive. However, it seems that some social prejudice might come into play here.

  • There are various federal agencies that might want you to work for them, particularly if what they want you to do isn't to be discussed with anyone. Knowing your way around certain communities might be of considerable value. You might have at least a tinge of conscious thought about what you're doing 'on the dark side' - governments don't much care how dark that side is. Commented Jan 8, 2014 at 5:29

4 Answers 4


The Real Question

I think the answer doesn't depend on the stigma that might come with it for applying for a job, but on whether or not you'd want to work for a company that would stigmatize it.

I mean, this is something you developed and that:

  • definitely shows off your skills,
  • and possibly outlines some of your political, morale, ethical stances.

Obviously, this is going to be interpreted by the person reading your resume. But you should ask yourself if it's a worry to you that they will care and it might impact your daily job (as opposed as worrying about getting the job itself).

Avoid Friction

That being said, if you have enough experience and show-off projects on your resume and these grey-area items don't relate at all to your target job's domain, then you might as well leave them off to avoid friction.

Or, you can be careful to not give details on the job's domain, but only outline technical challenges. Though that could invite follow-up questions, of course.

Wait, That Wasn't the "Real" Question Yet...

Whether you care about the stigma is one thing and implies you'd have already decided on the (il)legitimacy of your projects.

Therefore, on a higher-level, you obviously want to ask yourself if you should have worked (and should work in the future) on these grey areas projects. As an extension of a well-knowngeneral ethics rule, this would be: if you'd be uncomfortable with kids (and people in general) watching over your shoulder while coding these, then you probably shouldn't. (Of course that's not to take literally: there are plenty of legit and ethical actions that could be uncomfortable to undertake in certain scenarios: fear of repression in a totalitarian state, for instance)

That's mostly up to you to answer and that's why these are of grey. But if it's going to be more of a problem for you in the general case and it's not the kind that falls in the category of vigilant-superhero-night-life, I'd suppose it means you're better off.

Related Reading


  • I don't think bittorrent wouldn't really carry any sort of stigma. The protocol/technology itself is legit and a modern times solution to a modern times problem. That it first found (and still finds) applications in tendencious fields is anecdotal at best.

  • I would probably put anything on my resume that doesn't directly show "intent" to commit something illegal. Working on ThePirateBay doesn't necessarily (but that's subjective). Working on a trojan horse would (if presented as such, and not as a RAT). Yet again that'd depend on the target employer's field, but that'd be my rule of thumb.

Conversation with a Stranger

Writing the above I think I'll summarize it best like this: I'd use the same rule of thumb as for a conversation with a stranger. I'd be comfortable putting on my resume any project or experience that I'd be comfortable to address or mention in a conversation with a stranger tackling a tendencious discussion topic and where I'd be defending my position, even if opinionated and borderline. Things I wouldn't be comfortable to discuss are probably things I'd probably leave off a resume.


I say you should emphasize the technical achievements when writing down your resume. Don't mention exact names, use cases and so on, if you believe they may raise eyebrows. In the case of an interview, a discussion with the employer based on what you have written will probably ensue, and you can take it over from there.

You're free to explain why you did what you did, why you considered it to be a challenge, and they'll (probably) understand. Especially since they considered that whatever it is that you did, is a technical achievement. Otherwise, they wouldn't have called you for the interview.

  • 2
    Good advice regardless of the morality of the project.
    – pdr
    Commented Jan 8, 2014 at 1:03

Depends on the place where you apply for. I would say most start-ups would be interested on finding someone who is keen hacker. On the other hand, large software firms would definitely want someone who would comply their business ethics.

  • 6
    I don't think the answer is even that simple. There's a LOT of paranoia in some startups. And big companies who think they're looking for a hobbyist.
    – pdr
    Commented Jan 8, 2014 at 1:02

One answer would be to have both a "black" and a "white" CV - I am using black in its generally accepted security sense here.

And simply use the appropriate CV dependent on what sort of organization you are applying to if you are no longer interested in working for organizations that might require those skills (law enforcement TLA''s or what have you) just do a white CV

You can describe your skills/experience in general terms in the white CV and go into a little more depth in the other one.

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