At my company my boss is the CTO of the company. When I was first hired I was super excited and grateful for the job and was ready to do anything. This is my third job out of university, and my first job where I am actually not treated as a slave, and am treated as a human being.

He has asked me at one point to work on a side project for something that he wanted. It is nothing big or relevant to my interests, but at the moment I was on the 7th cloud from being hired so I decided to happily accept. Now this is a project for which I am not getting paid for and am asked to do on my spare time at home. I signed some papers stating that I will keep the project a complete secret and not tell about it anyone at work, and not show the code to anyone.

Fast forward 8 months later, I still love the job I do at work, but the side project is not fun at all whatsoever. I am slowly becoming an adult, and want to start a family and also would like to buy a house. So now not only is this project not interesting to me, but I have absolutely no time or desire or interest to work on it. Even if I had the free time, I still have no desire to work on it because it is not the type of programming I would like to do on my spare time. And I simply made a grave mistake for saying that I will try working on it. I wouldn't want to work on that project even if I was paid double of what I am being paid right now to continue on it. That pretty much sums up how much I want out. And if I go out, then the whole thing will have to be scrapped and restarted. The project itself will of course be a long ongoing thing even after I finish working on it.

How do I gracefully tell him that I do not want to work on this project without causing any trouble for myself or bad blood between my CTO and me, he is someone that I would like to become friends with, and learn from. Also the fact is he is a CTO of a very successful medium sized company with a lot of connections in the city where I live, so I am also very scared to get on his bad side.

The guy is a superman of course to whom I look up to, and he is only 7 years older than me yet thousands time more successful, so the concept of not enough time in a day is a foreign fact to him.

Any advise will be greatly appreciated, I simply do not know what to say.


Just to clarify one thing. The project itself is using a technology that I really do not enjoy, it is not my specialization nor is it relevant to my interests or anything I do at work. Additionally the problem is that no one in the company, nor anyone that I know is even remotely interested in such a technology, nor would want to be interested. I do not want to give out too many details but think COBOL but for smaller niche.

  • Even if the concept of "not enough time" is foreign to him, he should surely realize that not everyone has oodles of spare time. If you want to start a family, and that is of a higher priority to you, you should come out and say so. If he really is all you make him out to be, he couldn't possibly be anything but understanding. If he would make a fuss of it, then he doesn't sound like someone you'd want to be working for anyway. Unless you're pissing of Al Capone, I doubt he's really in any position to actually break your future though... You're both adults, talk about your problems. Jan 20 '14 at 15:16
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    The irony is that you viewed this job as "my first job where I am actually not treated as a slave" and then allowed yourself to agree to work x hours extra a week for no pay. Jan 20 '14 at 16:37
  • 4
    The fact that you were asked to sign papers not to tell anyone else at work about the project makes me wonder about its legitimacy. Does the CTO's boss know about it? That's probably more relevant to the CTO that to you, but it's something to think about. Jan 20 '14 at 20:49
  • It doesn't sound like you've signed anything to say you will carry on working on it - just that you won't disclose details about it. But why are you sure that the project will have to be scrapped and restarted if you exit? Surely you can write up your progress, pass it to your CTO, and to assuage any problems, offer to walk the next developer through what you have accomplished so far.
    – halfer
    Jan 20 '14 at 22:47
  • 5
    He makes you do stuff for him, for free, without batting an eye, and you want to become his "friend"? Reality check: He doesn't care enough for you. You have a business relationship, no more, no less, and he's not interested in changing that right now. Also, better stop being impressed and worshipping him like a god, that's never good.
    – phresnel
    Jan 8 '15 at 7:46

Just tell him.

Working on something on the side for no compensation is no longer an option, especially if you are starting a family.

A reasonable person will understand, make allowances, offer compensation and/or a piece of the action, arrange for time to work on it at work, and so on.

Note: depending on where you live (country, state), you may be the legal owner of the side project since you've done the work for no pay. I cannot imagine any circumstances where you would be legally required to keep working on it without compensation.


Like the other answers state, you just need to talk to your CTO about it. I would add the following:

  1. Try not to come up to him empty handed:

    You've said that your walking away from the project might result in a reset for it. So, from your CTO's point of view, you might be abandoning an otherwise healthy ship and scuttling it on your way out. Don't do that. Either look for someone around you that you might (essentially) be able to pawn the project off of; Make sure that this person doesn't make the same mistake like you did i.e. not get paid for his/her time. Alternatively, you could recommend someone from outside your organization that may be available for hire

  2. Don't cut and run:

    When negotiating your inevitable exit, try to not sound like you're beating a hasty retreat. Rather, present it as a phased withdrawal, in which you're available to consult with and guide whoever takes on the task next. You're not abandoning the project, rather you're taking an increasingly more distant supervisory role.

The objective here is to demonstrate responsibility, integrity and possibly compassion to your CTO; "Hey this guy may be backing off, but he has the integrity to not leave destruction in his wake". Think of it like quitting a job where you're the load-bearing developer. You hate the strain, but you don't want to leave a bad taste in everyone's mouth when you leave


The goal here is to create a win-win in all transparency. To do this, you need to follow the following thought process.

1. Analyse the current situation

You were hired for a reason. Probably, that reason was that you were young and enthusiastic. You were not as productive as a senior, but you were paid less, so that was ok. Furthermore, maybe you compensated your lack of experience with longer working hours. It might very well be possible that your boss got a very good deal: low salary, long hours and an enthusiastic young mind.

2. Identify the key problem for you

Why exactly don't you want to work on this project? Is it too boring? Do you not have any free time? Maybe you find a new challenge in your daily work, and less in the side project?

Anyway, this is the moment to set up criteria to evaluate any potential change against. If you conclude that you 'want to work less, because you want to start a family', then stopping the project and starting a new one will not be a good solution.

3. Brainstorm possible solutions to your problem

For your problem, there are a lot of different solutions.

  • Stop working on the side project. Go home to your family on time. Realize that you will gain experience much slower than before. You are less valuable to your boss as well.
  • Maybe you have arrived at the implementation phase, and you hate it? Maybe your boss can assign a collaborator who wants to do the implementation, leaving you with the abstract strategic side of things?
  • Maybe you have stopped learning, and want to start a different side project?
  • Maybe you are willing to work on the side project, but are so stressed out it should be compensated with a holiday, or a salary increase, or ... ?

4. Think about objections for your boss

Think about the implications of your decision. Is the project important? For the company? For you? Does it have emotional value for your CTO?

5. Search a win-win

Try to mitigate the objections. Try to search for other things you are willing to give up to sweeten the deal. Maybe you can find another coworker who would be very happy to work on the project? Maybe you can mentor him, giving you the opportunity to gain experience.

Maybe you can give something up that sweetens the deal instead? Maybe your boss was considering to give you a raise, and you do not want it because you're working shorter hours?

Also consider the possibility that your boss gave you this project to get your hands dirty outside of work (where you cannot really screw up), and your acquired experience means the project succeeded. (i.e. there actually aren't any objections to your giving up the project now that you have learnt all you can).

6. Involve your boss; search the preferred solution together

Show your boss the thought process you have followed.

  • I have a problem. I clearly identified it.
  • I thought of possible solutions to my problem.
  • I thought of the impact of the solution, and I adapted the solution to mitigate any negative effects.

Depending on your boss, he will either augment this thought process with his own insights, or try to find flaws in your thinking. Either way, you should both arrive at a solution that satisfies both parties.

Tact and form will also be important here. Try to be empathic of feelings as well, try to be as open as possible. The goal is to find a solution together, being as respectful towards each other as possible.

An example:

  • I loved working on the side project. However, lately, it is becoming more difficult to get motivated to work on it.
  • I therefore want to stop the project. I've already found somebody who wants to continue working on it during working hours. However, nobody wants to work on it in his spare time. Neither do I.
  • I realize this means I will learn less fast or will be less productive. Therefore, I accept if my salary increase is less than what we previously agreed.

Although it looks like the question is off topic, let me try to answer.

Talk to your CTO. Be honest and tell him that you are not really enjoying working on the side project. If he is a successful person, most probably he'll be able to understand why you aren't interested in the work you are doing. You can always be more personal in these informal interactions and tell him how much you appreciate the opportunity he had provided (which I believe you do).

Since you stopping on the project will stop its evolution, offer to teach whatever you have developed to someone who can continue on it (remember its not your job to find that guy, it's your CTO's job).

Be candid. I don't think your CTO will take negative view of your dilemma.

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