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My understanding is that the work product I develop while employed is the property of my employer. That said, can I put any of that product in a portfolio for prospective employers?

If so, what are the reasonable limitations on that? Obviously, I don't own the product and can't claim to. But can I extract code segments and place them in a portfolio, or link to a project online that I worked on but don't own?

I figure the most obvious answer to this question is to discuss it with my employer, but the primary reason I'm developing a portfolio is to leave this company. He's exceedingly unreasonable and tends to take things personally. If I brought it up in conversation, it most likely would make things worse. At the same time, I definitely don't want to start any kind of legal battle.

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  • Based on your comment, "According to my contract, anything I develop during the time I am employed belongs to the owner of the company..." This is really a legal matter.
    – user8365
    Nov 3 '14 at 11:14
  • This is not a legal advice question. Yes it has legal implications but so does eating and drinking. This is a question that is on topic and in scope. Nov 4 '14 at 15:13
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tl;dr:

Don't publish anything related to your work-products, unless it's already available for everyone to see. Get a written permission from your employer so that you can include your pet projects in your portfolio as you like and if you're employer is in a good mood you can try to get a written statement which allows you to show images of specific private-work-related products (and if VERY happy you can even try to be allowed to show some code segments).

Standard answer:

what are the reasonable limitations on that? Obviously, I don't own the product and can't claim to. But can I extract code segments and place them in a portfolio, or link to a project online that I worked on but don't own?

Not in any case are you allowed to publish source code of projects that your company owns and is developed during your office hours. But that doesn't mean you can't show what the products look like, if they're already available for everyone online. An exception to this statement would be if you'd get a written permission from your boss, stating that you're allowed to show a very specific subset of the code in your portfolio and or images of the private products, the latter is a more promising option.

According to my contract, anything I develop during the time I am employed belongs to the owner of the company, so even personal projects done off the clock cannot be used in a portfolio. Is there any move I can make that would be proactive towards developing a portfolio?

Ask your manager!

It's very unlikely that your employer has any interest in your small pet projects, just ask your manager whether it's okay or not for you to include your pet projects, that are not work-related at all, in your portfolio.

If (for any ridiculous reasons) they forbid you to publish the source code of your own projects, then at least ask for a written permission to show images of the projects in your portfolio. In the future you should try to avoid this in your contracts, but that's not always an option.

You can always take a chance and simply publish whatever you created in your spare time without asking anyone, it'll most likely not be noticed by your current employer and if it will then they'll probably not care, but getting a written statement from your current employer is the safe way if you want to be 100% sure.

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  • OK, but it is better to NOT ask about things which could tip-off that the OP is looking to leave. Also, some unethical employers would tend to error on the side of self-interest and say "no" even if their contract is absurdly irrational and unenforceable.
    – teego1967
    Nov 3 '14 at 16:20
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I'm going to counter the other arguments and say "Yes".

With a caveat, of course.

If you were involved with the design of something public facing like a website, it is totally acceptable to take some screenshots of parts you specifically worked on and include them in your portfolio.

Similarly, if you've worked on a piece of software which is available to the general public, I think it's fine to include screenshots or diagrams as part of a private portfolio.

If, however, the work isn't public (an Intranet, internal tools, bespoke systems) I don't think it's possible to include that without breaching confidentiality.

I would also consider taking screenshots now and then, as you leave, asking if you can use them in a future portfolio. You may be surprised by your boss's attitude.

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Your (ex)employer will have the copyright on any work, so unless there is a license giving anyone access, you can't make copies and give them to the next employer. You should also check if any work is covered by trade secrets, so you might not even mention certain work.

If your employer "is unreasonable and takes things personally", then you should in your own interest act very carefully. If unjustified and unreasonable accusations should be made against you, it can be costly even if you are fully right.

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  • Okay.... So unfortunately, this puts me in the predicament of I can't have a portfolio at all, despite working directly in the industry for a few years and have gone from basic HTML/CSS web development to all-out software engineering at my company. Is it an expectation of a future employer to look at a resume and see those things as qualifications without any examples of work? According to my contract, anything I develop during the time I am employed belongs to the owner of the company, so even personal projects done off the clock cannot be used in a portfolio. Am I just screwed?
    – M Miller
    Nov 2 '14 at 22:21
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No, unless:

  • The company has a policy which allows their engineers to claim certain, independent-of-company works as their own, or
  • The company agrees to you taking some work outside of their NDA.

I'd actually see if there's an "independent works" clause within the company such that any work you do is your own and only your own. Then, create some work with HTML/CSS - it doesn't have to be/it shouldn't be a carbon copy of what you did for them.

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  • According to my contract, anything I develop during the time I am employed belongs to the owner of the company, so even personal projects done off the clock cannot be used in a portfolio. Is there any move I can make that would be proactive towards developing a portfolio?
    – M Miller
    Nov 3 '14 at 1:16
  • If the agreement is ironclad like that, then no; there's not much you can do until after your last day.
    – Makoto
    Nov 3 '14 at 2:18

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