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I'm seeking a full-time position as an iOS Software Engineer. I'm currently finishing a contract to build an iPhone app for an individual. Because the market this individual's app is penetrating is highly saturated, he's afraid of giving away design trade secrets I'm implementing in his app. He does not want to publicly release the app on the App Store for some time, instead opting to beta test it with a small number of users. He is uneasy about me showing my work to potential employers.

What is the best middle ground we can reach? Should I have each employer I interview with sign an NDA?

  • To be clear, he doesn't want you to demo the app at all? Or do you mean he doesn't want you to show potential employers the source code? You might be asked to show either or both in an interview. – Esoteric Screen Name Mar 27 '15 at 2:24
  • Good point of clarification. He does not want me to show the exact way we implemented certain parts of the user experience. I could more carefully curate which code sample I'd like to show employers. – Benjamin Martin Mar 27 '15 at 2:44
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No interviewer is going to sign an NDA for you, and asking may well earn you an immediate pass.

He does not want me to show the exact way we implemented certain parts of the user experience. I could more carefully curate which code sample I'd like to show employers.

Talk to your client and see if you can get his permission (in writing) to:

  • Demo the app. Make it clear that it will be done on your device, only in the context of an interview, and that you won't distribute copies for any reason. You might also offer to delete all the copies you have once he's published the app and/or you've accepted an offer (and thus no longer need to demo it).
  • Show the parts of the source that he's comfortable letting other people look at. Again, make it clear that you won't distribute copies.

These are pretty reasonable requests and you can probably work something out with your client. This way, you can show potential employers something cool that you made and the way you write code, while preserving your client's proprietary information and respecting his wishes. As long as your client is a reasonable person, you'll end up with something that you can show during your interviews.

If you get asked to show the code for the super secret, super cool bits, politely explain that it's proprietary and your contract forbids you from revealing the source. There should be no issues whatsoever with that response, but if there are, then you just dodged a bullet, because you're interviewing with a company that doesn't respect contracts, ethics, or privacy. If that happens, thank them for their time and excuse yourself.

  • This is a very thorough solution - thank you. Getting an agreement in writing that I will not distribute copies or reveal sensitive pieces of the user interface seems the best option for both parties. – Benjamin Martin Mar 27 '15 at 22:08
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Most employers will not be interested in any NDA you want to use. They will not want to take the time for their lawyers to read it, and then have the parts of the company that might be working on similar products review it to make sure that they aren't boxing themselves in just to interview a programmer.

In my experience we would just move on to the next candidate before even considering your request that we sign an NDA.

You should be able to have your customer agree to let you describe the app in a general sense. The fact they have already expressed unease with you showing the App during the interview process is a warning sign.

  • Thank you for your feedback. I wouldn't initiate a request to sign an NDA before the interview begins, but you've clearly explained why an NDA at any time would not work. Describing the app in a general sense is mostly fine by my client though often not good enough for potential employers. Employers (in my experience) are interested in implementation and performance as descriptions can be deceiving. It seems I'll have to compromise with my client about what I can and cannot show. For future client contracts where trade secrets are relevant, I will have to include a clause about this. – Benjamin Martin Mar 27 '15 at 2:29
  • It seems to me that unless the performance and implementation of the app is somehow all that's unique about it, you should be able to describe the technical details of what you've done without giving away the practical details of the app? – Cronax Mar 27 '15 at 9:48
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    @Cronax - It's fairly easy, for example, to say, "I created a smooth map search interface implemented with xyz data structures in this way", but harder to show an actual smooth map search interface that responds flawlessly to the user's touch. Certainly communication is important and interviewers will want to hear you explain how you implemented various features. But this is not a replacement for showing actual work. – Benjamin Martin Mar 27 '15 at 22:13

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