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I work with a team of software developers, and some of them have great home projects so far. They occasionally tell me about what a project is for, the audience, technologies they chose to build it, and so on. Most of the time, these things are very simple and, at first sight, seem not worth being discussed. Above that, during work hours, the guys try to look like they only care about work stuff.

The closest explanation I can give to myself is that it's fear of rejection. They just don't want to broadcast the information about what they do, outside of work hours.

But I believe any kind of side projects matter, at least they can help pollinate other team members with new ideas and solutions.

What are the ways to help them get their projects outside of their house and show up without feeling like somebody will steal their idea or like discussing home projects at work is irrelevant and inappropriate use of time?

There are some classic limitations to my movement, like I can't convince the organization of usefulness of such activities, hence it has to be considered people's own time, and nobody wants to spend extra hour at work just because their teamlead thinks it's a good idea.

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    How can they know someone wouldn't steal their idea? – Myles Jun 16 '15 at 21:46
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    Wellll, one of the first things I learned in software development is that when working for a company it's typically in the contract that anything you create on their time is their property. Secondly, people really do steal ideas, inspiration aside. I'm confused though. When you're at work why would you discuss other projects? It sounds like if you really are interested you could contact these other people in your off time or through personal communication couldn't you? Or maybe they just aren't fond of talking about it. This question strikes me as odd. – zfrisch Jun 16 '15 at 21:47
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    The point isn't people telling me about their project, rather than they telling their colleagues about it, in a centralized way with dedicated time and guaranteed amount of listeners. – rishat Jun 16 '15 at 21:51
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    Are you a manager, or are you meddling into other people's lives? You say you want to "encourage cross-pollination" Have you done due diligence and checked what the employment contract says about who owns the work that's done off-line, or is everyone going to find out the hard way that the company owns that work thanks to you encouraging them to spill the beans? The road to hell is paved with good intentions. In this case, your good intentions. – Vietnhi Phuvan Jun 17 '15 at 1:40
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    @mcknz: This might provide something of an explanation: many companies have statements in employment agreements which claim that anything developed while employed by the company is the property of the company. The legality of such a stipulation is dubious (in the U.S., at least), as long as all work was done on the employees's own time and equipment. However, if a side project is discussed at work, and a single suggestion is made for improvement, a lawyer could argue that the company provided support for the project. – GreenMatt Jun 17 '15 at 17:11
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But I believe any kind of side projects matter, at least they can help pollinate other team members with new ideas and solutions....The closest explanation I can give to myself is that it's fear of rejection. They just don't want to broadcast the information about what they do, outside of work hours.

You might believe it's good for the company that your developers share their home projects with others. However, the developers themselves may believe just the opposite, and their reasons may be quite important to them, and have nothing to do with fear of rejection. For example:

  • It's good for themselves not to share their home projects with the company. Often such projects involve ideas and technology that a developer may not be willing to share with the firm unless they are duly compensated for it. They are paid to do their assigned work, not contribute their own private time and hobby projects to the company.
  • Such projects may also be seen as contingency plans in case things don't go well at work, or paths to future projects or employment not connected to your company. Bringing them into the office may compromise such plans or cause people to ask uncomfortable questions.

IMO your idea may not be entirely appropriate. I've been a code jockey for twenty years and never been in a situation where my bosses or co-workers were too interested in what I or others did on our own time, except in the most casual manner - friendly conversation, nothing more.

For many years I had my own side projects using technologies that weren't being used at work, and if my bosses would have started picking my brain about such things I would have been reluctant to share unless I knew that I would benefit from it at work. What did happen many times was that I was able to make contributions at work that I was compensated for because of knowledge and experience I had accumulated from my own home projects - I was able to advance because I was knowledgeable about the technologies I had been working with on my own, because they became relevant to projects at work. But I never voluntarily brought my home projects into the office to share.

This might not be "nice", but such is the nature of the business world: Developers are laborers for the firm that do work and receive compensation therefrom, not friends and family of their bosses and co-workers. We all know the hard, cold reality of business: A new boss or co-worker or merger or acquisition comes along, or you slip up badly somehow, and before you know it, you're out hunting for a new job. So, you keep your hobbies and private projects to yourself, just like any other aspect of your personal life that you don't share at work.

You've already mentioned that you have limitations due to management, etc. Perhaps you should be taking these limitations as a cue that your idea isn't such a good one.

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Don't expect your employees will give you their effort and time, for free! It doesn't make sense to ask them "tell me what you are doing in your spare time ? maybe we can benefit from it".

it even doesn't sound good when you say it to yourself.

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Suggestion: Start a lunch-discussion session on interesting/useful open source projects and trends generally, preferably ones which have been approved or use in your company,. If folks want to present their own work, great, but this gives you something to talk about without trying to force them to talk about their own efforts before they're ready to.

Don't be surprised if there isn't a lot of interest in the discussion group, unless you can come up with a better justification for its value to the company. Your curiosity is not a good reason.

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You could try informal lunch-and-learn sessions, where each person takes a turn each week/month, and spends an hour or so demonstrating the personal project.

Because it's over the lunch hour, it could be considered outside of working hours, which alleviates the "work stuff at work" issue.

If you're in a position to provide lunch for free to your team, that could be a big motivator right there.

If people are reluctant to share, you could lead the first one yourself, or ask other people you know to come in and demo their projects -- that might encourage your team to give it a try.

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    I know the OP focused on "personal projects" but it would make more sense to me to focus on technologies used. These could well be things that you may have used in a personal project, and for which you are therefore motivated to explain or demonstrate. You might use your personal project as an example in the demonstration, or mention "I was able to achieve X using this technique." But the potential business value is not from the personal project itself but probably from whatever language, library, technique, tool etc. you used. – Brandin Jun 17 '15 at 5:08
  • @Brandin agreed. The assumption in my answer is that the personal projects include technology that others in the company might find useful to know. I figured the personal projects didn't include, say, building a deck in your backyard. – mcknz Jun 17 '15 at 16:26

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