I can see this happening if I ever get hired by a competitor in the near future. I can't get into the details, obviously.

I see a current problem now that we have solved when I was with the competitor, and I know for sure, technically, that the solution[s] will work for the current company.

I agreed in a contract from my previous employer that I will not divulge specific technologies, practices, and solutions to any other entity, especially a competitor.

Personally, I feel that it's morally wrong to propose the previous employer's secret, even if I won't tell the current employer that I got the answer from my previous employer. Even if it weren't for personal reasons, I would get in legal trouble if my previous employer finds out that their competitor is now implementing their (former employer) solution.

Do I just let it sit unsolved for longer than necessary? Should I work (unnecessarily) harder to find an alternate solution?

3 Answers 3


You should try to differentiate between skill, public knowledge and company knowledge.

Let's say you developed a special automated warehouse software which saved 50% of time and costs. The fact that your old company has this software is company knowledge, also the fact that it works like a charm - nobody outside the company would know it. So this is a complete no-go area - already informing your new superior that their warehouse software is outdated, is asking for trouble.

Now, your old company starts to not only use it, but sells it and advertises it. Now your new employer might give you the task to come up with a new warehouse software - then you can write a new software which also saves 50% of time and costs, because how to achieve this, is your skill you have gained and you can use any public knowledge. Most knowledge is publicly available, including patents. Off-limits is knowledge that resulted from company-specific research efforts.

I see a current problem now that we have solved when I was with the competitor

This is company knowledge. If nobody else sees a problem and asks for your input, you have to shut up. If they ask you about the problem, you are not allowed to tell that your old company has a working solution, you are allowed to tell them that you have the skill to come up with a solution. If you created the solution using answers from Stack Overflow and your skill, you can still use that knowledge to create the great solution. If the solution required specific research and therefore knowledge that only the other company and the participants of the research have, then you need to find another solution.

  • That's my biggest problem - drawing the line between skill/public knowledge and company knowledge. What is company-specific research efforts? That sounds like any effort to look for any answer, and virtually 100% of the answers are general and found on SO and any other tech forums/blogs. Commented Oct 7, 2015 at 13:06
  • @MickaelCaruso Skill is what you can write on your resume (technologies, your experience using them, etc.). Skills are general enough that you could have been conceivably obtained them by working in any company in a related industry, or by self-training, etc. Public knowledge is what is publicised by the company (on the web sites, product catalogs, etc.). If you know something that is not general knowledge and not publicised by that company, I would assume it is company knowledge.
    – Brandin
    Commented Oct 7, 2015 at 13:58
  • @MickaelCaruso Research in this context means scientific research - generating new facts about the world. Googling up answers to a problem does not make the answer company knowledge - not even if the company paid you for googling. If all the answers you ever needed were available on Google, then you only need to worry about blurting out the solutions of your old company. Commented Oct 7, 2015 at 18:04

This is a tricky one that is heavily dependent on context.

If your solution is something like "manage the thing in an excel spreadsheet", you are in the clear.

If your solution is something like "write some knock off code that functionally does the same thing", you're in the clear as long as the code does not end up being a perfect clone of something your previous employer owns as a custom app.

If your solution is to jump into your old emails that you sent to yourself while you were working for the old employer, and use the code in those emails at the new place, that is a complete no go.

NDAs don't prevent you from doing the same job, they prevent you from using specifically documented intellectual property owned by the employer.

So, as long as whatever you produce for the new employer cannot be, verbatim, produced by your old employer and claimed as their property, you are probably in the clear.


Nondisclosure means nondisclosure. You make sure you are assigned somewhere that presents no possible appearance of violating confidentiality, or temptation to do so, to prevent this situation from arising. And if it happens anyway, you inform management that you're "contaminated" so they can reassign you then.

Your new employer doesn't want you applying any knowledge they shouldn't have. That kind of mistake is hugely expensive if (when) it becomes known.

  • This answers the title but not the meat of the question. Commented Oct 6, 2015 at 21:24
  • 1
    "reassign" - you mean fire you before you cause them a lawsuit? Because that's what they'll do...
    – corsiKa
    Commented Oct 6, 2015 at 21:43
  • The point is, you tell them that there's an issue early enough that they don't have to fire you to cover their behinds. There's always some other part of the project you can work on without creating the appearance of impropriety.
    – keshlam
    Commented Oct 6, 2015 at 22:44

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