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I'm a junior software developer from a non-programming background, having finished a workplace learning programme to land this position. Since I've picked up the basics, I realise that I lack in some areas due to my non-programming background. I've been tempted to work on my personal programming projects during my lunch breaks, which I spend at my desk, but have been put off because I was unsure if this is acceptable or professional behaviour.

The aim of this is to get experience with other areas of programming by making software that I would personally find useful, and taking initiative to expand on my knowledge. For some further context, I have work on the side where I run an eBay store which sees a reasonable amount of traffic.

My question is: Is it unprofessional or unacceptable to develop my personal projects using my work PC during my lunch breaks? Does the answer change if my personal projects are of a commercial nature? (IE: Developing against the eBay API to streamline manual processes for my side business).

closed as off-topic by gnat, IDrinkandIKnowThings, mcknz, Chris E, Masked Man Aug 24 '17 at 17:52

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  • "Questions seeking advice on company-specific regulations, agreements, or policies should be directed to your manager or HR department. Questions that address only a specific company or position are of limited use to future visitors. Questions seeking legal advice should be directed to legal professionals. For more information, click here." – gnat, IDrinkandIKnowThings, mcknz, Chris E, Masked Man
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    @DavidK - I see how the eBay part relates to this, however the overall aim of the personal projects is to develop my software development skills which are related to my job, and not something entirely different as is the case with the linked question. – Longisland Aug 24 '17 at 13:18
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    @Donglecow This is generally considered a bad idea, as the answer show, but asking your manager if its okay would be totally acceptable, and unlikely to have any repercussions. – mwbl Aug 24 '17 at 13:18
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    It would likely make you more productive if you took an actual lunch break and got away from work for awhile. – HLGEM Aug 24 '17 at 16:47
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    It is inappropriate to WORK during your lunch break. Lunch break is for having lunch, and for having a break from work. – gnasher729 Aug 24 '17 at 20:46
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    Very much depends on the workplace. On the engineering side of the BBC it was quite strongly encouraged. The BBC claimed ownership of any IP as does pretty much any company - but in practice that was run as "right of first refusal" and they would sometimes give their blessing to "homers" (or locally, "home office" projects). Several British hi-fi and electronics companies started that way... The BBC benefited too, from expertise gained, as well as official "forks" of unofficial projects. Don't know if that's still true today, but it certainly was in the 1980s. – Brian Drummond Aug 25 '17 at 11:40
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Don't do this

Yeah it's pretty unprofessional - and it probably gives your employer IP rights over anything you develop this way. Your contract should specify the exact details but even if there is no specific clause that doesn't mean you are in the clear. Did I mention not to do this?

EDIT

In a recent comment OP you gave further examples of the sort of thing you might do:

Other examples would be to write scripts to automate our software builds, manage our support rotas, etc, in the office. Not things I have been asked to do, but things that I and others would find useful.

The main body of my answer is in response to the sort of work that was originally talked about (doing things for the side business), these latest examples are an altogether different proposition as you are doing things for your employer and learning as you go. In this sort of scenario I'd suggest it is most likely fine - I'd suggest checking in with your manager as a courtesy, especially since they might be able to give you direction on the sorts of things that would be most useful. But I'd be surprised if they had a real problem with it.

The answer regarding things for the eBay business or any other possible commercial venture (even if there is two-birds - one stone situation) is still an emphatic don't do this.

  • Great answer. This is what you do: Bring your own laptop into work. During lunch go somewhere offsite and work on it there. Work computers should not mix with your side gigs. – Pete B. Aug 24 '17 at 15:47
  • @DevNull agree, that is why I said "work offsite". Perhaps my "bring it to work" comment confuses you. I would leave the laptop in my car, or if I did bring it to my desk, not turn it on. I would not connect it to the work LAN. I was thinking a place like Starbucks or somewhere else if internet is needed. – Pete B. Aug 25 '17 at 12:53
  • @PeteB. Somehow I completely missed the "go somewhere offsite" bit. Point taken. I'd still argue that the employee might be better off getting something more discreet (tablet, large phone, etc) and doing some reading rather than engaging in side work, as the IP rights details mentioned by motosubatsu still apply. – Cloud Aug 25 '17 at 12:54
  • With the information OP gave in response to my comment, I don't believe this is a valid answer anymore as it seems to assume that he's making something 'for himself' and not just 'something extra' there at the company. It is the norm (in my experience) for developers to make small tools in their free time like what he's talking about. – Ethan The Brave Aug 29 '17 at 12:15
  • @EthanTheBrave the first example he gives in response to your comment is the side business work, which was what he talks about in the question and this answer is based on. The examples of things like automating processes for the office I would say are a different story, totally normal and fine to be doing those. – motosubatsu Aug 29 '17 at 12:26
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Anything you develop using company resources belongs to the company

So anything you develop on their machine is theirs its as simple as that. Personally I would view it was unprofessional and an unacceptable use of company resources. So do your personal work on your personal PC and personal time.

When you are at work, focus on your work.

I use my lunch break to write documentation and learn things that will help me in my job. If you go home for lunch do what ever you want. When you are on the employers premises, you probably shouldn't be developing things that are not for work.

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    When you are at work, focus on your work. I use my lunch break to write documentation and learn things that will help me in my job. If you go home for lunch do what ever you want. If you are on the employers premises, I wouldn't do it. – SaggingRufus Aug 24 '17 at 13:04
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    "I use my lunch break to write documentation and learn things that will help me in my job." - That's largely what these personal projects are for though. For example, many of my work tasks are to work with harvesting data from APIs and manipulating it. These personal projects work with those aspects too, but are not accessing the same APIs I use in work. Would this not be developing my skills and making me better at my job? I don't mean to come across as argumentative, I'm just unclear on where the distinction lies here. – Longisland Aug 24 '17 at 13:10
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    @Donglecow If you're doing things that further your understanding of work-related topics, you're presumably okay with the company laying claim to anything you make, in which case it's not as bad as working on something you might want to monetize yourself as a so-called "side hussle." That being said, it's still a bad idea, because you may integrate a plugin or something that's free for personal use (but not for commercial use) without thinking about it and thereby get the company in trouble if they do start using it. You should at least talk to your superiors about doing this. – Steve-O Aug 24 '17 at 13:52
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    The phrase "lunch break" contains an important word -- break. – Chris H Aug 24 '17 at 15:36
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    @ChrisH Im not good at breaks... – SaggingRufus Aug 24 '17 at 16:49
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I'm going to take a slightly different tack to the current answers:

Ask your manager.

They are best suited to advise you on company policy/politics regarding the matter, if the company is incredibly strict about this sort of thing then the answer will probably be don't do it. If the company likes it's employees to work on personal projects and wants to support them then you'll probably get a go ahead.

As mentioned by @Johns-305, if it's for personal gain then you're probably best not doing it.

If you do go ahead and work on your projects get an email from your manager confirming if the company is likely to claim ownership over them. Once you have that I'd suggest open sourcing the projects so that there's no doubt about who owns the projects and if they do turn out to be beneficial to the company then they are able to make use of them.

Backstory: At my current company myself and another employee both work on personal projects in our free time, this sometimes uses company equipment and software, sometimes it's using our personal laptops. Higher ups are perfectly fine with us doing it and the company has no commercial interest in the work we do. It doesn't affect our ability to perform other duties and if anything helps expand our skills and knowledge.

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    Your manager might be wrong. If your company policy/contract says they own your lunchtime IP but your boss doesn't care and it goes to court, your bosses opinion isn't going to be very important for long. – bye Aug 24 '17 at 15:47
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    @DrEval, maybe so, IANAL but if you've been informed by a representative of the company (your manager) that the company's stance on the matter is that they don't give a damn about your project then that would be pretty strong evidence that they don't lay claim to it. It would depend on the wording of your contract though, it may say that they claim ownership over everything regardless of when or how it's done. Would the same apply to if you wrote a novel or did artwork during your lunch break? I don't know but their manager is in the best position to advise them. – RobbG Aug 24 '17 at 15:52
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It depends greatly on the policies of you employer. However, personal commercial project are clearly inappropriate. There are all sorts of legal issues around this that neither you or your employer want to deal with. So, don't do it.

However, personal projects that are 'community' projects or could otherwise benefit your employer are grey area that you can legitimately ask your manager about. Many software companies actually encourage this.

For example, if your company users SuperMegaCRMPro, Gold Edition and your personal side project is to convert it's weird error messages into a human readable format, that would benefit your employer and the entire SMCP community.

To comment on the ownership issue, yes, the company can claim ownership and full rights to the software but, there are also practical issues as well. Basically, Worldwide Widgets Incorporated has no hope of monetizing SuperMegaCRMPro Error Converter so, well, they just won't even try. There are lots of such tools out there.

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Never do ANY development on a work PC that is not work related. Your project could arguably become the property of the company, and porting it from your work PC to your personal devices could be construed as theft.

DON'T DO IT

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A lot of people are saying "Don't do it!" as if everyone's personal projects they could make during lunch breaks are going to be the next best thing after sliced bread or something. Let's be realistic here people...

As long as:

  • you don't plan to re-use parts of the things you developed on the company computer for your own personal projects later and don't care if the company owns the IP you make within that scope
  • your manager/supervisor is okay with you spending off-work time (such as lunch breaks) for personal development
  • your work on your personal project does not interfere with your actual work time or duties

I say go for it!

Heck, if it turns out to be something useful that the company you work at can make use of you could even pitch it to your manager etc. (Companies often organize hackathons or personal-development-days for this very reason.)

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    I don't have enough rep to downvote this. I know someone who worked on a personal project at lunch time. He made such good progress they assumed he did it more than at lunch and demoted him. This is just dangerous to do on so many levels. It wasn't a bad employer, either. I liked working there. – Almo Aug 24 '17 at 15:05
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    As Almo stated, this is likely going to end badly for the OP if this advice is heeded. – Retired Codger Aug 24 '17 at 15:09
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    @Almo I'd have to say that your argument there is based solely on anecdotal evidence. Judging by your story, this person you knew either didn't communicate his intentions properly to the management (my second point) or his pet project was in fact interfering with his regular work (my third point). – Ceiling Gecko Aug 24 '17 at 15:17
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    Almo raises very valid concerns. The accusations of theft and theft of services are very real concerns. Your advice fails to take into account that regardless of his own free time being used on his project, he is still using company resources to work on it. @almo's friend was certainly lucky to get off with a demotion. Your advice would certainly jeopardize the future employment of the OP, if heeded. – Retired Codger Aug 24 '17 at 15:35
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    The problem is in the OP he clearly states it is working on something for his side business which, yeah sure it's probably not the next google but he does state that it "sees a reasonable amount of traffic" so that falls under your first point, and the second point doesn't apply since it's a commercial venture not "personal development". The OP can do this and, quite possibly, maybe even probably nothing will come of it but when it comes to a commercial venture it's not something I'd take the risk on personally. – motosubatsu Aug 24 '17 at 16:40
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As others have said, no way do this on a work computer, however in the comments you ask if it is OK to bring in your personal computer and use that instead. I want to address that.

First, check your contract, it still may be company property if you do it on site. Some companies don't even allow you to work a second job period. Next check with your boss, some might have a problem with this and some might not. Be guided by what he/she tells you. If you change bosses, check again.

If you are given specific permission, then be very careful to not have your personal computer open except at lunch time. And be scrupulous about not extending your lunch because your were working on something interesting. One of the main worries managers would have with this is that you would be using their work hours to work on your projects. Make it clear that you are not.

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What you're doing is great, it shows you're really enthusiastic about improving your skills but...

The best place for personal projects is at home, get your friends involved, have a few beers and build something cool. You'll learn a lot from pair programming.

If you want to improve while at work, talk to your manager and ask for allotted time to work on tutorials and hack projects at work. Your company should invest in R&D it can lead to amazing breakthroughs and it increases dev morale.

In my first agency I did just this, most of the projects were great for learning but not much more. But one of our hackdays really impressed everyone and led to a very cool product.

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