The Dangers for Moonlighting Developers

Developers who take on extra coding work flirt with serious career peril.
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“You are going to be so busted!”

My coworker Tyler was probably right. But I didn’t care. I had been moonlighting for months writing software on the side, saving up for my latest gadget. I couldn’t wait to play with this new, cool handheld device called a PDA.

(Yes, this was ten years before Phineas and Ferb’s sister Candace made famous the “busted song,” back when everyone desired a Palm Pilot.)

I tried to walk the straight and narrow path. I knew my company had authorized all managers to purchase Pilots on the company’s dime. So when my manager Stan walked past me in the office kitchen with his new Pilot, I saddled up next to him laying on the compliments.

“Those are awesome Stan. You are so lucky!”

Sam smiled and said, “I know. I love this thing. I can actually plug it into my computer and sync with the Internet. How cool is that?”

I didn’t want to miss this opportunity. “I know! I could download articles about the latest software development trends and read them anytime. I think there are opportunities to even explore how to create applications we may be able to use here.”

As Sam grabbed a soda from the fridge, he turned and looked at me questioningly.

“That’s ridiculous. These are only useful for time management, reading content offline and playing games.” Stan laughed and said, “Not that I play any games on it.”

I responded, “Yeah but what if I could create some way to track inventory levels or project tasks? Would the company reimburse me if I bought one for this sort of research?” I stammered not so convincingly because I wasn’t even sure if this was possible.

Sam laughed again and rolled his eyes. “Oh yeah, that will work. These handheld devices will never be useful for running business applications. Sorry my friend, if you want one, you’re on your own.”

I realize how ridiculous Sam sounds in today’s age of Apple iPads. Back in the late 90’s there was only speculation from the forward thinkers about the endless possibilities of handheld devices.

So as I followed Sam out of the kitchen back to my cube I formulated a plan to raise some extra cash.

The Side Job Begins

Moonlighting wasn’t something I had considered before. But as luck would have it a friend of mine needed help with setting up his small business with Microsoft Office 97 and building an office automation application.

Granted, I only needed a few hundred dollars for the Pilot, but I had other reasons to raise some extra cash. My car was ready for replacement and my wife and I were thinking about buying a home.

Funny that the main motivation pushing me into moonlighting was the shiny little gadget. Okay, not exactly shiny like the iPad 3’s amazing Retina Display, but even with its dull grayish plastic case it was shiny in my eyes.

I did my best to work at nights and weekends. But because I was also working overtime on a project for my job, my side work was becoming a balancing act requiring later nights and in some cases early mornings in the office.

My co-worker Tyler surprised me one early morning in the office. I was so focused on my laptop screen I didn’t even realize he was standing behind me.

“What are you doing here so early? And what is that you are working on?” Tyler was sharp enough to recognize the code on my screen was not something work related.

I didn’t think it was a big deal to be in the office at 6:30 AM writing code that wasn’t related to work. So I spun around to face Tyler and explained what I was doing.

When I was done, Tyler laid the “busted” comment on me.

I was taken aback. “What’s the big deal? I’m still going to get my work project done.”

“You don’t get it do you? You are using a company laptop for side work! You can be fired for that my friend.”

I honestly hadn’t thought about it. Maybe Tyler was right, but I just shrugged, spun back around and started coding again. “Whatever Tyler. I will get this done before Stan gets in. It’s not a big deal. Just please keep it to yourself.”

Tyler said, “I won’t rat you out. But be careful man.”

A Close Call

Over the next few weeks I could feel the stress building. It became obvious my work project deadline and my side project deadline were about to collide. I didn’t think ahead to see how much the deliverable timing was going to impact my ability to get everything done.

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Tags: programmers, developers

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