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Amazon sues employee for taking Google cloud job, in new test of non-competes (geekwire.com)
324 points by _pius on July 1, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 199 comments

I was just talking to a friend of mine at amazon, who said that a lot of people (including some pretty high-level people) thought prosecuting the one-click patent was a mistake because it actually made it harder to recruit.

That's nothing compared to this. Seems like a classic case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing.

I think the "must relocate to Seattle" makes it really hard to recruit.

Not Really, considering that they have opened offices in the bay area exclusively for AWS openings.

Wait till they use that photography on a white background patent.

Haha, indeed. Who would ever have thought to put a picture on a white background? Gotta protect that IP!

Amazon, sorry, but unless you're paying his salary to sit at home, you're just whining because Google offered a better job.

You could have kept the guy, if he was so important to your business.

I'm not a happy Amazon Prime customer today.

Exactly right. The best way to keep your talent from working for the competition is to keep them working for you.


You mean that focus on the customer and profits are orthogonal?

There's something else afoot there.

This is a pattern for Amazon: I work for a competitor to Amazon, and they went after us for violating a non-compete after we hired an AWS engineer. Our counsel had reviewed the non-compete before we hired the engineer, and concluded that the non-compete didn't actually prevent an engineer from working for a competitor, but rather prevented much narrower activity like poaching customer lists or supplier relationships. We were somewhat surprised that Amazon aggressively pursued the matter because it seemed so obvious to us that they wouldn't prevail. After Amazon sent us (and, it must be said, the engineer personally) a very nasty letter claiming that the non-compete was being violated, we retained local counsel and sent them an even nastier one back, making clear that we had no intention of backing down. Ultimately, they backed off, but in this process, I learned that Amazon has pursued this particular non-compete "hundreds" of times, and has never (to the best of the knowledge of our local counsel in Seattle) prevailed once. In part this is because Washington allows non-competes, but also doesn't like to infringe on the free flow of labor -- temporary restraining orders preventing an individual from working for a company are extraordinarily rare. (This is in contrast to states like Texas and Massachusetts, where non-competes are infamously enforceable.)

So if Amazon never prevails, why do they do it? One of the peculiar attributes of Amazon's action against us is that it was well publicized within Amazon -- and was apparently a result of outrage by a high-ranking executive after he learned that the former AWS engineer not only was working for a competitor, but had the gumption to open source a technology that he developed here. (Ironically, the executive only learned of all of this when the technology itself became a top story here on HN.) My conclusion from this: this action wasn't actually directed at us -- Amazon is smart enough to know that nothing would come of it with respect to our actions -- but rather at their own employees. That is, Amazon's pursuit of the non-compete against our engineer was their way of shooting an escapee in the back -- and sending a sharp message to any other AWS inmates with similar ambitions.

In terms of an immediate effect, Amazon's move worked to a degree: our next few hires from AWS were slowed a little bit by fear of similar action. That said, the fact that we had prevailed against Amazon also gave these engineers the confidence that we could and would do so again -- and ultimately, it didn't prevent anyone from matriculating. It did, however, have one lasting effect: the engineer that was pursued went from thinking fondly of his years at AWS to hating AWS and Amazon with a white-hot passion that still burns today. In the end, enforcing a non-compete is like erecting a Berlin Wall: if you feel you need it, you have much deeper problems...

Companies seem to want to view employees as somewhat disposable and have shifted the burden of taking care of somebody long term (pensions, retirement, career progression etc) onto the employees themselves. But in doing so they're encouraging labor mobility, and seem strangely shocked to find out that employees would take with them the expertise, history, and network of contacts that they had accumulated and move that value somewhere else.

It's really interesting how they have resorted to strong arming their engineers with these shot in the back non-competes, and couple it with salary collusion and hiring agreements. Throw in the golden handcuffs (that turn into golden dental floss after a few funding rounds -- long after they've gotten their 60-70 hour work weeks out of the true believers) and you see how they are trying to stymie that labor movement.

It's really a wonder that technology workers haven't started forming some sort of union.

They are not shocked when it happens. The attempt to force employes to stay on using non-compete agreements among other things is exactly because they know employees must move on to survive. They know very well that the failure to provide pensions and career progression will drive employees away so they use force and, quite frankly, terror to keep them with the company.

Particularly lovely is the near universal marriage of at will employment agreements with non compete agreements.

>It's really a wonder that technology workers haven't started forming some sort of union.

-The average age kept perpetually at about 28 (meaning only about 5 years work experience)

-The perpetual threat of tech labor imported from overseas.

-The belief that professional association and (gasp!) unions are pure socialist evil or at least are for low paid looser.

And if you think salary collusion and extra legal hiring agreements are shocking, just watch the response there would be to an effective professional association.

Professional association doesn't strike me as pure socialist evil, it strikes me as yet another group for protecting current workers from new competition[1]. I like that programming is a profession one can enter without having to go to the right schools and pay $15k to take the exam, thank you.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Licensure

Unions could be mis-used that way. Like anything, they could also be misused in any way. The point of a Union is to protect employees from employers period. It is not to limit their own membership by restricting entry into a field nor to be a front for the mob nor to eat babies.

Licensure is also a good idea. Of course no legislature will ever pass it nor any company ever honor it with out the clout of very large tech worker organization.

More practical but less honorable would be an organization that fiercely funds large numbers of tech worker lobbyist since that is the only way the system actually works now. Also, since much of their lobbing would align with tech company interests, it would not be crushed with the same zeal.

Unions could be mis-used that way. Like anything, they could also be misused in any way. The point of a Union is to protect employees from employers period. It is not to limit their own membership by restricting entry into a field nor to be a front for the mob nor to eat babies.

When you're in a country where you have to get a license to braid hair, design interiors or manicure, you can't dismiss it as some exception that can be ignored.

Licensure is also a good idea.

Sure, if you're already in the industry, it's great. Lots of money to be made by keeping out those who can't afford to jump through the hoops. It's not like poor people really deserve to be programmers anyway.

Is the job of braiding hair only for rich people in your country?

Should your argument apply to doctors too? No restrictions on entering because people who don't go to med school will be locked out?

But do come over to the US, you can work as a serf under H1B, have no protections and many legal restrictions, accumulate no pension and be fired on your 35th birthday. But you will love the fact the manicurist don't have to have to fill out any paperwork.

In my country? No, I'm talking about the US: it cost a tuition of $16000 and two years to braid hair in Utah. In my left-wing European country we can braid hair without a license, thankfully, especially for the (mainly) African immigrants who find a job that way.


Utah is an extreme right wing theocracy. Whatever happens in Utah is most certainly _not_ the work of unions.

You should note I never mentioned "unions" once in my posts. I wrote about professional associations and licensure.

But licensure is licensure. The effects are not any less harmful because the people pushing for it are good unionists and not evil right-wingers.


This isn’t just a random Utah law. There are more than 1,000 licensed professions in the United States, partly a result of more than a century of legal work. As the country industrialized, state governments wanted to protect their citizens and create standards not just for lawyers and doctors but also for basic services. It didn’t take long for professional groups to find that they also stood to benefit from the regulations. Over the years, more and more started to lobby for licensing rules, often grand­fathering in existing professionals while putting up high barriers to new competitors.


Your link is based on the "findings" of a libertarian law-firm and lists the 10 most inappropriate licensees. These include: Preschool teacher, Optician, Midwife, Veterinarian Technologist. Even these "worst" cases have miniscule license fees and minimal competence requirement. So small they in no way keep out competent people however poor: if you can afford a cheap TV then you can afford to be a Midwife.

And the idea that a Midwife should have absolutely no experience or that the preschool Teacher have zero background or your Optician have no education what so ever is pretty nearly crazy.

The only reason to get rid of it is so large companies could emerge to replace your midwife with a minimum wage incompetent.

True, maybe there should not any be requirements for hair braiding. This hardly means all licensing is a bad idea. To stretch one wild story about Utah hair braiding into "all professional associations are bad" takes more imagination than I have.

Eliminating all licensing across the board is shear libertarian crackpot-ism.

I'm extremely confused by 'midwife' being on the list. In British Columbia, midwives are medical professionals with a significant amount of training, and are able to provide medical advice and even write prescriptions for pregnancy-related drugs.

The idea that one of the people helping my wife give birth could have no training, or that people are being 'kept out' of the role because they don't have training or experience, seems idiotic to me.

This isn't the 1800's, where your midwife was 'the woman in town who knows the most about delivering babies', and we shouldn't act as though it is.

Using a midwife in the US is considered extreme or weird. Really only used by people classified as hippies. (Not how I feel, but that is the general vibe I get. Even poor people use hospitals - the people you think midwife's might be useful for. Not many home births going on here...)

That explains a lot. In the UK the term midwife is more or less synonymous with obstetric-specialist nurse. The term for a tie-dyed woman who comes into your home and burns incense to help you through delivery in a birthing pool is a 'doula'.

actual doulas may not wear tye dye or burn incense and I'm sure many provide an excellent service to facilitate some mothers through the childbirth process. Every labor is different. They may also be qualified midwives. And many midwives will also facilitate home births where appropriate for the mother and child. Basically, the US hospital and OB doctor-centric system is ... weird.

Eliminating all licensing across the board is shear libertarian crackpot-ism.

Thank $deity that strawman was burned to the ground.

In what conceivable way is any Licensure compatible with any libertarian principle?

Any government issued license is completely incompatible with libertarian values by definition. So no, not straw-man: crackpot.

I'm not saying licensure is compatible with libertarianism. I'm saying I never advocated for the elimination of all licensing, so you were attacking a some imaginary libertarian strawman, not replying to me.

The article is making the following argument:

- Some professional association call for licensure.

- There is a case of bad licensure in Utah.

- Therefore all licensure is bad.

- Therefore all professional associations are bad.

I would cite that reasoning as an exemplar definition of crackpot.

Or more likely since it lists a $30 license as one of the 10 most burdensome "licenses to kill for", it is just plain dishonest.

I assumed that you shared the article's reasoning since you linked it.

- Therefore all licensure is bad.

Uh, care to share where you read that? What I read was:

"Almost nobody is calling for wholesale abolition of professional licensing. I sleep better at night knowing that the commercial pilots flying over my apartment are trained and licensed."

"A bolder idea, of course, would be for states to get rid of the licensing rules that are doing more harm than good." (emphasis mine)

I love my dog, and I want my vet techs to be licensed.

I think a much better way to protect employees would be some form of enforced employee ownership. Stay somewhere for 3 - 5 years? Great! You get voting shares of stock and a voice in how the company is run.

We don't see this very much, but people don't really demand it either. If people started striking for ownership instead of salary and benefit increases, I'd bet that'd change.

I highly doubt that would be at all practical. You're basically suggesting that if you hire someone and they stay past a certain time, they will own part of your company forever. This removes the agency that owners have over their own businesses, and makes it so that no one would want to keep employees longer than 3-5 years (or whatever the threshold would be), resulting in guaranteed turnover.

It also gradually removes the barriers between workers and capital in a positively Jeffersonian way. Owners who weren't comfortable with that could, of course, fire people every 3-5 years, but firing and hiring isn't free either.

I've always thought that it might be an ideal solution to wage capitalism to force owners to sell equity to their employees at some predictable rate.

Pfft, there are so many restrictions on stock usage such as proxy agreements to the CEO, founder stock with 10x voting rights and so on that it might as well be useless for that.

What would you think of a profession instead of a union?

This piece does a good job explaining: http://michaelochurch.wordpress.com/2012/11/18/programmers-d...

Thanks for that link, it helped clear up some confusion I've been having about just what exactly I've been trying to accomplish with my career (or how to explain it to others). Now I have a term that I can use to summarize it!

Unions have their own problems, I've worked in a union environment (gov't health care, Canada) and it didn't really address the issues I had with the job. In fact it made some things worse because of the ways they came up with to work within the CBA. That said, within that union I (software dev/ops guy) was under the same CBA as the workers who cleaned the hospitals. So some of the issues may have just been a union that was representing sets of people with different issues. In fairness the things that are universal (e.g. benefits) were handled well for the most part.

There was a post a few months ago about how software development should be a profession and we should have a strong professional association to help represent our interests. To help prevent things like this amazon case.

My wife is a unionized employee in a very large union (which covers a large number of people in various fields), and I've seen a lot of second-hand idiocy related to it.

As one example, my wife spent three or four years without even having a collective agreement; their old one had expired, and the union hadn't bothered to/gotten around to/nailed down an agreement with the employer. Literally their biggest responsibility, and they were years late.

What they did do, however, was send out a mass e-mail to union members encouraging them not to participate in Ugly Sweater Day, because it could hurt people's feelings (literally, their concern was that people's feelings could be hurt), and other equally worthless wastes of time. Behaviour like that makes me wonder what these people actually do with union dues.

That said, there are also huge benefits; for example, there have been a few cases where people we know have been chosen to interview for a position, only to be told suddenly that the position was no longer being interviewed for – and then finding out that someone with less seniority and less experience was offered the job. Not saying our friend should have been given the position, but they didn't even interview her for it.

On top of that, there's the generic benefits of a union environment: more vacation, less nepotism, pension, and – my personal favourite – as long as you show up to work every day and do your job, your salary will increase (more than the legal minimum), your vacation will increase (more than the legal minimum), your pension will keep going up, and eventually you can retire.

So it's kind of a mixed bag. In cases of large, faceless bureaucracies it can help significantly by preventing people from being promoted who don't deserve it, just because they're friends with the boss/interviewed well/bribed someone/etc. On the other hand, large unions are basically another giant, faceless bureaucracy which purports to be on your side but typically operates under its own agenda, and in many cases, appears anti-employer for no reason other than spite.

To summarize:

Union Pros: Job safety, real cost of living increases, pension/retirement opportunity, some protection from unfair hiring/promotion practices.

Union Cons: Silly emails?

Cons include things like seniority based promotions and ridiculous hoops to jump through for hiring and firing.

Job safety is good, but it does protect incompetents as well. That becomes a poor situation for everyone but the incompetent.

They use them in unions too, but in a slightly different way. San Francisco local 6 (Electrician's union). Basically, if you go through, or start their apprenticeship program; you can't walk away and open a non-union shop. This is different than non-compete clause, but in the same realm.

That said, I think Computer Programers should unionize. A lot of thought would have to go into the union, but in the end you guys would be making a decent, consistent salary. The union could stipulate that new start-ups are exempt from union rules; until they, if they reach a certain level of success?

In turn, it would require established companies, like Yahoo Google, and Amazon follow union rules. In the end, the cash might be despirsed among the workers, and the Founders might not throw money around like they are printing it up on a string of Epson Printers? "But Mark, I don't think we can spend a trillion dollars on app.com; we have to pay our employees, and the pension fund needs capital?" Would a Programmer, who spent 30 years learning a coracopua of languages, put up with egotistical rich kids, spent so many hours in front of a box, lost weekends because you had to find the errors---like a pension when you retire?

Oh, Amazon will just move to the Amazon. Maybe not?

Except you wouldn't be spending lost weekends in front of a box. Companies wouldn't be willing to pay OT.

Hourly based salary would be kind of amazing.

Of course the downside is that it is harder to do flexible hours and such when you are expected to be working 40 hours 9-5 for your pay.

I don't think it'll work.

Unions more or less kinda worked when you had largish enterprises with a lot of employees. This is more or less the world described by John Kenneth Galbraith's "The New Industrial State."

This world doesn't really exist any more. It was undermined by lots of forces. I'd say the main force was people being dissatisfied with the working conditions.

In order for collective bargaining to work, there kind of has to be a collective to bargain for. Humans are not naturally attracted to collectives.

I still can't believe Americans are ok with non compete clauses in their contract if you accept that crap somebody will eventually try to enforce it.

I personally think it should be illegal unless amazon volunteers to pay the employee his regular salary for the period he is not allowed to compete.

The same way that if you're not paying for a service you're the product if you're not paying your employee you should have no right to demand anything from him anymore.

> I still can't believe Americans are ok with non compete clauses in their contract if you accept that crap somebody will eventually try to enforce it.

These and other anti-employee clauses (e.g. excessive IP assignment) persist because many programmers simply don't care while others who do care are awful at negotiating compared to their interlocutors who do this for a living. When you try to push back, the standard response you will first hear, an outright lie, is that this is a non-negotiable mandate from their legal counsel and that no-one has ever complained before. If they do budge on their initial terms, they will make it seem like an unprecedented concession that warrants concessions on your end. It's a truly absurd game of back and forth.

When you try to push back, the standard response you will first hear, an outright lie, is that this is a non-negotiable mandate from their legal counsel and that no-one has ever complained before

I'll agree they'll act like it's totally weird you are complaining. Standard salesman techniques.

And companies will usually negotiate these. Usually.

I once had an otherwise nice job offer where the employee agreement contained the following three poison things:

1. you cannot work for any competitors or customers for a year (it was a consultancy, so potentially every employer in the country was off-limits)

2. you assign us your IP rights while you work for us and for a year after you leave us

3. you agree this will not limit your ability to find work.

They totally stuck to their guns. They said legal wouldn't let them change it. I had concerns and they "took the matter seriously" which amounted to telling me, really hard, that these clauses didn't really matter and they wouldn't enforce them, and, y'know, they probably weren't enforceable anyway.

I walked away. Apparently many other people don't because they continue to get new employees. I heard the horror story here on HN a few weeks ago [1] about someone who no one would hire because he signed something with clause 2. I'm more satisfied than ever I was right in walking away.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7921325

Turnabout is fair play. If they pretend a clause is non-negotiable, call their bluff by asking for fair compensation. "Sure thing! That means I will be off the job market for one year, so I will require an unconditional severance payment of one year's salary. If my employment ends before an agreed-upon period, neither the severance payment or the non-compete will be binding." I'd only consider this kind of hard negotiation for mercenary jobs. If you're joining a normal company as a normal employee and they stonewall you on reasonable concerns, take it as a sign and walk away, as you seem to have done.

If everyone is aware of these clauses, their implications, and their enforceability (in the hypothetical world where computer workers have any sort of group that represents and publicizes their interests as workers), they'll end up priced into wages as long as employers don't collude.

At my first start-up job in San Francisco, I questioned the non-compete and no-moonlighting clauses. My manager looked sheepish and said, "well, we can't really enforce them in California anyway."

My first contract (with Electronic Arts) had a clause something like "We own anything you make in your free time, unless you work in California where we can't legally say that so we only own what you make during work hours or with company equipment"

Since the job was in California, it was a perfectly reasonable agreement for me, but since it was my first job I probably would have signed it anyway.

These types of non-competes are pretty common in the US in my industry (finance). Generally upon your leaving the firm has the option to enforce your non-compete for a length of time (often 6 months to 1 year), but you are paid some (usually very high) percentage of your salary. That seems fair enough to me - if you're going to force someone not to work, you ought to pay them.

In france, non-compete clauses are legal, but if the company decide to enforce it they have to pay you 50% of your salary. I think it's a good balance.

Usually 20%, not 50%. Also, non-competes must be limited in time and space. They were initially designed for the sales force, not engineers.

don't lump us all in the same boat please. Face it, some programmers out there go practically orgasmic when they get accepted or even interviewed by some companies that they end all critical thinking and sign on the dotted line.

Similar to the smoker who buys a pack of smokes and ignores the warning on the side; that will never happen to ME, yet turns and buys the lottery ticket thinking happy days are right around the corner.

Bingo. If you accept a non-compete clause, you are part of the problem. You may have no choice if you are desperate - but if you are a decent programmer that really shouldn't be a problem.

I have worked for companies that have non-compete clauses, and 'All your IP belong to us' clauses, and I make sure my hiring letter says I am at all times free to work for whom I want, and that anything I create outside of company time without using company equipment is my own.

If all the good programmers refuse to work for a company that tries to impose those clauses, then evolution will win out and those companies will be stuck with mediocre programmers, put out mediocre products, and die.

If you accept a non-compete clause, you are part of the problem.

That's a bit harsh.

The company knows what it's doing. Employees often don't. And in tech, there are no unions or widely-subscribed (and non-employer dominated) professional organizations to push back.

As Adam Smith notes in his Wealth of Nations (book one, chapter 8):

What are the common wages of labour, depends everywhere upon the contract usually made between those two parties, whose interests are by no means the same. The workmen desire to get as much, the masters to give as little, as possible. The former are disposed to combine in order to raise, the latter in order to lower, the wages of labour.

It is not, however, difficult to foresee which of the two parties must, upon all ordinary occasions, have the advantage in the dispute, and force the other into a compliance with their terms. The masters, being fewer in number, can combine much more easily


There's a reason unions exist, and even more reason why companies and their owners fear them.

It doesn't really work that way. Many companies have other kinds of clauses in their contracts, e.g. trade secrets clauses, or non-solicitation clauses. I find those quite reasonable (for a limited period of time, in the case of non-solicitation clauses), and I don't think it's reasonable to expect a company to pay you for the entire duration that the clauses are in effect (in the case of trade secrets, often for life).

It is your choice, at that point, to say "I cannot fulfil this, do you still want to employ me?"

In the case of trade secrets, I would not have an issue fulfilling the clause, provided it was worded in such a way that it did not preclude me using skills gained on the job for a different employer. Otherwise it impacts my ability to provide for myself in future, so I can't take the job unless there is financial compensation over and above a normal salary.

For a non-compete I would probably tell them I was just not willing to sign at all as it would definitely impact my ability to provide for myself in future.

But at that point I think it's perfectly reasonable to offer a compromise - "as this restricts my ability to find future work, I will need to be paid for the duration of the clause, or I cannot accept the job"

Just getting paid is hardly good enough. You're getting paid to sit on the sidelines and not work? Ask anybody who's been unemployed for a year how toxic that makes you to future employers. You might very well never work again at anything approaching your old salary. And, no, your explanation of how it was due to a non-compete will not matter.

In situations like this you already have a job lined up that you are going to. Since they must pay you, it's up to your old employer to make a business case for themselves that it is in their best interest to pay you rather than just letting you get on with your new job. When employers have skin in the game, it is almost always better to let the employee go. The problem with most non-competes these days is that it costs employers nothing to enforce them. In this scenario that is not the case. Not only do you have a job waiting for you at the end of it but it signals that you were so crucial to your employers near term competitive advantage that they were forced to pay you to sideline you.

Also in this scenario, employers generally won't make you sit out for the full length of the non-compete. They may have you sit out for a few months until the critical product you were working on launches and they can claim first mover advantage, etc. Since it is now a business case, it generally makes no sense to make old employees sit idle for a year.

However nothing says you must sit on the sidelines. A year traveling the world sells well, I can say from personal experience. A year doing volunteer work, or coding OS Software would likely sell better. Or you could start a small biz. There is lots to do, and most of it sells just fine.

I've taken months off in the past to do interesting stuff or just screw around and enjoy life.

Either way, that just tells you the compensation for the non-compete should be at higher than your usual salary, does it not?

Their need for these may be reasonable by my need to eat every day and pay the rent is reasonable as well so you putting all that crap in the contract without compensation endangers my ability to survive.

Ok that's a bit extreme but could as likely be the case for some people.

So if you want perks you will have to pay for them prices may differ depending on the clause but they need to be clearly outlined in the contract.

It's not without compensation, the compensation was your salary, you were just paid upfront.

If it's not specified in the contract exactly how much extra I'm getting payed for these clauses I'm not getting payed for them.

Not to mention clauses like non competes should be extremely expensive since their tying your hands for a significant amount of time.

I sincerely doubt their paying enough extra for all the classes you see in a regular American contract.

You could argue amazon might be but what about all the other companies that present you basically the same standard contract?

Are they really paying for them or are they just taking advantage of the fact that the work force in America will most likely accept any ridiculous clause in their contract to get a job?

If each one actually had a well determined price tag you would see most of the unnecessary ones disappear really quickly in an attempt by the companies to save money.

If it's not specified in the contract exactly how much extra I'm getting payed for these clauses I'm not getting payed for them.

So contracts should have to be itemized? "$150/month for attending meetings, $300/month for writing code, $50/month for reading your email"?

You have a set of obligations on one side, and a number of compensations (salary, perks, etc) on the other. The latter is the payment for the former.

Not to mention clauses like non competes should be extremely expensive since their tying your hands for a significant amount of time. I sincerely doubt their paying enough extra for all the classes you see in a regular American contract.

Isn't that for the candidate to decide?

If each one actually had a well determined price tag you would see most of the unnecessary ones disappear really quickly in an attempt by the companies to save money.

Or maybe they'd just lower the regular salary to end up with the same value.

No that basic duties you have to perform in order to effectively do your job at that company do not need to be itemized however any extra requirements past the termination of your contract should be.

People assume once you finish working for a specific company you're done and you have no more obligation to them so if they want these perks they need to specify how much extra they are paying for them.

The real problem with contracts today is they can trow whatever they want in and make it as complicated as possible in the hope that you don't read it when signing it.

If they were required to give you a summary of the important bits this exploitation would be harder to pull off.

I agree that contracts should be clearer, and I wouldn't mind if clauses that a significant number of employees were unaware of were ruled as invalid, but that's not the same as the agreements not being compensated, and I don't see why should they be itemized.

In my country non-compete agreements are only legal if there's a specified, concrete compensation for them. (E.g.: you're not allowed to go to a competitor for 9 months, but if you leave or if you're laid out then you're entitled for 9 months pay or 'gardening leave'). If there is no clause like this in the contract, then it's illegal.

Which country are you in? That's a great clause to have.

"It's not without compensation, the compensation was your salary, you were just paid upfront."

Then lets make it an obvious cost by making unpaid non-competes illegal.

That way if it is just a part of compensation the company can offer less up front salary and handle non-compete clauses by continuing to pay your salary.

no that normally doesn't fly just having the job isn't "compensation"

Maybe you guys are having an is-versus-ought discussion, but under US law giving someone new employment definitely counts as consideration as far as contracts are concerned.

If someone is an existing employee and you want them to sign a new employee agreement, you need some additional consideration besides "we let you keep your job," such as an increase in pay.

IANAL but 'icebraining is accurately describing US law. We nerds in the US need to fully internalize what the law is before we can fight it.

Ah so which of the 52 states plus federal employment law does this refer to? - and in that case why is it rather hard to actually enforce a non compete without payment.

I may be referring to Massachusetts law. IANAL.

Contracts require consideration[1]. If we agree you will give me $400 tomorrow, that is not a contact. If we agree that I will give you $200 today and you will give me $400 tomorrow, that is a contract.[2]

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consideration

[2] There are other components that make contracts legal; technically I'm only describing the consideration aspect.

I'm actually describing what I think makes sense. Any resemblance to actual legislation is purely coincidental :)

Why not? You have certain obligations (writing code, attending meetings, respecting non-compete clauses), and you are paid to fulfill them.

Employment law in most countries recognises that it is not an even negotiating situation, and thus tends to put substantial restrictions on contract terms in recognition of this.

One of the most common principles across a wide range of jurisdictions is for the default assumption to be that the salary compensates for the tasks and duties carried out in the contract period only.

Further, there's a public policy concern, in that non-competes in extreme cases can make a person unemployable during the period, and force this person onto welfare programs, and society as a whole thus have an interest in ensuring that consideration for potentially making you unemployable is made explicit and coming due if/when you're actually prevented from taking up a job.

>> Employment law in most countries recognises that it is not an even negotiating situation, and thus tends to put substantial restrictions on contract terms in recognition of this.

This is very important, and something that very often gets lost in discussions of employment contracts, minimum wage etc etc.

The prospective employee needs to make rent. The prospective employee needs to eat. These are very basic and powerful motivations and we (as a society) should not let business take advantage of these to low-ball on pay or impose onerous contract terms.

This doesn't surprise me. And I am actually quite curious, because after almost two years working at Amazon.com I quit, thinking Amazon.com was Google was Every Corp > 1000 headcount.

Since then, I haven't had the stomach to interview or consider another job. After much reflection, I think it all had to do with Amazon.com, the working conditions, and the tone of the place.

I got it in my head that all corporate jobs are basically like Amazon.com: you sign away all of your intellectual property rights, accept working on things you don't control and take home a nice, better-than-almost-everyone paycheck to wash it down.

I could tell strange stories of working at Amazon.com (I was in a non-traditional engineering role) but they seem more or less pointless.

How does someone go from working at Amazon.com to a small workplace, with passion and freedom? I have floundered! And the oxygen is running out.

Anyway, I wouldn't recommend working there.

You really have to watch which team you join. Platforms had terrible turnover. Some other retail groups had very high morale - especially ones which had just been acquired. AWS was, from what I recall, not too bad though the story above is upsetting.

Do you not sign over IP rights in other jobs?

Goodness no! Obviously your employer owns whatever you create while on the job, but some companies try to lay claim to stuff you create while off work, others do not.

The problem with Amazon - and other giant companies like it - is that they try to lay claim to everything "substantially similar" to fields the company works in. Because they're a giant company, this means practically everything, so you can work on something completely independently, without using any proprietary knowledge, and still end up screwed because somewhere deep within the bowels of the company someone is working on something like it.

Ah I see.

I was referring just to stuff created on the job.

In fact, in a number of states, agreements like that are unenforceable and invalid (California and Minnesota being 2 such states).

I can write code at home in my free time and it's MINE and I OWN IT.

It's a little like hiring a carpenter and then telling him that he can't make his own cabinets for his kitchen because the company owns everything he makes. Fuck that. I'll never work for a company that does that shit.

Internally, employees at Amazon have to go through an extensive review process to contribute bug reports, blog posts, or any activity involving sharing code. And for the oddest reason, any game development of any sort is absolutely forbidden.

To clarify on this point: Amazon "supports" open sourcing code. To do so you must submit your code to an open source review committee, who will evaluate it for potential competitive threats, usage of privileged company technology, etc.

Which sounds at least semi-reasonable until you realize that the people sitting on this committee have zero incentive to approve requests, while at the same time incentivized heavily to reject requests - since there's personal cost to them if something they approve ends up being used by a major competitor.

I'll leave it to the reader to guess how often things get rejected from open sourcing...

I'm curious if they actually give a reason why any sort of game development is forbidden. Is this the case throughout Amazon or only in a specific division?


The reason is it is competition. Amazon makes games, you can't make games. If you want to do any sort of outside development then you have to ask permission, they can shut you down with or without explanation and they currently have a blanket ban on games. Or game engines, or anything related to games.

This includes starting a blog just to talk about game mechanics or the like.

Technically you aren't actually banned from making a game. It's just that you can't ever publish it, show it to anyone, or talk about it.

Of course if you apply you will get told it is no problem to do outside development.

How the heck does that work, how does a company enforce what i do on my spare time and how are people OK with it?

Is this showing up in the contract you have to sign?

People are "ok" with it because up until very recently software jobs are heavily geography-centric. Microsoft and Amazon collectively own the bulk of the tech industry in Seattle, and both have similar policies. People signed these contracts because there wasn't much other choice.

In places with more diversity in tech employment (say, Silicon Valley) you will find less bullshit contracts like these, since there is more competitive pressure between employers. In Seattle it's Giant BigCorp A or Giant BigCorp B, with a smattering of smaller tech companies (or satellite offices, see: Google).

In the contracts I've seen with these kinds of terms, usually there's a way to disclaim things you've already worked on, such that those specific items are excluded from the contract. So, for example, if you were working on some open source lib already, you can enumerate it in the contract and that won't be covered. Of course, this still greatly limits your freedom to start new things while employed.

It sucks. It's a blight on our industry.

That and policies like this aren't clear until you sign up.

So you sign a non-compete, but if you ask you get told that things like games or open source contribution are fine.

Then you come in and you find out that internal policy is that you need approval for everything. That's not that unreasonable, and they are usually not too slow. for most things they don't have a blanket ban.

THen you don't quit immediately because you don't want to hand back your signing bonus, but once you it that one year mark it becomes an option and many people do quit at that point.

Yes, this is standard practice at any major US software company and is part of your employment contract.

In some cases it really does make sense, where you have privileged knowledge by working at the company and directly competing publicly using that unpublished insider knowledge is pretty obviously a bad idea. A lot of companies actually have pretty legitimate review boards that will quickly approve anything not directly competing for public release.

On the other extreme, some companies basically refuse to approve anything for external release: my father as an EE at IBM wasn't allowed to release templates for making labels for homebrew beer bottles. An ex-IBMer on my current team worked on a relatively small piece of software that would have been great to open source (and really not competing with any of IBMs initiatives) but IBM wouldn't allow it, nor did they want the project to be continued or used in any meaningful way.


I am so never working there.

Having worked there, I'd say that is an excellent plan.

> apparently a result of outrage by a high-ranking executive after he learned that the former AWS engineer not only was working for a competitor, but had the gumption to open source a technology that he developed here

Wait, he open-sourced code he worked on at Amazon, or he open-sourced code he worked on in his own time whilst happening to be employed by Amazon?

If the former, it's hardly surprising the executive was upset.

Edit: Or option 3, he open-sourced code he developed working for you. In which case the executive is being utterly irrational.

The term "technology" lead me to think that he open sourced code doing the same thing as code he wrote while at Amazon. I've certainly done that before... learned the structure of a system in an employers codebase and then wrote my own version of it.

I read it as option 3

that not a non compete case that would related to ip the company owns or claims to own

And it sends a strong message to all prospective Amazon engineers as well. Only work for Amazon when you have no other options.

It might just be to scare the company and employee. After dealing with Amazon's legal team it might wear management out and they will insist that the employee not divulge any secrets from Amazon.

Otherwise I could easily imagine several meetings led by the hired engineers that are basically titled, "Processes, Methods, Algorithms, and Secrets I learned from Working at Amazon".

I don't condone the behavior at all, sending a legal team after an individual and their new employer for just switching jobs is unnecessary harassment.

Amazon has been going downhill recently. Startups are taking away some of their AWS customers with easier to use interfaces (some people just want a monthly cost for a VPS or cloud intranet).

Their retail site has been cutting corners and the search is inherently flawed because so many of their items are not sold by Amazon but 3rd parties who charge random amounts and there is very little quality control. It shouldn't take over a week to process simple orders and there should be a way to disable the "transferred to local carrier for delivery" because that can delay the order substantially (I've had to drive to the post office to pick up orders before) and their support just tells me that there is not way to change that in the shipping system.

Now is a good time for a competitor such as Wal-Mart to take back a large share of the US online shopping market from Amazon. Even if Wal-Mart just offered 2 day "shipping to the store" that would be great. I could order any item online and they would group the items where I could pick them up at the service department.

Since Amazon is all about data and conversions, I am sure they expect one or two hits from hundreds of complaints, which could be publiziced within Amazon with more concrete data for retention.

Brilliant reply, thank you. After having read several books on Amazon and many articles, Bezos and co still fascinate me.

Governments are always trying to find a way to steal a bit of the magic of Silicon Valley, yet little attention is paid to copying California's stance on non-competes. It allows for a free-flow of talent that is just as important as the free-flow of capital. Washington State should copy that.

Hilariously, in Washington State, you can even enforce a non-compete when you fire the employee.

When I moved to WA from CA, I was already working for a certain large software company. I asked HR if I had to re-sign the employee agreement.

They said no.

When I left them, they tried to do a non-compete on me. I pointed out that the agreement that I had signed didn't include one (since CA doesn't allow them) and they tried to go behind the scenes with lawyers anyway.

Let's just say that it worked out pretty well.

I'm not sure what the laws in CA are exactly, but here (EU) non competes don't work generally. If you are a programmer and you go work as a programmer for the competition then even if you signed stacks of non-competes, they cannot be enforced. Simply because you are a programmer and not allowing you to take that job would mean you are potentially without a job which is about the worst thing that could happen. Most non-competes refer to you resigning and taking clients with your but even that is hard to enforce. The basics are ; if you are a nice company to work for and with, you have nothing to fear.

I know first hand of a few cases of non competes working (in France), and they all involved the ex-employer paying substantial amounts of money for the time the ex-employee was prevented from working for the competition.

Also known as garden leave. You're basically still 'employed' but you're kept out of the office with all access revoked. It's to put some distance between any time sensitive info from one job before you move onto the next. In the UK, I think the banks do this for three months.


From discussions on HN, this is also common in the US finance sector.

Continuing to pay someone while they don't work is legal, and it is not a non compete. But you don;t have to take that option necessarily.

Yep, it's same here in Slovenia:

The original employer must continue to pay a "significant" part of employees pay as long as non-compete is in effect and has to state clearly that they will do so in 14 days after the employee has left the company. Otherwise the non-compete is void.

Yes, which is a workaround as people get paid. If they didn't get paid it wouldn't work. As said; they are actually still employed but not working anymore.

That's very unrealistic and naive. Non-competes are quite enforceable in the Netherlands, which is why me and many people I know refuse to sign them.

Yes, companies that enforce them are rare and complete dicks, but they can and some will. Companies that won't don't need them either, so either way the negotiation about the non-compete becomes a very brief one.

violates eu law in quite a few ways

EU doesn't have a harmonized legislation on non-competes. They can certainly be enforced in Finland, even though they're unheard of with typical employees. Normally only executives have them.

Yeah shouldn've have said 'EU' but rather name countries. Still; everything I read so far contains 'within reason', the Finnish rules as well which means that when it gets to court (if ever) it'll be thrown out for most as non-competes are not reasonable in a lot of cases. Especially, like you say, for executives / top managers who actually carry deep knowledge of the company which can hurt them going to the competitor.

There is a reason, despite having some real-estate in WA, I've refused to move up and work there. CA, despite some faults, has it's advantages (beyond superior weather).

> CA, despite some faults...

No pun intended?

Apparently working at Amazon is damaging to your career.

Ex-AWS employee here. I tend to disagree with the above statement. Though, their retention numbers are pathetic to say the least, but it was an awesome place to work and learn and most of the people who do leave tend to go to the high flying places.

Ex-Amazonian here also. Sadly, Amazon looks great on your resume, it's still considered in the "AAA" tier of tech employers, standing side by side with the likes of Google, Facebook, etc.

Realistically I'd argue it's more on the high end of the "B" tier, but that's neither here nor there.

Amazon's attrition rate is insane. Not high, insane. This should tell you a lot about what it's like to work there. I too learned a lot, and it continues to pay dividends on my resume, so I guess that's how they get away with it.

Well, he did get hired by Google...most people would consider that a success.

One key item:

"The suit, filed June 27 in King County Superior Court in Seattle, seeks to take advantage of a more favorable climate for non-compete deals in Washington state, where the terms of such deals have generally been allowed, if considered reasonable. Non-compete clauses have repeatedly been found invalid in California, where Google is based."

The article doesn't say Szabadi was or currently is geographically employed (is his current contract with Google in California or Seattle?), which I assume would have a bearing on the suit's strength

There's likely to be a certain element of race-to-the-courthouse here. If Szabadi is about to move to California, then Google could file a lawsuit in a state court there, seeking a declaratory judgment that under California law his non-compete is unenforceable. A California court likely would rule in Google's favor --- and if that were the first-filed lawsuit, then it might take priority over any later-filed lawsuit Amazon might bring in Seattle. Something akin to that happened in Application Group, Inc. v. Hunter Group, Inc., 61 Cal. App. 4th 881 (1998) [1] [2].

[1] http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=1290227502038697...

[2] http://www.whitecase.com/files/Publication/dcf3d85c-1c1b-4bf...

Don't agreements like this typically include language to the effect of:

"This agreement is entirely enforceable under the laws of the state of ____, under the jurisdiction of a binding arbitrator chosen by the employer, except for injunctions which are handled by the ____ District Court in ____ County?"

Those clauses might not be enforceable though, if they contradict local labour laws.

Yes, otherwise it would be trivial to override labor laws via contract. For all they seem like dolts to us, this isn't the administrative class's first barbeque. Attempts to end-run around the law are regularly shot down.

page 4 of the suit - Szabadi worked in Washington when he was at Amazon, and still resides in Washington.

As much as I am not a fan of non-competes, having read the complaint, it appears that this is the exact reason non-competes exist. This isn't about an Amazon SDE that worked on the amazon.com retail site moving over to work on Gmail; the guy was responsible for working with AWS partners, and now works in the exact same position for a direct competitor, in a position where external contacts and relationships are key. Google even recognized this with their own agreement not to use that information for a period of 6 months.

The problem with this line of reasoning is that you are effectively blocking someone from participating in their chosen profession if they don't continue to work for the same company for whatever reason. Just because his connections were valuable doesn't change the fact that he was also valuable - Amazon shouldn't have the right to keep him from using his experience in his profession.

Agreed that he shouldn't be kept from using his experience, or knowledge - but the question is, should he be allowed to transition all of the customers that he acquired (or perhaps even inherited) while at Amazon over to Google?

If they want that? Yes. Why not? Does Amazon have some kind of "we got them as customer once, now we own them" privilege?

Non-competes always sounded to me like an incentive for companies to behave bad. "Well, Bill cannot work somewhere else as long as we compete, so we don't have to treat him well. And the customers he brought in won't be going anywhere else for the time being, so we don't have to treat them well either. Perfect."

Exactly. Customers are not company property, but companies sure as hell want to treat them like they are. It's anti-competitive behavior.

If your product is so comparable that customers will move to a competitor because their salesman moved, does the public have any interest in having the government act as protection-money collector?

Excellently put.

And if Google has any ethics (which it does, and presumably he does too) he won't transition any of those customers. The list of customers would be considered proprietary information. But his experience in dealing with customers, in general, is presumably how he stays employed.

If it's anything like e.g. financial planners (and I'm not sure that it is, but I have some familiarity with similar situations in that field), when he moves to a new firm he isn't allowed to inform any of his former clients, and the old firm won't tell them where he went, but any clients who figure it out and can procure his new contact info are welcome to transfer their custom to the new firm.

If you have clients that are willing to switch firms to stay with a particular person, is that person not just as much part of the product as the financial instruments hes selling? If my doctor switches practices, but he knows my medical history, is the doctor not as much part of the service as the medicine itself? Would it be appropriate for a practice to keep that doctor from working as a doctor somewhere else because of competition?

You have to balance that with the fact that the doctor has the right to stay employed. If contents of the doctor's brain (including the medical history of his patients) are so critical that the practice would lose customers if the doctor left, then instead of pursuing legal action against the doctor if he leaves, the practice should ensure he is compensated enough that he has little incentive to leave.

Well in fact financial planning is in large part a snow-job. (The parts that aren't "invest in index funds", that is.) So the greatest actual skill is customer relations, which is an inherently personal thing. It's not clear that IaaS is equivalent, but maybe that's what Amazon are implying with this lawsuit.

He could have joined a SaaS company and sold a non-competing service. For instance, New Relic.

Same industry, same basic clientele, 0 competition from Amazon, 0 grounds to hit him with the noncompete.

It's still wrong. If Google's offering is better than Amazon's for some customers, why can't the sales guy who used to work for Amazon tell the customers they should get Google's offering? Customer wins.

Am I missing something?

High level corporate sales is basically buying a suave guy who has a rolodex of people who can make purchasing decisions.

It is a huge problem if that guy can then turn around and use the contacts he gained through Amazon to compete with Amazon. He is basically turning Amazon's network of contacts into his own and then selling that access to a competitor. It is basically the sales/bizdev equivalent of taking Amazon code and handing it over to Google for a price. Amazon shouldn't have to pay money to negate that risk.

Technically, even in California, if he did something like that it would hold under any reasonable non-solicitation agreement I believe. It is the exact reason these agreements exist.

I'm not 100% sure that is what happened but it sounds like it.

> "High level corporate sales is basically buying a suave guy who has a rolodex of people who can make purchasing decisions."

If you're buying a guy with a rolodex, do you really own his rolodex or are you renting the use of it?

If said rolodex was created on Amazon's watch, with Amazon resources, you can make a pretty decent claim to ownership, but if those contacts pre-dated Amazon, then (not legally speaking, morally) can Amazon really lay ownership on it?

I could be wrong but based on the article...

> If you're buying a guy with a rolodex, do you really own his rolodex or are you renting the use of it?

Both. His job is to convert contacts into customers. If contacts become customers, his obligation is not to re-sell the same customers to the next company.

> If said rolodex was created on Amazon's watch, with Amazon resources, you can make a pretty decent claim to ownership, but if those contacts pre-dated Amazon, then (not legally speaking, morally) can Amazon really lay ownership on it?

Key bit from the article was: “Szabadi was involved in developing, implementing and managing Amazon Web Services’ strategy for many of its partners, and was the first point of contact for most partners who were considering working with Amazon.”

I'd say, morally, its quite reasonable to say "No, you can't solicit business from our customers for X months." Amazon is just playing it cautious and being negotiated down to that position.

It is a huge problem if that guy can then turn around and use the contacts he gained through Amazon to compete with Amazon.

What makes Amazon different than the past few centuries of commerce?



That is why non competes are centuries old.

So unpack it a little more: why would non-competes ever have been weakened?

It is like anything else in terms of legalities. Sometimes people get overzealous and go too far.

Turn it around. How would you feel if you solicited business from Customer X, hired another consultant to perform 50% of the work, then they turned around and stole Customer X from you because of the contacts/access they gained from when you hired them?

The person buying the cloud offerings is not the only customer. Amazon is also a customer, and in their compensation agreement with the vendor (the ex-employee), the ex-employee agreed (presumably) not to work for someone else for some period of time.

Whether or not that should be legal is a different matter. Sometimes if all employers are doing it, it can result in an unfair and unhealthy environment for employees, however, sometimes if all employees can switch jobs willy nilly and take clients with them (especially those with strong relationships with clients), then it can become an unhealthy environment for employers.

If you don't want your clients to switch just because one of your employees switches, don't design your systems to be so reliant on the actions of an individual employee, and don't make your offerings so weak compared to the competition that your clients are willing to switch.

Win by providing better products. Anything else shouldn't be encouraged by the legal system.

...anything else wasn't encouraged by the legal system. The 2 parties (Amazon and employee) entered into a voluntary and disclosed contractual agreement.

Also, sometimes it's not feasible/possible to design a system where clients aren't so reliant on individual employees. For example, in the legal and finance professions, certain key people have so much knowledge regarding certain deals / events, that you can't just swap them out. It is a major investment on the part of a company to train and get someone up to speed on a piece of business, and one way to mitigate the risk of them leaving is to have them sign a voluntary agreement to not compete for x amount of time.

Obviously, this can be abused in situations where employers have the upper hand. But in many high powered positions where highly qualified people have a lot of leverage against their employer, it could help reduce costs a lot (for the end consumer also, since the risk of someone leaving and taking the business would just raise the prices you have to charge to mitigate that risk, as opposed to a non compete).

In places like (e.g.) the financial sector, they have compensation for the duration of the non-compete. Many tech sector employers have no such concession. They basically want you to just 'not work' in the tech sector for the duration of the non-compete, which is completely not fair to the worker.

so was the employee paid for this and no just having the job doesn't count

"...then it can become an unhealthy environment for employers."

It's called competition.

"...capitalism's most dangerous enemies are capitalists." -- RJS

Competition isn't magic fairy dust that makes everything better.

e.g. "Progress comes from monopoly, not competition" — Peter Thiel

That said, lack of non-compete enforcement is often credited as one of the contributing factors to California's excellent startup environment.

> Competition isn't magic fairy dust that makes everything better.

Certainly seems to be Amazon's pitch that it is in fact fairy dust when they're driving their competition out of business.

Stagnation comes from monopoly.

Yes, but consider this: you have a government-protected monopoly on your home when you own it. Imagine if anyone could compete for your home simply by occupying it. That would be economically ruinous.

Intellectual property is also a government-protected monopoly, created for the advancement of society.

Basically I'm saying that monopoly can be good or bad depending on the specifics. So competition can be very destructive in some cases.

I was under the impression that non-competes were legally implemented not to stop employees moving, but to stop an owner from selling a business with goodwill, and then starting up a competitor across the road and reducing the goodwill be retaining their old customers. I have no evidence, but had assumed that the modern non-compete enforced on employees by employers came out of a precedent based on this law and has slowly gained acceptance. Happy to be educated if somebody knows more.

Nope, provisions for that are in M&A agreements and part of the reason why acquiring companies takes so much money and [lawyer]time. And it's in no way a "precedent based on this law" - what do you mean by "this law"? All of these provisions are in private contracts, not in legislation.

The classic use of non-competes is for salespeople or high-level service people (lawyers, consultants, etc) not taking their customers with them when leaving.

I don't know the history but if that were the case then the non-compete should be between the owner and buyer, not employer and employee. It makes no sense to go after the employees to prevent former owner competition.

Those are one of the few types of non-competes that are enforceable in California. Otherwise, the majority of non-competes in America, by raw count, are not about owners selling the company.

Corporations can treat employees as cogs, but expect them to not be a similar fitting cog in another organization if they decide to leave of their own will? Yet, they can be fired at any time? Seems one sided.

Amazon should compete using the quality of their product, not on the quality of their rolodex.

Not generally how it works.

Ask any startup founder who had a better product and failed against the bigger competition.

I've heard a lot of negative things about Amazon as an employer (mainly from current or ex-Amazon people), which is depressing because they're an awesome vendor and I want them to continue to be able to get great people and thus produce awesome stuff. (I've also heard "but X group is awesome and not like that" too, though.)

This really doesn't help things on that front.

Like most large companies, there are things that people like about them and things that people don't like about them.

If you really want to know what they're like on average, dig up their recruiting and retention numbers. ;)

they are a great vendor by facade, they bully and collude with their suppliers to drive up prices on consumers. they systematically bury competitors with a trojan horse strategy on their marketplace. using dirty tactics and infringing on anti-trust, they can always appear to be the best vendor to consumers.

I go to a relatively well designed website and get products delivered in 1-2 days for cheap. From that perspective, I really like them.

AWS, while absurdly expensive vs. metal IMO, is also something a lot of people have built on, and it's evolving so fast that no one has caught up to it, even when companies like Rackspace, IBM, etc. recognize it as an existential threat.

TLDR of my comment: always ask to see employment agreements you'll have to sign before accepting an offer and resigning from your (now current) company, otherwise you may not know what you'll be expected to sign until your first day.

In response to several comments stating or implying that you can simply not sign or negotiate a non-compete, I agree, but I think it's worth pointing out that, at least in my experience with several (East Coast) companies (I have no experience with Amazon), none of them sends you a copy of their non-compete with your offer letter. What I have always seen happen, instead, is that after you've fully resigned your previous employer and show up for your first day of work at the new company, HR hands you a stack of 100-200+ pages of employee handbook, travel policy, IT policy, etc., and various employment agreements, requiring you to sign all the documents before you can start working. Buried in there may be a non-compete, potentially disguised as another type of agreement. Yes, you're free to read them all (and you should), and you're free to reject them. But if you reject them you're rejecting the job, and now you're stuck with no income until you find another job. Admittedly I think that's better than agreeing to a bad non-compete which could last a lot longer than the time to find a new job, but it's not an easy thing to do.

I strongly recommend what I do now: after receiving and before accepting an offer even verbally, request to see all employment agreements that I'll have to sign upon starting with a new company. All have been fine with sending them to me (and if not I would immediately reject), but I would not have known about them and had time to review them if I hadn't asked in advance.

One company I interviewed with years ago, which had a terribly restrictive non-compete that I rejected, took the attitude that: 1. I had nothing to worry about because they said verbally they'd never enforce it. 2. I had to sign it anyway because everybody has to sign it, no exceptions (but their verbal assurance of non-enforcement should be good enough for me). 3. They questioned my integrity and belittled my concern because (in their words) I was planning to leave the company before I'd even started. Glad I avoided that company - with that attitude, probably would have been a terrible place to work. Back then (unlike today) I'm not sure I would have had the self-confidence to fight that fight on my first day.

1. I had nothing to worry about because they said verbally they'd never enforce it. 2. I had to sign it anyway because everybody has to sign it, no exceptions (but their verbal assurance of non-enforcement should be good enough for me)

First, I feel your pain here, word for word. I didn't have the same experience as you did in clause 3, but clause 1 and 2 were exactly as I've experienced.

I'd like to say this means we were dealing with the same company but I know we probably weren't.

Second, IANAL, but there is a difference in case-law between making someone sign a non-compete as part of a job offer, and having someone sign a non-compete as part of continuing employment. I'd try to argue that making you sign an agreement on your first day counts in the latter class. But IANAL.

Also, dropping an IP agreement on someone after they quit their old job is unconscionable.

As you mentioned, this should be done before you accept the offer, but whether you do it before or after accepting the offer, I recommend sending back an amended non-compete rather than rejecting outright. Treat the non-compete or any other agreement as a negotiation in good faith, and so will many companies.

Note to self, given the choice, work in finance rather than Amazon. They apparently treat their employees better. At least they have the decency to offer you salary while you wait out a non-compete.


It wasn't all open source code. The guy's still a dumbass for taking company property. The punishment may have exceeded the crime, but he still committed a crime.

> The "stolen code" was part of an open source project :/

No it wasn't. And yes, still sure.

Way to win the battle and lose the war! Never hire anyone that goes to work at Amazon at the senior exec level from this point forward because they're clearly clueless.

Maybe Google can win back some karma they lost for participating in the "No Poaching" deal with Apple et al by defending this guy.

This! Yes, why does it even go to public press? In France 60% of programming jobs are through consulting companies, they constantly play the game of no-poaching, and those get solved after commission between the two employers. Either one is also customer of the first, either they pay.

eBay Inc tried this a few years ago when Osama Bedier left PayPal for Google's Wallet team. (http://www.wired.com/2011/05/paypal-sues-google-wallet)

I have no idea what the outcome of the case was, but Bedier spent almost 3 years at Google.

The details are different, but s/Amazon/Microsoft and you have a headline from 2005: http://news.cnet.com/Microsoft-sues-over-Google-hire/2100-10...

Does anyone know how such clauses apply in the EU?

No. They will ofer a "garden leave". This means, you get paid and stay employed as much as the grace period is over. I think the only restriction is not entering the company's premises.

For executives, is not uncommon that they stay one year in the "garden leave", having all the perks too.

When I left Autonomy, I had such a "garden leave" for 3 months. I stayed at home and received normal salary. Was nice, but boring.

They should take better care of their employees so they have an incentive to stay and not sue them when they find a better job.

I hope this comment does not get me down voted into oblivion, but just to play the devils advocate here, the guy did sign the non-compete agreement, which, setting aside legal aspects, is kind of like giving your word. I agree, non-compete agreements are stupid, but you don't have to sign them, you can always take a different job that does not require one, probably for less money. What is your word worth?

I'm not a fan of down-votes, but I will try to (kind of) refute your central point according to the argument pyramid. (Not fully disagreeing with you, just some thoughts on the matter).

The central question is: did he really knowingly sign a non-compete agreement and is it lawful in the jurisdiction?

Yes, he signed the contract, which was likely a 20 page standard issue paper that was mostly written by Amazon lawyers in small print.

Now most of us don't send a copy of employment contracts to our layers and discuss it with them for hours before signing (that's kind of expensive).

That's why there are some limitations on what can go into a contract in some places (at least in Europe, but I assume the U.S. has something similar). For instance they can't write in there that you will be their slave, providing unpaid work without the ability to quit, be beaten as motivation and lawfully enforce it, even if you sign the paper.

Other things need to be explicitly clarified to be accepted at court. For instance, if a big software corporation would add a clause to their license agreement on page 25 that your house belongs to them if you click on "I Agree", it would most likely not hold ground in a court. If they explicitly explained this to you (with a few witnesses), it might be heard in court.

The question here is (and it's far from clear cut) is if this contract holds it's ground in court.

Back to the central point: this means, that Amazon might have to prove that they made a good effort to clarify this clause in the contract explicitly and it's lawful in the state he worked. That's up to the court to decide.

Now if they can prove that they did make a good faith effort to clarify his contract, he agreed and then went on and willfully broke it, then he is in a troublesome spot.

INAL, this is not an advice for anything and I'm not liable for any of the above.

Good point. I did not think of that, legal agreements can be made to obfuscate, much like those online agreements. If that is the case then I am with you completely, it is unfair. But if he signed it knowing the consequences then he should live them in my view.

"But if he signed it knowing the consequences then he should live them in my view."

Why? It is not immoral to break a contract. It happens all the time in good faith. The "wronged" party is only entitled to provable damages. Which as long as he isn't running away with trade secrets, or cold calling his old clients, then what provable damages are there?

Contracts are a civil matter. It is immoral to write a "punishment" clause into a contract and nobody should have to "live with them".

The best way to stop this is not taking jobs that require a non-compete agreement. By signing offers with non-competes, you're literally acknowledging this is acceptable.

> The best way to stop this is not taking jobs that require a non-compete agreement

Easy to say, and then one day you get an offer for a job you really, really like.

> By signing offers with non-competes, you're literally acknowledging this is acceptable.

Not at all. Very few (if any) of these terms are legally binding. The only way to actually find out is to have them challenged in court.

If anything, the only way to stop this is for people to keep accepting jobs tied to non compete agreements so that we can finally see how legally viable they are. Seems like we are about to find out.

I understand that California is not for everyone for any number of reasons but if you stay in CA non-competes are basically irrelevant to your career.

> Easy to say, and then one day you get an offer for a job you really, really like. Then weigh the cost/benefit of accepting it or negotiate with the company to change it.

My point is not whether non-competes are legally binding. It's the fact that when you sign a contract, you and your employer are agreeing with the terms set forth in good faith. You shouldn't sign employment agreements that you have no intention of fulfilling.

Starting a new job should be a good thing for both the employer and employee. Both should be on the same page.

As someone who has walked away from a really nice offer because of the malicious (and I used that exact word when talking with the hiring manager) terms in the non-compete, not everyone can afford to walk away.

Oddly, before that incident I was in the "man, just negotiate them, it's all right" camp. Like the joke about a liberal is a conservative who hasn't been mugged yet, it really changed my outlook, and I'm now in favor of legislation nuking those things from orbit.

> You shouldn't sign employment agreements that you have no intention of fulfilling.

Why not if some clauses of the contract are unenforceable or simply illegal and you really want that job?

I don't get why, if you signed a non-compete in good faith, you don't just honor the agreement ? Either stick up for your morals and don't take the job because of the non-compete or actually accept it not only as a legally binding contract (because they are rarely enforceable) but a moral one. I've caught employees poaching customer lists after they turned in their 2 weeks, verifiable by security software and video camera evidence. We didn't prosecute. Why shouldn't a business have non-competes though ? It's just to protect themselves from situations like I described. I wish the world was a happy place where things like this didn't happen, but it isn't, and not protecting yourself from this kind of thing is just asking to get screwed over. Nobody is a perfect judge of character.

I am pretty shocked to see this. For sales jobs or executives, I can understand. But for your average tech guy? Are they kidding?

Except he's not your "average tech guy." The very first page of the complaint lists him in a "business development role." Going on, "[i]n this position, he was responsible for developing and growing Amazon's relationships with partners who utilize and sell Amazon's cloud computing services."

that is such broad statement it could apply to any one from the company's top sales guy to a junior customer support rep

"strategic partnerships manager"..."Szabadi was directly and integrally involved with the marketing of Amazon’s cloud computing business to its partners and resellers, and played a significant role in developing Amazon’s business strategy and direction in this area"

From the article it seems that he was in sales and marketing, and not involved with the tech side.

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