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...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Thank $deity that strawman was burned to the ground.
Any government issued license is completely incompatible with libertarian values by definition. So no, not straw-man: crackpot.
- 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.
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)
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'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.
This piece does a good job explaining: http://michaelochurch.wordpress.com/2012/11/18/programmers-d...
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.
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.
Union Pros: Job safety, real cost of living increases, pension/retirement opportunity, some protection from unfair hiring/promotion practices.
Union Cons: Silly emails?
Job safety is good, but it does protect incompetents as well. That becomes a poor situation for everyone but the incompetent.
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?
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.
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 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.
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.
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  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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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"
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.
Either way, that just tells you the compensation for the non-compete should be at higher than your usual salary, does it not?
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.
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.
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?
Or maybe they'd just lower the regular salary to end up with the same value.
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.
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.
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.
Contracts require consideration. 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.
 There are other components that make contracts legal; technically I'm only describing the consideration aspect.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I was referring just to stuff created on the job.
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.
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...
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.
Is this showing up in the contract you have to sign?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.