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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.

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