Side projects and corpo job

If you’re thinking about side projects, and you have a full time job, are you even allowed to do your side projects?

Photo of a meeting room in a corporate office behind glass walls. Four people are sitting at a table with laptops.
Photo by Campaign Creators on Unsplash

Woo, I was supposed to write this and publish it some 5 hours ago, but that didn’t happen due to some personal life circumstances. Still gotta do the one post a day for May thing though! On to the topic at hand.

I have the incredibly privilege and luck to be working for a corporation — F5 Networks — while also coming up with side project ideas pretty much daily. I’m keeping a running note of all the ideas, it’s slowly becoming very long.

The fun part is how to balance this with my full time job. Right now none of my side projects are built fully, let alone earning me any money, so if I want to be able to keep paying bills and buying food, I do need my corpo job. That corpo job, being a publicly listed company in the US, has a lot of red tape, and they want their cut of my time and expertise, and will protect their intellectual property using their incredibly highly skilled team of lawyers. I mean I assume, thankfully I only ever had to email them once.

In particular my contract has sections around confidentiality, intellectual property, conflict of interest, and parallel business activity. Because both F5 and my own company are in the tech sector, everything I do, or even plan to do, I need to run those by the legal team first to make sure that any conflicts of interest are declared, any potential infringements are guarded against, and they know about the parallel business activity. This protects both of us. They can absolutely say no, and then my choices are either not doing the thing, or resigning from my full time job with them.

These provisions are not unique to F5, every single company above a certain size will have these, because they have to. It’s part and parcel of being a big corporation. There are also other provisions like any work creating using company equipment, know-how, resources, people, or during company time belongs to company, so make extra sure you segregate your non-corpo work from your corpo work!

I heard some advice a while ago which was a variation of “if they don’t know about it, it can’t hurt.” Super sketch, never do that! Imagine the stars align and your side hustle takes off, and you get a lot of customers, or even media attention! The chances are that corpo finds out is significant! And then, because you’ve not declared your parallel business activity, you will have to have a long talk with legal, which is going to be very unpleasant.

You do not want to open up yourself to legal liability, and your business insurance isn’t going to save you, as their first question is going to be: have you followed all the things you need? Have you declared this with your other team as is in your contract? Remember, the business insurance people also do not want to pay you if they can avoid doing it.

I’ll have another post on side hustles tomorrow looking at it from a different angle, but in this one, as boring as it sounds, please read your contract, and do the things they’re asking you to do, and if they say no, don’t be a rebel and do it anyways.