I recently posted a question on programmers with the view to getting advice on handling individual work contributions outside the realm of employment.

Originally, I did mistaking theme this as looking for legal advice and the boundaries between what one can and cannot do when contributing to open source projects that happen to be used by my current employer.

Based on the feedback given, I did reword this just to get general advice from the development community. I seriously doubt I am the first person to have encountered this problem and I'm sure there are a number who can offer suggestions or advice to promote what I am trying to do. This is purely from the point of view of a developer trying to promote the idea of contributing back to open source projects, so I don't see it worthy or moving to another exchange.

I am very open minded to rework the question/content based on feedback if it can be salvaged somehow. I seems like good enough question that a developer may learn from the answers given. It's not unknown for developer to take a liking to an open source tool used in his job and decide to look at it outside work and contribute be it in code or documentation.

Any suggestions would be welcome.


2 Answers 2


Good questions need to be specific to avoid being "too broad" and have a small number of valid answers to avoid being too subjective.

Asking for advice on something is fine - but not using the Stack Exchange Q&A format. It is too open-ended. While a good answer can be long and contain many supporting details, an answer to "I need advice" could be an entire novel.

A better question would focus on one facet of the problem in a way that can be objectively answered and applies to more people than just you: see the graphic in the on-topic page.

Please remember that helping you (for any value of "you") is not the goal of this site. The goal is to be a repository of knowledge to help many people. This is why we may appear to be so picky about what questions stay open and which are closed. While a question and its answers may help you in your specific situation, it does not necessarily help many programmers.


I think the major issue with your question (both its original form and the edited one) is that you have two questions mixed in one:

  1. How to convince [someone] to contribute to back to the open source community?

    This is a general question which applies to any company. The only (somehow) relevant context info is that a company uses open source software.

  2. WTF is the reaction I received from my manager, since I did nothing wrong?

    This is a specific question which concerns your particular case. Here, the context matters: what you did exactly to contribute to open source community, and how your company was mentioned.

My answer, if you've read it, replies exactly to this second question, explaining the reaction of your manager, and why you may indeed be subjected to disciplinary action—because you do your personal stuff during your work hours. This is essentially the situation which led you to ask the question in the first place.

Notice that Snowman's answer is also bound to the context. His answer is, IMHO, plainly wrong (sorry; nothing personal), because it misses the point that your tutorials made no reference to the company, but still attempts to explain the reaction of your manager in your specific case. If your tutorial was published as being written by an employee of Example Corp. instead of a named person (for instance, on a public corporate blog or documentation website or simply containing the name of the company), Snowman's answer would be right, and mine—wrong.

On the other hand, the way you formulated your question may also lead to context-agnostic answers, that is to explain how an abstract person working in an abstract company should convince an abstract manager to contribute to open source community—and the title of your question is exactly that. It's a perfectly valid question, except that the context you provide in the question is then completely irrelevant and makes it impossible to answer this context-agnostic answer.

In my opinion, you should split this question in two:

  1. The first one will explain that you were contributing to open source community by writing a tutorial during your work hours, but your manager is angry and you don't understand why, since you believe that you did nothing wrong. By the way, you haven't mentioned the company anywhere in this tutorial, so it doesn't affect your company's PR. Why is your manager screaming at you? (My answer replies to that) Would it be better to mention the company in the tutorial? (Snowman's answer replies to that)

  2. The second one explains simply that your company uses a lot of open source content, and you consider it fair to contribute back to open source community. How should you convince your management to do it?

  • You are right, there are two concerns here. Clearly we each answered different ones. Given my answer to this meta-question, I hope it is clear I was trying to address the larger issue as it may apply to other situations: if one is producing content for an employer, it should meet certain standards. The fact that it was his personal GitHub account and did not mention his employer was not clear at first, as was whether it was done using company time or not. Edits later on clarified this. I should probably delete my answer, since it is based on a premise that cannot be held true anymore.
    – user22815
    Commented Mar 2, 2015 at 3:04
  • @Snowman: Got it. Note that if the question is changed as I advise in my Meta answer, emphasizing both the case where the tutorial is mentioning just the author and the one where it mentions the company, then your answer on Programmers.SE will be valid and both our answers will then appear complementary. Commented Mar 2, 2015 at 6:16
  • I disagree, I do not remember the specific details but I thought an earlier version of the question left unspecified whether he used company resources to develop the tutorials. He also removed the second question, making my answer obsolete. Given the comments on my answer, I would likely answer it differently anyway.
    – user22815
    Commented Mar 2, 2015 at 14:31

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