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Who should name an application?

A small team within the company I work for had an idea for an application that would help them.  They roughed out the specs, and eventually I joined up with this team for the sole purpose of developing this application.  As the only developer, I have been working for the last two to three years implementing their initial specs and including my own enhancements and ideas along the way.  The first couple of years went pretty smoothly as I and my manager pretty much kept out of each other's hair.  As the sole developer, I've started to take a sense a big stake of ownership in the project.  In terms of time, I've contributed probably something like 97% of all the time invested to making this project succeed.  We're planning on releasing the product to beta testing later this year, and then make it generally available to our entire company early next year.

Just this last week I was travelling and not available for communication from my team.  Then I checked my email, and I was informed that the name had been decided for this application.  This really stung as I realized I really didn't own this application at all.  I've had many instances this past year with management trying to make what I felt were too low level decision that they should have completely trusted to me, but it always appeared to me that I was part of the decision making process, if not the decision maker.

Although I don't plan on staying with this team once the project is over, I had considered taking "ownership" of the project with me as it relates to many other applications I develop and plan to develop.  (It's part of the back-office server component in a multi-tiered architecture.)  I didn't realize this when I began, but it fits nicely within a suite of applications which will work together.  I see a happy future developing this suite from a team which is more neutral.  (ie. has no stake in any one project in the suite).

So even though I apparently don't have any ownership now, I plan on asking for full-ownership soon (in exchange for free maintenance).  Was my manager out of line in naming the application while I was gone?  How can I ask for full-ownership of the application in a way that the manager understands what I'm really asking for?

Feeling like a burger flipper...
Friday, October 03, 2003

"As the only developer, I have been working for the last two to three years implementing their initial specs "

As it their initial specs is dont see a problem with your boss naming the application. At the end of the day, this naming may mean management push the application more gusto than if they didnt name it. How can that be a problem.
If the only thing I had to worry about was this type of issue I would be really happy.

Getting them to release the code to you and have you own it will be an interesting thing. I cant tell you how to make them allow you this ownership, but I can tell you to get a good lawyer and prepare for a long process.

Regs,

James Ladd
Friday, October 03, 2003

I'll admit that the name chosen wasn't that bad, and that this is not as big as other problems I could have.  It was just the principle that got me.

"Getting them to release the code to you and have you own it will be an interesting thing."

I'm pretty sure that they'll be very motivated to have me maintain it long term.  I think they'll be motivated enough to let me have "ownership" in exchange.  I'm just concerned that in the future they'll demand a feature or bug fixed as if they're still in control.  Old habits are hard to break.  I'm concerned that they could play politics making me look like I'm not a "team player" to my future team's leader.  When it boils down to it, I just want to be completely trusted with it.  Without that, I'd rather just move on and not continue with the project.

Feeling like a burger flipper...
Friday, October 03, 2003

Am I understanding you correctly in that you are a standard employee and you, under their specification, created an internal application, and that you are leaving the firm and you are hoping that they will transfer legal ownership of the application to you, copyright and all?

Interesting.

Dennis Atkins
Friday, October 03, 2003

Thats what I was thinking too Dennis, it opens up a whole new world of opportunity.

I really do hope he just means he is moving to another department within the company and that he just wants to maintain responsibility for the application in his new department.

ChrisO
Friday, October 03, 2003

Feeling, it is normal to take an interest in a good project and also to expect your contribution to be recognised, especially where it seems you did all the work. In copyright, it is the implentation of an idea that carries the weight, not the idea.

If you did the work as an employee and were paid, the reality is that's the end of it. You have no say.

If you're saying you would LIKE more say, then try to set things up to maximise your leverage. Negotiate that you will only finish and document it to a robust level if they give you some sort of stake in it.

Of course, this is a risk for you, because if they can affort to dispense with you now, they probably will. It sounds like the naming without your input was a deliberate attempt to marginalise you.

If you want, try to get it.

.
Friday, October 03, 2003

I understand how you feel.

I want to buy a dog and call it "Ellie the Elephant", but my husband does not like the name, He prefers "Patch" or "Jack". 

As you can guess we are not getting a dog.

Aussie Chick
Friday, October 03, 2003

Oops, of course my point being is that names are important, they are personal, make it feel like it really belongs to you. So as rational as it may be to let the managers name the program, I also would want to have naming rights.

Aussie Chick
Friday, October 03, 2003

As a practical matter, if you want to name something, then you shoud just name it and be done with it. Make the executable have the name, name the project the name in the CVS system, have the about box, the user manual, the documentation all reflect the name, and then use the name in conversation with others.

That's how you get to name it. Probably all that happened while you were out is somebody said, "What's the status of that project he's working on for some months?" "What project?" "He never named it, it's the back end database thing." "Well let's come up with a name so we know what we're talking about." I bet that's what happened.

Life lesson: He who hesitates is lost.

Dennis Atkins
Friday, October 03, 2003

1) The first step in any project should be naming the project. Having a solid, consistent name will help you gain buy-in with future users. Like most really important aspects of a project, you will be unable to get management to do this until *they* feel it's an emergency.
2) Developers rarely, if ever, get to name the project. Our opinions on such matters aren't worth a dime.
3) When you do get a name, put it everywhere - code, database, docs, UI, box. Then let management know that renaming the app will take 60+ manhours. You may save yourself much heartache this way. (New execs and managers often feel the need to mark their territory)
4) Be thankful the name isn't "Odeous Scrunt"

Philo

Philo
Friday, October 03, 2003

"Am I understanding you correctly in that you are a standard employee and you, under their specification, created an internal application, and that you are leaving the firm and you are hoping that they will transfer legal ownership of the application to you, copyright and all?"

No.  I am only planning on transferring to a different department within the company.  I would offer to service my original team from the position of this new team.

Feeling like a burger flipper...
Friday, October 03, 2003

[No.  I am only planning on transferring to a different department within the company.  I would offer to service my original team from the position of this new team. ]

Interesting. Most developers I know would be happy to move on to a new project and leave the maintenance to someone else. I commend you on your sense of responsibility.

However.  :)

I also sense your feeling of ownership might be getting a little unhealthy. You put your heart into this app and nothing is ever going to change that, but the fact of the matter is that the company, not you, ultimately owns it. It may actually be in best interest of both of you if you moved on and let someone else pick up the reins. That way knowledge of the app is not limited to one person and you can fully concentrate on your new position.

Time to let go, methinks.

anon
Friday, October 03, 2003

Concerning keeping (or getting) your 'ownership' of the code, I don't think this is practical unless you work for a really different company.  Your new managers are not going to be happy with getting a part time employee that they have to pay full time wages out of their cost center.  Even if you are billing your time back to the old project, or that's not an issue at your company, your new managers aren't going to like having an employee that randomly loses time to some other project. 

D
Friday, October 03, 2003

My relationship is not quite "employee".  Without going into details, I effectively volunteer my time.  Or in other words, I don't cost much $ wherever I go.  I do get paid by my company.  But the "cost center" is completely neutral.  It's a non-issue.

The reason I want to retain ownership of the code, is because it shares a common code base (70% overlap) with another project for which I do have ownership.  I started with this first project before this second for which I want ownership.  I have a larger plan for this "suite" which makes the collection more effective than the sum of the individual parts.  I think this will really pay off for the success of the company as a whole, for which I may be compensated later.  ... long term thinking ...

Feeling like a burger flipper...
Friday, October 03, 2003

I wouldn't stress about it.  Let management name it whatever they want.  Owning the functionality is way more important than owning the name.

Around here, I have a rule.  Lippert's Law Of Software Naming is "management is allowed to change the name of my product -- ONCE."

Coincidentally I just met with program management to discuss the names of all our namespaces, dlls, schema files, etc.  Right now, everything is named after our code name, which we cannot ship with. 

They'd better get them right the first time, because it is a pain in the rear to change everything again.

Eric

Eric Lippert
Friday, October 03, 2003

I think you're being petty.

I'm a bit confused about your status; you work for the company "for a very good price", but you're paid for, but you're not a cost center, but you're not a contractor, but you're not an employee.  It all sounds very fishy, but whatever is going on, it sounds like your real issue is that you want to share your code with this other project, and you are concerned about the ownership of the code itself, in which case you should read some of the fine threads on here about that subject.

Foolish Jordan
Friday, October 03, 2003

Would you mind 'getting into details'? I'm really confused by the situation you are in. You said you'd offer to work on the thing for free and that you 'volunteer', but you also said that you are paid. Who is paying you then? When you say 'free' does that mean you'll work on it nights and weekends for them without pay?

If the organization is actually not paying you anything, then the law is quite clear -- you ARE the copyright owner. If they want to use the code, they'll have to negotiate terms with you unless you've signed a contract in which you recieve some 'consideration', which I don't recommend at this point.

Or is this a case where you're written some code and made it open source and you're working on it for them for free?

Dennis Atkins
Friday, October 03, 2003

Eric: looks like you learned the Never Use the Project Name or Code Name In The Source Code lesson the hard way.  =-)

Alyosha`
Friday, October 03, 2003

"Feeling like a burger flipper"...

I can't figure out whether you want "ownership" in the sense of: intellectual property YOU own; "glory" aka bragging rights; or just tightknit association in everyone's minds with this achievement. I haven't read one clear statement of the exact arrangement you seek. 

From your handle, I get the sense that all you're talking about is "owning" the work in the sense of being the current caretaker of the work and having bragging rights.

My take is: you are trying to claim a status (legal or otherwise) that companies simply don't negotiate or confer. Also, I get the sense from the way you describe the working and employee status that you are working through an agency for the end client, but even that is not clear.

If you literally want to own a piece of work yourself, you need to be self employed or own your own company and you need to have a contract in place that gives you this ownership. If you want bragging rights, you need to own the IP. My experience has been that when companies pay for work, they want the ownership for themselves and they always want to dictate who can and who will work on the project.

I'm a consultant and I've developed several products for clients from scratch that clients were clueless to even start. My work, my ideas all the way. But  in *every* case, the work is *always* theirs. I am free to tell anyone I want "I wrote XYZ" but in each case the company is legally free to make up a fiction in their marketing (and even internally amongst their employees) that I was nothing but a stooge at their beck and call and that some utterly brilliant internal employee directed me. There's no law that says that my clients can't misrepresent evidence of their expertise that really isn't. When they are truthful about credit where due to the outside world, I am actually grateful. No, I'm not an ass kiss. That's just the deal.

In short, if someone else  is paying you to do the work, then you don't own nor can you claim anything. Get over yourself...

Bored Bystander
Friday, October 03, 2003

It's clear that Feeling feels like he was exploited or wrongly treated in some way. He is entitled to feel aggrieved and want proper recognition. It's just that he might not have any legal or management basis for it.

That doesn't mean he can't want it or try to obtain it.

Copyright law actually has a concept called moral rights, which are the rights of the creator to have a say in how a product is used. Of course, it sounds like, in this situation, Feeling doesn't own the copyright anyway.

Feeling, I think you have to learn how to be more forceful, or maybe even more devious.

.
Friday, October 03, 2003

I am paid by my company, and of course, the company owns the software.  (I don't really volunteer, my point was that I just don't cost anything to my current or future dept within the company since my pay is charged from a higher level.)  But someone in the company has to be *in charge* of the software.  This is what I refer to when I say "ownership" of the application.  It's like what Joel refers to when he compares his experience at Microsoft to Juno.  At Microsoft, he "owned" the Excel macro strategy even though Microsoft really owned it.  At Juno, Juno also owned the software, but they didn't extend "ownership" to anybody.

My motivation for wanting to be in charge of this product is:
1.  Shared code base... bugs fixed in one app, fix other app.
2.  Control over how suite will interoperate together.
3.  Common look and feel within suite.

When I found out that "my" application had been named without much input from me, the reality sank in than I currently don't have ownership of the project.  It was a little dissapointing, but I'll deal with it.  Soon, I'll be finishing the project and leaving the team, and I can either:

A.  leave the project with them.
or
B.  take the project with me.

I think my manager would freak if I were to leave the project with them as he probably assumes that I'll stick with this team forever doing maintenance.  I would only take the project with me if I could have full control over it.  My concern is that my manager who is used to being in charge with it will have a hard time loosening his tight grip.  How do I describe to my manager in a way that he will understand that I'm proposing to take the project with me (to a different dept within the company) but only if I can have full control over it? 

Feeling like a burger flipper...
Friday, October 03, 2003

Hmmm... ok, that's a little bit clearer. Your hypothetical proposal is not unreasonable.

The relationships in this situation are very vague, even after your explanation. Mainly what I get out of your description is that you want to keep working on this program and claim bragging rights to it, and you see your role in your current group if you stay on to be migrating to maintenance.  So by retaining "moral ownership" you get your cake and eat it too - you can do new projects, and you also can retain bragging rights and a degree of control.

Here are some things to consider, then.

What are the terms of the possible bargains or deals that could be struck? What would each interested party get out of the deal?  What happens to each party if you do nothing?

Letting you "take away" control of an application would probably sound to most managers like a loss of control. Is the manager empowered to even make this decision? Would he allow it, do you suppose?

Has a decision been made higher up to keep in in this position, maintaining the product until you leave the company?

And, what's the matter with telling your manager exactly what you stated here?

Bored Bystander
Friday, October 03, 2003

Let's put it this way:

"Who should name an application?"

The person that's paying for it. ;-)

Philo

Philo
Friday, October 03, 2003

I'm not asking if my request of ownership is reasonable.  I know it is.  I'm just wondering how to phrase the request such that the manager gets it.  (I talk like a computer programmer, he talks like a non-technical manager.)

Feeling like a burger flipper...
Friday, October 03, 2003

[What are the terms of the possible bargains or deals that could be struck? What would each interested party get out of the deal?  What happens to each party if you do nothing?]

If I do nothing but leave my current dept, then I am free to move on, but my former manager must find a programmer to maintain the software.

If I take ownership with me as I leave my current dept, than I am given full authority to manage the software project as I see fit, and my manager does not have to find a programmer to maintain the software.

Feeling like a burger flipper...
Friday, October 03, 2003

Sounds clear to me. So why don't you tell him just what you posted in your last response?

Bored Bystander
Friday, October 03, 2003

Feeling, try this:

"I'm moving to Dept X next week and I would be happy to continue looking after the software, but only if I have complete control of it. Do you give me that control?"

They might try various compromises. Say no and leave. It's not negotiable. Depending on how you're feeling you could add:

"While we're at it, I spent x months on that software. Whose idea was it to name it without any input from me?"

Looking a bit further ahead, try telling your new manager you want the software too, so that, if your previous manager asks him for his view, he will know what's being discussed and give his OK.

.
Saturday, October 04, 2003

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