I'm not talking about working overtime for a project, but R&D, or test bed applications that benefit the company. These would become teaching tools, and eventually sales tools. I know it sounds crazy to even ask, but I'm seeing a trend in this industry with regard to rapidly changing technology, and a problem with getting programmers to bring the after hours knowledge gained in house. You would think it would spill over naturally, but I find most leads holding back because the work would then be "managed" by the company, and now the property of the company. Are there solid programs or initiatives that stimulate a back-and-forth, where you can actually bring something to the table and be rewarded for it?


Can anyone provide additional feedback on this:

Are there solid programs or initiatives that stimulate a back-and-forth, where you can actually bring something to the table and be rewarded for it?

There appears to be a miscommunication here, where some users are under the impression I'm trying to figure out how to get free work out of colleagues. Just the opposite is true. I want to know if there are programs that exist, or ideas that you have that would motivate you, which doesn't necessarily have to be money.

  • 2
    What is the background for asking this?
    – user1249
    Commented Aug 14, 2011 at 9:49
  • 3
    in one word : Mastery. I wanna learn more and more.
    – Chani
    Commented Aug 14, 2011 at 15:18
  • 8
    I am a young programmer and I do not care about fame, only about not hating my job and making good $$$ and having some time to enjoy life. I sometimes put in a so-called 'positive overtime' because I see existing 'solutions' that make we want to puke. I know that I can do a better job than a committee of average (or less than that) coders, so I need to beat them in a race. If I do not write it myself fast, I will end up maintaining a gynormous pile of junk (where a lean tool would do). Had I worked with an all* team, I would happily leave work at work and study math in my free time instead.
    – Job
    Commented Aug 14, 2011 at 16:56
  • 6
    So instead of being a manager trying to squeeze free work out of employees, you're a collegeau trying to squeeze free work out of employees ?
    – user272735
    Commented Aug 15, 2011 at 4:33
  • 4
    @Brian, I would suggest that instead of figuring out how to make your workers do more in their free time, then set time aside in their actual work time for this. It is very few people who have their work as their only hobby. Even programmers do things they do not do in their work time.
    – user1249
    Commented Aug 15, 2011 at 6:13

14 Answers 14


and a problem with getting programmers to bring the after hours knowledge gained in house.

The problem is that you're not paying them to do that.

You would think it would spill over naturally,

No I wouldn't, free time is free time. If somebody chooses to spend their free time studying instead of going kite surfing or whatever, then of course they should be the ones to benefit from what they did during their free time. Why should you? What have you contributed to that time and effort that they put in?

but I find most leads holding back because the work would then be "managed" by the company, and now the property of the company.


Here's the thing, if you find value in the things that programmers do while not working for you, then why don't you have them working on those things during work hours.

Google understands this and that's why they have 20% time. But it's too easy to mess this up by trying to keep control over what employees work on during this time. A smart developer knows many things you could be doing to improve your business if only they are given a chance. Sure you now have one day a week less but after some time you will find that the work on the fifth day makes the work on the next four days a lot more productive and effective. It also makes smart devs love working for you as they no longer have to deal with bad decisions that affect their every day work, they can actually do something to positively change the situation.

If you want benefit from free time the only way you will get it is if the devs really, really like you and the company they work for.

  • 2
    well said, only way I've ever seen a company get people to show up in numbers for after hours unpaid meetings is through coercion (the all too often used "if you don't show up for those things you're going to get a bad performance review"). And all those companies had a very high turnover of medior and senior staff, they just won't put up with such things for longer than it takes to find a better place to work.
    – jwenting
    Commented Mar 27, 2013 at 7:39

Many developers (perhaps, younger developers) are motivated by "fame" and recognition of their peers at least as much as by monetary compensation.

For example, while the '20%' projects done by developers at Google are, in the end, owned by the company, if the project spins off and becomes successful (like GMail), the individual developer who worked on that project gains some fame and recognition in the dev community; which brings a feeling of being respected by your peers.

If the company can keep the recognition spotlight on the developer even after the project has shipped, it would go a long way toward getting the company's and developers' motivations to align.

  • 9
    Google, theoretically, expects that 20% time to be part of the regular work week; it is not free and after-hours work. Bad example to use, but I've observed that your point about recognition is often very true. Commented Aug 14, 2011 at 18:42

If you ask about motivation, let's consider the three most important ingredients, and then see if a company can give you any one of them...

  • first, you've got to be a passionate programmer -- without that nothing works. One must revel in programming -- even the very thought of converting a real world problem into computer instructions should excite you. How many programmers REALLY take pleasure in doing company's work, and how many of them would do it without pay for a single day?

  • second, you need to have a good idea -- and thinking about it should rev up the adrenalin in your brain for going after it. How many employees REALLY think about giving the company more value by giving it their valuable ideas?

  • third, and MOST IMPORTANTLY you need belief -- that putting time & brain into your idea would bring pleasure, satisfaction, and (some day) money to you. If you have THAT belief, would you REALLY let the company take share in it?

All I am trying to suggest is that there are VERY FEW people that absolutely LOVE the company they work for. And that's the reason nobody readily shares their "after hours knowledge" or ideas with the company. No matter how much you're rewarded, the moment you have all the above three -- you'll want to make it all your own and be the next Mark Zuckerberg or Sergey Brin.

The problem is that the source of passion, ideas and true beliefs doesn't really correspond with the "corporate evilness" of companies. (although it's completely a different matter that even those passionate ideators and believers oftentimes end up creating those corporations)

Are there solid programs or initiatives that stimulate...

It's really hard to get employees who give their "hearts" to the company. And that's why companies generally don't try to "stimulate" them that way. At least that's what my experience has been.

  • 27
    Remember, even if you love the company you work for, and you are loyal to them, a company's loyalty is to its shareholders, not its employees.
    – Shawn D.
    Commented Aug 13, 2011 at 18:10
  • I think the real problem around rewarding the people for the extra mile is the fact that it's much easier to pretend to contribute than to actually do it. In the big picture, whatever mechanism you put forth for it will be abused and discarded. IMHO, The only think that could work is a very smart and attentive manager who's able to recognize true contribution and has the authority to reward it.
    – enobayram
    Commented Mar 27, 2013 at 7:52

As a developer, you are paid for your time and knowledge.

If you are giving that away free of charge to your employer, then there is a small group of things that would make that worthwhile.

1) You are behind in your work, and this is required to catch up so that your reputation isn't tarnished

2) You have an ownership stake in the company.

3) You are trying to make yourself look like you are worth more than the next guy for a potential promotion or to avoid getting laid off.

Otherwise, be very careful about doing so, especially when the only reward is fame. The half-life of fame is about 6 months, but that extra time of your own that you spent is gone forever, even if the company is still benefiting from it.

Maybe I'm just old and cynical, but I have seen a lot of people at different companies give extra of themselves all the time, thinking it would be rewarded or help their company do better, only to get laid off when there was an economic pinch.

  • 4
    You are not old and cynical, companies of any size can't value extra work on side projects when money is on the line. If you had more effort to give, why did you not put that effort into the core projects? And if the idea was great, why did you not propose that it be added to the regular development cycle? That's how companies think. Commented Aug 14, 2011 at 18:48

I would suggest either blackmail or threats of violence against them and their families. Perhaps a horses head in their bed.

Honestly, I've done plenty of uncompensated work -- either because I've felt that I messed up and should fix the problem or because I wanted to learn something and work-related software seemed like the best place to do that (although most of this sort of work hasn't been put in production). In either case if my employer had said I HAD to do the work unpaid I would have said no.

If you're wanting people to do work for you, they are entitled to be paid for it. If they have an idea not related to what you're paying them for, you're no more entitled to it than your competiors are (although frankly most of them won't). This halfway sounds like you don't want to pay for training and halfway like you think that because they work for you, everything they do should be for your benefit

  • +1 for Godfather reference Commented Aug 16, 2011 at 18:07
  1. A (large) stake in the company. I'm not talking a few shares here and there, more like 5% or more(depending on the size of the company, of course).
  2. (True) Ownership of my project. I.E. I build it in my off time, and the company licenses it from me. I guess this one is not so free ;)
  • 1
    Well said; the only time you should invest in a company is if you're getting a return like any other business idea. Your work during the week covers your paycheck, anything else needs to be extra or it's not a good ROI. Commented Aug 16, 2011 at 18:08
  • If the company can truly inspire (not just motivate or encourage) the employees to "Think like an owner" and gives them more ownership, they will be more dedicated and more rewarded. Being entrepreneurial and collaborative is great, but all-too-rare.
    – Iterator
    Commented Aug 17, 2011 at 4:23
  • @Iterator How many owners will let employees think like an owner without trying to "out owner" them? I would love it if more owners just said, "Run with it!" Unfortunately, the micro manager mentality kicks in and they want to take full ownership.
    – user9483
    Commented Aug 18, 2011 at 13:43
  • @Brian: Good point, but the OP asked what would motivate people (e.g. me or how would I motivate others). One can somewhat own a project and be rewarded for its success. Being possessive is a risk, though, when people defend bad ideas too long.
    – Iterator
    Commented Aug 18, 2011 at 13:53

If you want people sharing what they know from side and hobby projects, what you need is to offer meeting space, a projector, pizza, and beer. Given that, most developers will happily talk about what they've been working on.


When programming at work place, specification, goals, schedules and licences come from someone else than you. Often even the ideas. On free time you can do whatever you want, with whatever schedule, and even if you never finish, it's not an issue. And you can contribute to common knowledge of the humankind, by releasing your ideas and work for everyone to see.

Personally I know very, very few really good programmers who don't have passion for solving problems by programming. You can be competent without passion, and passion not always manifests in spare time coding, but programming is very skill- and brain-intensive art, so people who lack passion don't usually have the inherent motivation on being better that keeps some programmers better than others. There are exceptions to this rule, but they are far and wide between.

So, if you employ programmers and find they code on their spare time, it means you've done a good hiring decision; these are the people who will shine in the long run.

And if you employ programmers and try to trick them for working for free, you pretty much drive away the ones who have better options for workplace. If people work without pay, they do it because they love their job, not because they hate it.


An opportunity to work with a really good programmer(s) on a project in an area I wanted to learn. Imagine being at Sony and hearing about a side project going on for a gaming device. Even if you didn't think it would be a hit, the idea has to be very interesting.


Nothing would motivate me unless it was my own company, or I was a partner in the company. Otherwise, I'll do personal projects outside of work for my own learning, but I won't do work for my job after-hours without compensation (whether tangible pay, flex time, or similar).


There's a difference between getting people to do free work for work after hours and people learning something new because they are interested in it. You seem to be implying that be default what people do in their own spare time should be somehow leverageable for the company. This is not actually fair.

You need to look at Google's 20% practice - I think something like this might be beneficial although few enough companies implement it - in this way your company may benefit more by allowing time to your developers and staff rather than leeching off their spare time activities. As far as bringing ideas to the table are concerned, you need to put a reward and recognition scheme in place as well.


I've found it possible to attract the attention of younger gang of developers to spend time on coding after work hours and weekends when the purpose was towards a common external charitable cause as part of CSR initiatives of the company. Passionate developers keep finding their own stuff to code in free time, but if you can combine learning, mentoring opportunities with a meaningful context outside project, you have a real chance at pulling them in.

This can't be of course in any way mixed up with company considerations like appraisals or rewards.


a problem with getting programmers to bring the after hours knowledge gained in house. You would think it would spill over naturally, but I find most leads holding back because the work would then be "managed" by the company, and now the property of the company.

No, I wouldn't think it'd spill over naturally as I'd question what kind of reception would bringing in that knowledge get. If someone brings up something that may have questionable value, is this dismissed, trivialized or put down in some way? That is where I'd see the battleground here, not in the rewards.

Have you ever considered just how much stuff programmers may know? It could take a long time to sift through all that stuff. For example, if I tried to bring what was on TV last night, which would be after hours knowledge since I was watching away from work, what would that get? In small doses it may go over fine but I'm pretty sure I couldn't spend hours in the office discussing "Jersey Shore" right?


Something the company I work for (an agile consultancy) has done is to get involved with what we call Social Impact Projects.

http://www.rapidftr.com/ is one example I'm aware of.

Whilst the company does support it more formally now by donating some developer time, there have been regular code-jams going on for at least a year, this is where volunteers meet up in the office after work one night a week and do some free development work, the company usually supplied a few beers and pizza and 10-20 people complete some stories, or fixed some bugs etc.

Of course it can just be for fun as well, find a few other passionate devs and you could do some form of code-dojo where you get together just to collectively solve some interesting problems (try here for some ideas http://codekata.pragprog.com/).