I am a programmer, but since I've barely been in the professional market my portfolio is rather bare right now. Still, I started to try and get my website up and running to help a little bit, but what I really need right now is to be able to expand my portfolio.

I have a guy who wants me to do a lot of work for him, and I'm willing to do it for a while at least until I can get better jobs. The real problem, though, is that he does not want me to tell anyone that I have been doing work for him. Naturally, since I'm both trying to earn money and expand my portfolio, this poses a problem.

Part of the reason for doing an app was to prove I can develop one, but if I can't tell anyone I wrote it, then developing the app seems pointless; I may be better off creating my own app and eating the loss in profit because I can get more work out of it, but of course, at the same time, I'm in desperate need of cash. I do have jobs lined up elsewhere, but I'll likely get paid faster through doing this specific job.

What factors should I be looking at when making a decision on whether or not I should take a job for money that I can't talk about?

  • 2
    Hi UltimaHedgie, here on Programmers we want questions that have applicability to other programmers so that they might learn from the answers. I've removed most of the info specific to your case while preserving the base question.
    – user8
    Sep 11, 2011 at 2:37
  • Sorry about that... I was trying to be as detailed as I can. If I have more questions in the future I'll try being more careful. Also, the title is a lot closer to what I was looking for. Sep 12, 2011 at 4:39

12 Answers 12


You need money, and if the conditions for this job are the you can't tell others, then don't. Whether it's in the contract or not, it's clear the work will end if you discuss it. You could take him to court, but that probably won't help much.

It is extremely common for subcontractors to work under non-disclosure agreements that mean you can't tell others about the actual work or customer, but you can usually talk about the type of work or project in more general terms.

If he's subcontracting you to someone else, well it's up to those two what they charge and pay for.

I suggest you look for other work. Ask them upfront for permission to include it in your portfolio, and say why; some will be happy for a bit of extra publicity. Others will say no, and that's fine. If you're really short of cash, stay with this guy but start looking now. In any case you're gaining a lot of useful experience.

  • I've already started looking, and I've grabbed several jobs (mostly less than 10 hours per week, but they're -hourly-; I'm already making more than I am with this guy). I do plan to keep him for a little while, though... mostly so I can get money within the next couple weeks, before my additional oDesk cashflow starts coming in. Then I won't quit on him; I'll just raise my price. Sep 12, 2011 at 4:23

I'd been doing work for him quite a bit before I mentioned that I was going to set up my portfolio website soon (this was about two weeks ago) at which point he told me (for the first time ever) that he does not let anyone know who works for him. He even managed to get me a job with someone else who used his system, but the catch was that I had to work THROUGH him. I couldn't go directly to the other guy. It should be noted that he got me this job BEFORE telling me that he didn't let anyone know who worked for him.

If he didn't mention it before you started, and it's not in the relevant contract, then it's tough bananas for him. You can't just add terms into an agreement in the middle.

Secondly, it's extremely fishy. I'd be very suspect of anyone who wants to maintain secrecy about who they employ.

  • 2
    Tough bananas is right, but... Even if you're not under NDA, being sued will cost you time, money and aggravation even if you prevail.
    – Blrfl
    Sep 10, 2011 at 16:28
  • @Blrfl: That's assuming he is willing to invest the time and money to possibly succeed.
    – back2dos
    Sep 11, 2011 at 8:48
  • He didn't really add it into the middle. He just never said anything, so I just assumed that it didn't matter. It wasn't until I mentioned my portfolio website that he even brought it up. I understand his logic. If he tells other people, other people who use the same script as him would like to hire me to make mods so they can make more profit. He's interested in getting more jobs for me, but only by outsourcing, so he can charge more and make a pretty penny for my work (I still got paid what I quoted). As far as I'm concerned, his logic is driving me away. Sep 12, 2011 at 4:34

This guy already sounds like trouble. Get out early, before you end up doing a lot of work you might not get paid for.

The real question is, how easy was it to get work in the first place? It doesn't sound like you're hurting for other work too much, so don't feel like this is the only job you're going to get off of oDesk and accept contracts with more reasonable conditions. Don't be blinded by the money, and in future jobs, mention your portfolio site upfront and negotiate a more reasonable way to be able to list your previous work.

You mentioned rates like $15/hr. That's not a lot of money in programming, and keep in mind that once you've built up a portfolio site comprised of several individual jobs, you'll not only have more experience under your belt, but have the outward facing prior work to justify being able to charge higher rates.

  • I've been hurting for work before. Mostly its been a series of blunders, though, that led to it... I've got enough rep on oDesk to get more jobs, but I hadn't been looking because I already had a big job I was devoting a lot of time to. Now I've picked up several jobs that should get me quite a bit more. And yes, I've lost money on this guy, too, but I've been trying to be more careful recently. For the $15/hr, I originally was aiming for $20, but I decided to drop it down... as my portfolio grows and its easier for me to get jobs, I'll gradually raise my price. Sep 12, 2011 at 4:15
  • I didn't accept your question, but I really liked your answer. I am going to get out quickly. I'll still do a couple more things this week, and maybe next week, until additional work starts to sink in and I get paid for the jobs I'm picking up. And I'm continuously looking through oDesk daily now to find more. And yes, I will gradually keep raising my price; the reason I brought it back down is because I tried charging one guy I was working with hourly and he didn't like it, so I figured I'd be better off going a little lower until I had more stuff to show off. Sep 12, 2011 at 4:37
  • You sound like you've got the proper attitude. Good luck with your future jobs! Sep 12, 2011 at 8:46

It sounds fishy to me.

Part of the reason he doesn't want anyone to know I've worked for him is because his website uses an application he paid a lot of money for.

That doesn't make sense to me. I can understand (but not necessarily agree) if he wants to keep it secret what technologies he uses. But you should be able to say something like "made extensions to an application in PHP" on your resume; without mentioning the application itself.

One thing to consider is that every secret has a lifetime. The software he bought may give him a competitive edge now, but that edge won't last forever. So you might have some negotiation space there, too.


  • He's not really keeping a secret about the technology--he's keeping a secret that I know how to make modifications to it. Theoretically, I could go up and ask someone else if they wanted me to make a mod, but without proof, it doesn't help. Its a competition issue; the application is pre-built, and any extensions are limited and cost a lot of money. Sep 12, 2011 at 4:10

I can understand not being allowed to talk about the specific technology or work that you're doing (NDAs are a part of the game when you're dealing with IP). However, to not be allowed to tell anyone that you're even working for him? That's just bad business (almost sounds like the guy's outsourcing you for his own job).

You're being used. Cut your ties now.

You might be getting a few extra bucks here and there with these projects but in the long run, they are going to do absolutely nothing for your career.

  • That's what I'm looking at... He really likes me, but I feel like he's just using me to make an extra buck. I don't think I'll cut my ties directly, though. I may do a couple things, but I think I'd rather start raising my price on him to make it more worth my time. If he's desperate to keep me, he'll pay. For him, though, he's cheap. Real cheap. So that'd pretty much be the end of it right there. Sep 12, 2011 at 4:20

Whatever the client has added ex post facto (that's the extent of my legal-ese) is inconsequential. The client can only add contractual obligations going forward. And, pay specific attention to how the client defines telling others about the work you do (for him) ...

I was in the intelligence branch of the US military so I don't question when someone asks for discretion. In this case, if it were me, I would do the work and take his money. That said, if I am not able to provide a link to the client's site for my portfolio, I would adapt:

Make a demo on your own site that performs like functionality to what you provided the client. You have displayed your skill and expertise without exposing anything directly linked to the client.

  • This is... interesting... not sure how I could do a Penny Auction demo on a blog/portfolio site, though (I didn't create the Penny Auction script, but I did make a number of mods). Sep 12, 2011 at 4:18
  • 1
    Maybe, for a blog, you explain how to build a Penny Auction. Code samples and some architectural descriptions can do nearly as much for you as a working demo.
    – IAbstract
    Sep 12, 2011 at 11:41
  • 1
    I suppose I could try and explain the mods I created for the Penny Auction site... (Again, clarifying, I didn't create the Penny Auction script itself; its a pre-existing script and I made modifications to enhance it, such as new types of auctions.) Sep 12, 2011 at 15:57

My first concern would be: Is this clause in the contract ?


  • you don't have a contract
  • the clause is not the contract

then it's invalid.

It seems fishy, really...

I would advise that you refrain from comfronting him, but move the hell out of here as soon as you can.

Also, I would avoid in your stead to speak about this experience with your future employers. Employers ask for verifiable references and this guy will undoubtely not back you up here, so there is no point in confusing future employers.

  • My only contract with him was the initial job on oDesk. Back then, I didn't have a reason to ask him, and I even mentioned it and the website on one of my unprofessional journal which is barely visited, so hardly anyone noticed a thing. I haven't confronted him on the issue yet. He still thinks I'm going to do work for him, and I may very well... mostly, though, I think I'll stick to doing work for him within the next week or two. Then I'll start raising my price. If he doesn't like it, tough. Sep 12, 2011 at 4:17

Offer three different prices:

  • Product is publicly credited to you (in the credits or wherever)
  • Product is white label permitting the customer to use it without crediting you
  • Product is white label and you may not even tell anybody, that you created it

By working on a project, that doesn't advertise you as the author, you're effectively losing money and time (which comes down to money in business), that you need to invest into advertisement of your services and acquisition of new customers.
The same applies yet again, if you're not even allowed to use the product as a reference for your skills and expertise.

Decide, what difference that makes to you and how that translates into money and then give your customer a choice.


Sometimes a developer starts a project, thinking he will not require any help. And, eventually, realize he/she can't get the project by itself.

Maybe he doesn't wants its customer company, to know that he required help, for "professional capacity", been too much proud. But, I also know a lot of companies, that hire a software company for an ammount of money, and eventually try to hire the developers, trying to pay a lot of less money (been "cheap").

Is there a contract (and clause) about your project participation ?

Consider 2 things, How are you going to deal with this particular project ("correction"), and how are you going to deal with future projects ("prevention").

I usually take snapshots of my projects, when I have to go to another, and ask for a "portafolio", I show the snapshots. I don't take code, because its "code theft".

I have been in job interviews where the interviewers insist in seen real code, sometimes its because they are testing if the candidate steals code.

I have been in a case where a company was customer of a previous Software Consulting employer, in which we where making a website. The customer & the consulting companies break the contract.

Months later, I was call by the customer, when I already left the consulting company, and, in the job interview they want me to get the source code of the project. I asked them I don't have it, but I could make a new better website. They didn't want, and Insist If I know someone else that they could get the source code. I leave inmediatly.

Hope it helps.


Draft a line/section for your resume that describes the work you are currently doing without giving any specific details about the employer. Something like "Developing iPhone apps", "Constructing and maintaining a retail web site using javascript", etc.

If you want to be on the safe side send it to your current employer for comments but do not allow him to stall or veto the description altogether.


Sounds to me like you need to add the job to your resume in vague, general terms with Redacted in the space where you would normally say who you were working for, then when you're asked about it at an interview, you can be all mysterious and say that you are bound by contract not to say who you were working for.

It would certainly make you stand out, but whether that is stand out in a good way or not will depend on who you are applying to. *8')


Have your cake and eat it too.
Build the application... He gets a "real", full functional, branded version... You put an anonymous, "MyCompany.com", version on your portfolio & website.

He gets no mention, no credit, no contact. You get your portfolio and example project to show.

I plan on re-building a website for my work... my demo and practice stuff is currently 100% "MyCompany.com" and 100% not any way linked to the actual work - other than my name on it. Once I get going with it a bit more, I will start moving actual content, company logo, etc over... but it's still my work. I'll remove all links if requested, but it's still MY portfolio.

Caveate: this all depends on the contract between you two. But I would be very hard pressed to believe that the contract forbids you from listing work experience on your resume, even if it is anonymous.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.