Just Say “No” to NDAs (Usually)

There is a fantastic article in ITWorld.com and a complimentary blog post by JPL Consulting that discusses NDAs and why you shouldn’t ask a developer to sign one.

I found the article insightful and the blog post spot-on in that it mirrors my own thinking and some of the thoughts I shared in my book, Information Age Management.

The JPL Consulting post mentions that your idea is probably not so unique that it requires an NDA – and that by signing this NDA, a developer is agreeing not to work on a wide range of types-of-projects that are his bread and butter. It also points out that starting a conversation this way gets your relationship with your developer off on the wrong foot.

I couldn’t agree more. In Information Age Management, I explain how to find a good developer and outsource a project to him or her. I also say that you should not ask the developer to sign an NDA. If your idea is so unique, get a patent. That’s what patents are for. Otherwise, you risk losing the best developers and looking more than a little amateurish.

There’s also an excellent section of the JPL Consulting post that says “NDAs Have Their Place.” Indeed they do! As the post points out, NDAs are great for very specific projects. They are also important – critical, even – when your developer will be dealing with private customer data. But oddly, entrepreneurs seem to ask for NDAs when they have what they consider to be unique and fascinating ideas but forget to ask for one when their customer data is on the line.

You can read the article in ITWorld.com here: http://www.itworld.com/software/268152/will-write-code-wont-sign-nda

and the blog post by JPL Consulting is here: http://blog.jpl-consulting.com/2012/04/why-i-wont-sign-your-nda/.

They’re each worth a read.

Wonderful News: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Opens Up About Being Open-Source

Open Source Initiative KeyholeThis is great news for open-source advocates and in a small but meaningful way, for the U.S. government and citizens. Today, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a United States government federal agency, announced that it uses open-source software and will contribute its source code back to the community. You really don’t get much better than that when it comes to government accountability and contribution in this digital age.

From the CFPB website:

Until recently, the federal government was hesitant to adopt open-source software due to a perceived ambiguity around its legal status as a commercial good. In 2009, however, the Department of Defense made it clear that open-source software products are on equal footing with their proprietary counterparts.

We agree, and the first section of our source code policy is unequivocal: We use open-source software, and we do so because it helps us fulfill our mission. [Emphasis Original]

The post also gives a good basic explanation of what source code is, what open-source means, and why it matters. This is definitely a good read. You can find the full post here: http://www.consumerfinance.gov/blog/the-cfpbs-source-code-policy-open-and-shared/

WebCams Are Silly

In my book, Information Age Management, I point out webcams are not a good idea in an office environment. I bring this up in the appendix, where I discuss VOIP and Skype amongst many other technologies that help maintain excellent workflow between colleagues who do not share an office.

Now, I love Skype – even though it’s not Open-Source software. I love it not only because it it offers IM (which is what productive teams tend to use as their go-to communications medium, at least at present) and Voice (which means you get to play Charlie of Charlie’s Angels), as well as the critical-but-underused screen-sharing, but because it encrypts these services. I discuss this encryption and how much you can trust it in my book and in The Technology Appendix. The upshot is that I would prefer a FOSS alternative. But until some of the FOSS alternatives are robust enough, I’ll stick with Skype. Oh: I also love that you can get a phone number with Skype. That means that I can use the same setup with Skype and non-Skype users alike.

But Skype can also be used for video conferencing. In fact, when I recently suggested a Skype call with someone I’d just met, my friends had a friendly laugh at my expense and I was told that “to Skype” is a euphamism for being naughty on a webcam, as Urban Dictionary describes best.

So if webcams in the office create an unnecessary burden on workers, offer nothing in return (as I assert), and have such a naughty reputation, why are they still here? Personally, I blame the Hollywood directors who inspired a generation of well-meaning but technologically-challenged managers to believe that ‘video phone is the wave of the future’ or some such nonsense and left it at that. These managers might do well to read my book.

Fortunately, someone agrees with me – at least as far as webcams and Skype are concerned:

Ultimately Skype will be an unstoppable force in screen sharing. … It is interesting to see how screen sharing is hugely important for a productive long-distance meeting, and video (of a talking head) is actually not.

That is a re-quote attributed to Jan Schultink (@JanSchultink) from this blog post (emphasis added).