Thursday, July 23, 2015

Why should I care about Kepler-452b?

Why should I care about Kepler-452b?NASA announced earlier today that they have identified a close cousin to Earth, named Kepler-452b. The sun it orbits is similar to ours. It's orbit is only a few days longer than ours. Being larger than earth, 452b's gravity is estimated to be about twice that of Earth. All the information we've received so far indicates it's the closest match ever found, but at 1,400 light-years away why should we care?

The Distance
Whenever distance is measured in thousands of light-years it's safe to assume nobody alive will live long enough to get there. Given our current top speed, a mission to this planet would take at least 25 million years. In fact, given that it's been less than 60 years since the first laser was invented there's no way any human message will reach Kepler-452b for over a thousand years, and it would take over a thousand more for a response to get back to Earth.

So if we can't send messages there and going there is impossible, at least for the foreseeable future, then why should we care?

Climate Change
With all the focus in recent years on climate change and debate about how much of it is within our control, the opportunity to observe a planet that is so similar to Earth and further along in it's evolution could be invaluable. Further study of Kepler-452b could provide valuable insight into how our own planet will change over the next thousand and million years.

Extraterrestrial Life
We may not be able to send them messages, but as we gather more information about Kepler-452b we hope to learn whether life has existed there. Considering it's similarity to Earth, this is the single greatest opportunity we've ever had to discover life on another planet. Even if we never meet them, just knowing they exist could alter humanity's perspective towards our own existence.

One Small Step
Just as our voyage to the moon was just one small step in the great journey of space exploration, the discovery of Kepler-452b is an inspirational moment that can help to propel us forward towards further discovery. What other Earth-like planets might exist much closer that we simply haven't identified? Is it possible to create a method of communication or transportation faster than the speed of light, thereby opening up the possibility of reaching these far-off worlds.

If one thing is certain, it's that this news is just the beginning of an exciting new chapter in space exploration.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Why Your Employment Agreement is Unreasonable

Why Your Employment Agreement is Unreasonable Most employees don't bother reading the employment agreement. After all, if you're not planning on doing anything dishonest then it doesn't matter, right?

The problem is that many companies have a lawyer draft an agreement that gives them the most leverage possible under any circumstances knowing they can choose when and how to use it. This means employees who sign such an agreement WILL break that agreement whether they realize it or not. They are placing themselves at the mercy of a company which may not even be run by the same management a year from now.

Apparently I must point out that I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV. The information below is provided for educational purposes and should not be considered legal advice.

Intellectual Property
Here are some examples from an agreement I refused to sign this past week.
Employee recognizes that Intellectual Property relating to his/her activities while working for [Company] and conceived or made by him/her, alone or with others, within one year after termination of his/her employment, may have been conceived or made in significant part while employed by [Company].  Accordingly, Employee agrees that such Intellectual Property Rights shall be presumed to have been conceived during his/her employment with [Company] and are to be assigned to [Company] as [Company] Intellectual Property unless and until Employee has established the contrary.

This clause clearly states that the company owns any intellectual property created while employed with them and for a year after leaving the company. It shifts the burden of proof to the employee to show that they are the rightful owners of their work, even if that creation was done completely outside of work hours and without any company resources.

This might not be an issue for the majority of employees, but software developers often work on hobby projects and, in more than a few instances, hobby projects have turned into million-dollar ideas. This would also include the authoring of articles, books and videos. Good luck proving that they don't own it when you clearly signed an agreement stating otherwise.

How about that bit about owning what you create within a year of leaving the company? How in the world would they even know about it? Here's your answer.
Employee agrees to disclose promptly in writing to [Company] all Intellectual Property made or conceived by him/her for one (1) year after his/her employment terminates, whether or not he/she believes such Intellectual Property is subject to this Agreement, to permit a determination by [Company] as to whether or not the Intellectual Property should be the property of [Company].

By signing this agreement, you are no longer eligible to work for any company that requires signing a non-disclosure agreement, because you've already committed to disclosing anything you create to your previous employer for an entire year!

The clause below seems fairly standard and might look familiar.
During his/her employment with [Company], and for one (1) year thereafter, Employee will not participate, directly or indirectly, as a partner, officer, director, stockholder, consultant,  employee,  agent,  independent  contractor  or  otherwise,  in  any business  that  is directly or indirectly competitive with the business of [Company].

It's completely understandable that a company might want to keep their employees from taking all the training and inside knowledge they've gained during their employment to their competitor. One might even overlook the use of the word "indirectly" as a qualifier for which companies are considered competitors. This is a purposefully vague word that can be used to argue that virtually any company is a competitor in some indirect way. I find this especially concerning since there's no way of knowing what kinds of products or lines of business might be included for the purpose of competition by the time I leave the company.

The standard response to this concern is that the clause would never be upheld in court. My question is, why should I put myself in jeopardy of ever having to go to court in the first place?

No matter what the wording, it's always a good idea to get a lawyer to look over any agreement before you sign. Those clauses were put there for a reason, and as well-intentioned as the other party might be, intentions mean absolutely nothing if you're ever taken to court. Personally, I'd rather avoid the headache and expense of having to defend myself in court no matter how unenforceable the agreement might be. An honest employee agreement should make it clear what lines must not be crossed to avoid ever finding yourself in court.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Music City Code Conference - How it All Began

I started contemplating starting a new technical conference in January of 2013 a couple years after DevLink moved from Nashville to Chattanooga. I noticed relatively few Nashville area developers who had previously attended DevLink were unable to afford attending so far from home.

As I pondered the reasons for starting a new conference, I realized it had very little to do with attending training sessions. The most valuable aspect of technical conferences seemed to be people I met and interaction that took place. I started floating around the idea of creating a conference centered around interaction and registered the domain name DevInteraction.

The most important aspects of planning a conference are the date and location so I started investigating venues and creating a calendar of regional conferences. I quickly realized that hotels and convention centers were not only costly to rent, but often implement vendor restrictions which drive the cost up further. There were also very few breaks in the conference schedule where a new event wouldn't compete with an established one for speakers. I decided to focus on work and put conference planning on the back burner.

Over the next couple years the conference concept continued to evolved. While presenting at Code on the Beach, I mentioned the idea to the president, Paul Irwin. He pointed out that Nashville is the "Music City" and would make a great location for a destination conference. That got me thinking about all the music related gatherings that take place in the Nashville IT community and how we might include these types of events in a conference.

Fast forward to February of 2015 when John Kellar announced that he had decided to retire DevLink. All of the sudden there was a giant gap in the conference schedule, but we were in the midst of repairing major damage to our house from a water leak and planning an April wedding, so I had no bandwidth to take on a new project.

As luck had it, I found myself with extra free time after the wedding and decided it was now or never to get this new conference off the ground. The previous month I had served as a mentor and judge for an event at Lipscomb, which had given me the opportunity to start a conversation about hosting the conference there. From there the pieces started to fall into place.

DevLink had been held at the end of August and it just happened that Saturday, August 29th was available. I asked for advice from all the conference organizers I knew and most of them suggested starting small for the first year and focusing on quality over quantity, so we decided to limit registration. By the time we hammered out a budget, timeline and other major aspects we were already into late June with just over two months to recruit volunteers, set up social media, gather speaker submissions, solicit sponsors, create a schedule, launch a website, market the event, design shirts and order printed material such as signs and programs.

So that's where we're at now. We have been fortunate to receive guidance from many regional conference organizers (see board members below), but we still need quite a few volunteers and are working on recruiting both sponsors and speakers, but I'm optimistic that we can pull this together and put on a great first year!

Want to help out? Here are some easy ways everyone can help:
Follow @MusicCityCode on Twitter and retweet our announcements!
We also post updates to LinkedIn, Facebook and Google+.

Interested in speaking? Submit a session!
If speaking isn't your thing, we could certainly use your help as a volunteer.
Maybe your company would be interested in sponsoring.

A special thanks to our board members for their invaluable advice:
John Kellar (DevLink Founder & Executive Director)
Chad Green (Code PaLOUsa Conference Chair)
Chuck Bryant (Plugged In Board Member & BarCamp Organizer)
Jonathan Mills (Kansas City Developer Conference Director)
Lee Brandt (Kansas City Developer Conference Director)
Phil Japikse (Cincinnati Day of Agile Founder)
Jeffrey Strauss (St. Louis Days of .NET Principal Organizer)