Scott Hanselman

Can you show screenshots of an application you built for another company on your resume?

June 08, 2007 Comment on this post [10] Posted in Musings
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I got a great question in the mail today.

I'm writing to you because I thought I would give this question a shot, and you would probably know, or know someone I could ask. I realize there is a lot of gray spectrum in this question, but is there a simple answer? I don't know. Hence my email/message. Here goes.

I used to work for a company, I wrote a lot of dot net apps for an intranet. I took screen shots of the apps while I worked there. Can I display those screen shots on a resume page on my personal website with a brief description of the application? The apps have the company logo on them. Actual data can be blurred/marred via a paint program easily. Photos of anyone can also be blurred. My question is: Can I display, or give a visual of my previous applications that I have written to display the style and design of the application via a picture or photo? There would be no functionality, nor any secrets on how the application actually works beyond the type of technology used. At what point, if any, could someone post a screen shot of the application, with or without permission? Basically without infringing on copyrights etc.

I tried to keep it simple. I have spoken to some colleagues about this and no one can give me a clear cut answer. Any help or direction would be greatly appreciated.

Well, first, I'm not even close to being a lawyer. I don't even play one on TV. That disclaimer aside, I say this.

  • Consider if the app is public or not
    • If the app is accessible on the public Internet - yes.
    • If the app is an intranet only app - ask your original boss (ideally ask before you leave the job).
  • Make it clear what you did and didn't do.
    • Make sure you indicate CLEARLY if you worked on the UI. If you did NO WORK on the UI and your showing a screenshot, always err on the side of full disclosure. "Here's what it looked like; we had a great designer who wasn't me."
  • Is a screenshot going to add value?
    • If it's a visual thing, and you were a contract designer, you need to work these agreements into your contact ahead of time. If you're a non-UI component developer, then do you really need a screenshot? I'd consider using UML diagrams, state diagrams, data flow diagrams, etc.  Again you'd need to ask for permission to use these.
  • Use sample data
    • Don't take the chance of a screenshot of any real data and "obfuscate" it. I've learned that blurring images to hide data is not 100%, do don't even try it. Seriously. I've started redacting data by digital white/black-out. But for this kind of thing, don't take the chance. Use sample data.
  • Make it clear who paid for the application development.
    • You're not trying to say, "here's an app I wrote," but rather, "here's an app I was paid to work on." In this case, I think it's reasonable not only to ask for permission, but to include some kind of watermark indicating who holds the copyright on the application. If there was a UI designer, include their details as well.

Again, this is all opinion. Any techno-lawyers out there? What do you say, Dear Reader?

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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June 08, 2007 20:50
Very interesting. I have wondered about this exact question - I'm in the same boat.

I've not put screenshots online (yet, but have thought about it) but I have shown printed screenshots to potential employers at interviews. It seems to go down well. I mean, the employer is who you're really targetting, is it not?
June 08, 2007 20:55
As long as the company you're interviewing doesn't put you in a non-compete or competitive intelligence situation, I think physical screenshots are a good compromise.
June 08, 2007 23:58
Just do it. At the worse they will tell you not to. Don't inflate your importance. No one cares, and if they do, they will tell you to take it off if they ever see it amongst the billion other webpages in the world.
June 09, 2007 0:38
This is something I have dealt with in the past for projects. I wanted to preserve what I had learned to build the software for use later and also to show as a part of my experience. What I did was leverage the fact that I am working in .NET and did my research at home at night and did it all in C#. Then for my client, which required everything to be in VB.NET, I would take what I created at night and implement want I learned in VB.NET. I could then safely keep all of the software and working components and even blog about it. One bit of code was a custom sitemap provider and I posted about it here.

I find that by linking to my own blog posts about software I created from my resume or portfolio enhances a potential employers view of you.

Locally I know of many developers who maintain some pretty decent blogs and occasionally they post code snippets or even release full projects with the source. I know many other developers subscribe to these blogs. Later the developers who have read your blog may work with your potential employer and have good things to say about you before your first interview. They may have even used some of the code they downloaded from your website in one of their projects.

The only legal concern when I do this is is whether I signed a document which says everything I create, during work hours or not, belong to the company. That could cause some trouble. My current employer is sensitive about those IP so I just give them a heads up when I am doing a personal project which is remotely related to the applications we build here. And you can tell them any decent developer does some dabbling after hours. How else can you really learn and keep up?
June 09, 2007 0:58
I am not a lawyer (although I have bunch of lawyer relatives). If you're worried, I would say show the screenshots to an actual employer in an interview, but don't post them with your resume; and if you are going to work for a competitor I would limit it to hard copies or bringing your own laptop (not leaving them with copies). The company you are interviewing with probably isn't going to want to get in a position where they can be accused of stealing your former employer's GUI design, either -- so they may be more worried about this than you.
June 09, 2007 19:34
I've been interviewing many people lately for my team, and read dozens or more resumes. The ones with links to an actual websites, with an explanation "I did this, I was in charge of that" were the most interesting.
However, take notice that you do not link to things that suck.
Many times I saw a link, proudly presented within a resume. Opening the said website in my FF I coudnlt help notice the long list of errors in the Error Console, the bad layout, the huge __VIEWSTATE on stateless pages, not to mention a sql-injection friendly site that someone built, and bragged about the excellent multi-tier, super-tech implementations he shoved in.
So, references are a good thing, as long as their good references.

As for the law related issues, I'm no Lawyer, but I believe that a written consent from the employer/customer for whom you developed the app/site, should be enough.
June 10, 2007 5:26
A resume is not a portfolio. A portfolio would be used to highlight design skills, not general developer/coding skills. And screen shots can hide a thousand javascript errors, markup which renders terribly in FireFox or IE, and a layout which breaks down at any resolution below 1600x1200. All they show is that you have an eye for pretty design.

As you rightfully said, random screen shots tell you nothing about the application itself. Code samples and architecture diagrams are much more telling. Submitting these with a resume makes for a better impression IMO.

However, I think its prudent to leave a lot of the technical info on past projects for the interview. That way the interviewer can ask about the architecture pieces they find most important and properly match their needs with the candidates skills/experience.
June 11, 2007 13:06
Yeah, I think that a couple of people nailed it here. Don't include screenshots on your resume!

Assemble a portfolio with all of these screenshots and bring them into your interview. Don't post this portfolio on-line, but do keep a printed version and a version on CD. When you apply for a job that requires samples of your work, then send along a copy of the zip file or CD or a printed version in your e-mail / snail mail.

The legality of the issue is completely dependent on the terms of your employment contract. However, under normal contracts, you should be allowed to at least show off some screenshots to demonstrate your work. Of course, the usual disclaimers of data and quality apply!
June 11, 2007 19:55
I have wondered about the same type of thing, but more with design documents, technical documents and applications instead of UIs. The other question that I have that comes up is if you develop something on your own during bench/down time. Should you say that "here's an app I was paid to work on?"
June 12, 2007 21:09
Isn't bringing design and technical documents that you were paid by someone to work on a 'trade secret'? Isn't there some type of copyright that protects that information? What I'm wondering also is, since you can't copyright the idea of an applicaiton for a specific function like Asset Invetory. From my experience, my assumption is that would be pretty generic. How much of the program that you wrote while someone paid to you do it is protected as non-disclosable via verbal, written, or otherwise?

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.