Reasons why you should never steal code from your employer

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The punishment for lifting proprietary code related to high frequency trading from your old employer to take to a new role can be severe - Sergey Aleynikov was sentenced to eight years in prison for stealing from Goldman Sachs, while Samarth Agrawal received three years for his theft from SocGen.

Aside from the fact that stealing code is illegal, the question is whether the risk is worth the reward.

Firstly, there's the fact that in the HFT space, technology is constantly being updated, so the code you steal could easily be yesterday's news within a matter of months.

"What we are seeing is a technological arms race in the purest sense. One firm builds a state of the art tank and then another firm develops the technology to blow it up," John Greenan, global multi-asset connectivity manager at BNP Paribas Investment Partners, told TradeTech.

More to the point, by simply stealing code and then trying to reproduce it at a new employer, you'll be found out fairly quickly.

"Any new employer shouldn't want the code that you've written for your previous company. Instead they should draw on your experience of working on these kinds of projects to produce something better," says Bob Giffords, an independent banking and technology analyst. "The market is changing so rapidly that copying proprietary code for a new employer is not only illegal but it opens a firm up to huge trading risks. You could end up with a beast you can't control as well as criminal charges."

The hard and fast rule is that any code you write while employed by a particular bank will belong to the bank. Most firms make developers sign a copyright clause when they start, suggests Paul Hanley, director, information protection and security at KPMG.

"Banks are increasingly vigilant about ensuring employees don't steal their intellectual property," he says. "As well as contracts for their staff, they also have technical controls to identify when a data breach takes place. Failing that, they have few qualms about pursuing legal action if they suspect their proprietary code has been stolen."

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