If you write code for a living, there’s a chance that at some point in your career, someone will ask you to code something a little deceitful – if not outright unethical.
This happened to me back in the year 2000. And it’s something I’ll never be able to forget.
As developers, we are often one of the last lines of defense against potentially dangerous and unethical practices.
The more software continues to take over every aspect of our lives, the more important it will be for us to take a stand and ensure that our ethics are ever-present in our code.
Since that day, I always try to think twice about the effects of my code before I write it. I hope that you will too.
I think most software engineers want their software to help people and are very concerned by the idea that it might hurt someone. For example, a developer I know is working on a scholarship application form, and he expressed anxiety that a bug in his code might cause someone to lose out on thousands of dollars in tuition money. Consider how much more concerned we should be when hurting people is not an unfortunate bug but the goal of the software in question.
The title of this blog is a bit of ha ha only serious, but given the state of the world at present, now is the time to really think as an industry about the serious part of it.
Maciej Cegłowski has been calling on developers at large tech firms like Google and Facebook to think seriously about how their behavioral data could be used to hurt people, and asking employees to push for better protection of users’ privacy.
I think asking these questions is very important. It’s also very important as individuals to remember that you have a choice. If your company asks you to do something that hurts people, you can say no. I can’t promise you won’t lose your job, but making sure that you are helping people and not hurting them is more important.
You can find yourself another job.
You can’t find yourself another soul.
In the words of Solzhenitsyn:
You can resolve to live your life with integrity. Let your credo be this: Let the lie come into the world, let it even triumph. But not through me.
Addendum (Nov. 18): Please consider reading and signing the Manifesto for Responsible Software Development.