re: The Programmer's oath VIEW POST

re: I need to dig deeper into this and watch the whole series of videos to come to any complete conclusions. But on the subject of ethics in software ...

To clarify on point 7) "others can cover for me, and that I can cover for them". Bob Martin seems to talk about shared ownership. He warns about "silos of knowledge". If one teammate goes down, the others are able to take over. In the video, Bob talks about pair programming as one way to solve this problem.

I agree with the fact that without an entity that would be powerful enough to enforce those rules, they are just concepts that won't change anything to malicious people.

To come back on your first purpose of a code of ethics. Do you believe that such codes should/could be taken to a higher level ? Some professions have those entities to enforce their rules on a large scope.

With that being said, it seems to me that it would be incredibly complicated to achieve this. It could probably also make it harder for people without a compute science background to break into the field.


As far as point 7 goes, if you need to watch a series of videos (even though they all are only a couple of minutes), it seems like the text needs to be improved. People shouldn't walk away with multiple, vastly different interpretations after reading the text.

As far as codes of ethics go, yes, it's complicated. But I think there are a few approaches and facets.

The first facet is professional organizations. The leading global organizations are the ACM and IEEE (specifically the Computer Society). More local organizations also have a role. All of these organizations should have a code of ethics that is clear and enforceable, with membership contingent on following it. This code should be an absolute baseline for things that we agree on, as a global community of software engineers. Local organizations may have other local considerations. In addition to ethics, I think these organizations also have a role in taking policy positions, connecting professionals and experts in various topics to governments, and perhaps even lobbying.

I think the second aspect is one or more aspirational code of ethics. Perhaps even multiple aspirational codes of ethics. The Software Engineering Code of Ethics and Professional Practice is one example. Robert Martin's is another example, although it would be better if it was less ambiguous. These are the types of things that should be taught in schools, from universities to bootcamps. Ideally, it would be nice if professional organizations could normalize on these aspirations for the profession, but these would capture the things that we strive for or give us a framework for making decisions, but no one is bound to them. I can see some things that start in aspirational code eventually being fleshed out, discussed, and rolled up into an enforceable code for members of a professional organization.

The final aspect is licensure. In the US, NCEES does have a Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam for Software. However, there are problems. It's hard to qualify for - there's no good FE exam for recent graduates of many computer science or software engineering programs, it's hard to find PEs to work under, there's no real motivation in many areas to even consider the exam. I'm opposed to blanket licensure of software engineers, but I can see the need for software engineers working in at least some industries (I'm thinking mostly life-critical systems - aerospace, automotive, medical devices, etc.) to be licensed, or at least a licensed software engineer being required to oversee the work of non-licensed software engineers.

I do think that we need to be aware of people who come from non-traditional educational backgrounds - university education in non-technical fields, graduate certificate programs, self-taught individual, people who complete bootcamps, etc. I've had the ability to work with people who fall into these categories and many are great engineers. They also need to be taught these basic ethical concepts and frameworks for understanding and dealing with implications of the software they make. Even outside of critical systems, you can point to ethical challenges around software companies and the products they make - Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Uber, and so on.

However, for people who come from these non-traditional educational backgrounds, there may be a set of industries or environments where these people cannot work or can only work in a limited capacity and you must have formal education in software engineering, computer science, or computer engineering to achieve higher career levels. Again, I'm mainly looking at areas with life-critical systems being developed.

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