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Ethics Encoded

As my time within Flatiron School’s immersive software engineering program nears the end I have found myself reflecting on my own personal values as a burgeoning junior developer and ethics within the tech industry. One of the most compelling aspects of entering the tech industry for me was how fast paced the growth is, the leaps in advancements within the field and the abundance of challenges to take on. However, there have been endless cases of the misuse of consumer data and social ramifications in the name of advancement within the industry that cause me to pause. What systems are we potentially participating and contributing in? How do these effect society and individuals? What is my role as a new developer within this industry? It also increasingly begs the question — why isn’t there a standardized code of ethics within the tech industry?

Impact in the real world

The conversation surrounding ethical technology creation and innovation has been rapidly growing within the tech workforce, public arena and political movements.

“Move fast and break things” is a now infamous Mark Zuckerberg motto that has taken on a sinister shade in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica fallout and Facebook’s impact in the genocide of the Rohingya people in Myanmar. Unfortunately, while those are two very public and extreme examples of failings of technology innovation having real world impact they are not alone.

The takeaway here should not be “all tech is evil” but that there is a large area for growth in ethical and responsible practices within the tech community. As budding developers we are one of the key positions to push and enact that change.

What can I do?

“[T]he one effective lever we have against tech companies is employee pressure. Software engineers are difficult to hire, expensive to train, and take a long time to replace.” — Maciej Ceglowski

In 2018 Google backed away from their A.I work with the Pentagon’s Project Maven after about 4,000 employees signed a petition demanding a “clear policy stating that neither Google nor its contractors will ever build warfare technology” and other employees resigned in protest. You can have an impact on the industry and your future company by participating and taking action in the conversation surrounding a commitment to ethical technology.

  • Research the companies that you are applying to — what are their values? What are they building?
  • Speak up and take action when something does not feel right
  • Educate yourself on the conversations taking place and participate
  • Consider donating money or time to an organization doing relevant work

A wonderful example of developers taking action within their community is the Never Again Tech movement which was created as a joint effort by 50 tech workers who helped create, organize and manage the support of the below pledge. This was created out of the desire to build solidarity within the tech community through a public commitment to work against a U.S government database identifying people by race, religion or national origin the below pledge was published in 2016.

Never Again Tech pledge

Although the period for public signature collecting for the Never Again Tech pledge has ended the group’s organizers has further resourceson other action that can be taken to make a difference on this issue.

Questions to ask yourself as a creator

The Harvard Business Review suggests that the term “MVP” should evolve from “minimally viable product” to “minimally virtuous product”. While the tech industry moves fast and production sprints are often as quick as three weeks it is highly important to take the time to examine and reflect on the potential implications of the product that is being made. The below is a list provided by HBR to help guide that process.

As I exit this software engineering program I am confident that I will have gained a set of skills that will help me accomplish many personal projects and goals. However, at every step I will be challenged with — “Yes, I can do this but should I?”

The industry can do better and we can help.


The Tech Humanist Manifesto

Never Again Tech Pledge

Build a Better Monster talk

Markkula Center for Applied Ethics — Making an Ethical Decision app

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