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The Ethical Dilemmas Today's Programmers Face 183

snydeq (1272828) writes "As software takes over more of our lives, the ethical ramifications of decisions made by programmers only become greater. Unfortunately, the tech world has always been long on power and short on thinking about the long-reaching effects of this power. More troubling: While ethics courses have become a staple of physical-world engineering degrees, they remain a begrudging anomaly in computer science pedagogy. Now that our code is in refrigerators, thermostats, smoke alarms, and more, the wrong moves, a lack of foresight, or downright dubious decision-making can haunt humanity everywhere it goes. Peter Wayner offers a look at just a few of the ethical quandaries confronting developers every day. 'Consider this less of a guidebook for making your decisions and more of a starting point for the kind of ethical contemplation we should be doing as a daily part of our jobs.'"
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The Ethical Dilemmas Today's Programmers Face

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  • by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Monday April 21, 2014 @06:34PM (#46810313) Journal

    I've been in a situation where I pretty much had to lie or lose my job. This was just after the dot-com crash in California and new gigs were hard to find and I had a family to support. If I were single, I'd tell them to shove it and find a gig in the north east, which still had "legacy" openings at the time. But that wasn't a real option.

    I had knots in my stomach over that conundrum; it's not pleasant. I could relate a little bit with the dude in Les Miserables who had to choose between theft or starvation.

    Even now I have to often live with foolish choices by PHB's simply because they are the boss. It may not be "unethical", but often it's bone-headed unprofessionalism. I try to CYA as much as possible, but sometimes you just have to shut up and play the game if you want the rewards of the game. The work world is messy Dilbertism in most orgs.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 21, 2014 @06:47PM (#46810405)

    Because most employers are not willing to pay the higher prices that people with such standard requirements would demand. Most companies want cheap replaceable code monkeys, not professionals with a code of ethics.

  • Content protection (Score:4, Informative)

    by dentin ( 2175 ) on Monday April 21, 2014 @07:07PM (#46810621) Homepage

    I've seen many requests for objectional software in the years I've been working, but some of the worst have been in the guise of 'content protection'. One of the most heinous was DTCP for automotive use, with intent to lock everyone completely out of the sensor network and on-board electronics. My standard response for this one eventually became:

    1) I will quit before I allow myself to work on DTCP;
    2) I will not support any engineer in the company who works on DTCP projects;
    3) I will not support any project or library that a DTCP project depends on, or makes use of;
    4) I would rather see the company close due to lack of work than have it pursue projects of this sort.

    I've never been told to shut up and go back to work; granted, I had a long history with the company and was worth substantially more to them as an employee than a few paltry one-shot crypto projects.

    I recognize that most people don't feel like they have the job security to make demands of this sort; however, I do, and I fully intend to make use of my tiny bully pulpit when situations arise that demand it.

Executive ability is deciding quickly and getting somebody else to do the work. -- John G. Pollard