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"Parakilas, 38, who now works as a product manager for Uber, ..."

So from one reckless company that doesn't give a damn about the law to the next. Who teaches developers that it's okay to work for anyone as long as the tech is cool and the salary is great?




> Who teaches developers that it's okay to work for anyone as long as the tech is cool and the salary is great?

Who teaches them otherwise?

Absent parental/primary-school-instilled ethics, rather a lot of engineers operate in a bubble of like-minded (and similarly-employed) people, making large amounts of money, and are often insulated (voluntarily, deliberately, or accidentally) from the impact of their work.

What could be changed to improve on that situation? I've heard simplistic suggestions to "sue the C-class until they learn/abandon the incredibly lucrative profit motive", "fire/imprison engineers whose changes harm people", and "make the bridge-builder stand under bridge they built" (whatever that means in a software context). Those seem utopian. What tangible, plausible changes can be made to improve on developer accountability (for their work) and discernment (about prospective employers)?


Make your new hires watch the multiple camera feeds and lidar of that woman being run over again and again until they really really understand that they're working on life-critical systems.


That might help if you're making something that, if broken/misused, can directly physically harm people.

What about if you're making a social media app, and the ethics are less clear-cut? It's not like you can show every new hire footage of Trump and drive home the negative impact of data mining/sharing--the causal link is tenuous, the viewer might sympathize politically, or they just might not care about politics.

Ethics in the abstract is very hard to teach; object lessons are easy.


Even nerds understand that one painful social experience can have lasting negative effects.

It’s blinders. Plain and simple. I’ve worked with too many developers who will pander for money. A few that tried to shame me for not being on board (my life skills tell me calling someone a whore in a team meeting is a bad career move but it doesn’t stop me from staring at them and thinking it). When enough money is on the line principles get set aside. We like to think our cohort are above this sort of thing but the evidence clearly doesn’t support it.


I think a lot of software engineers (past me included) are genuinely persuaded that tech really is going to change the world for better and that it’s the way to do good social changes, because “politics is too complicated”.

Then the corporate koolaid of come and tell you you’re doing the most important thing in the world and you just eat it.


Well, the reason is that people in general aren't often ethical, when they seek to benefit personally. It's not taught; it's the default setting.

I wish a little philosophy and ethics were part of the curriculum. This would not be to inculcate normative values, but to help eng students clarify what they believe, and what the implications are.

That said, most engineers I've met who work on sketchy stuff are either naive, apathetic, or suffer from massive cognitive dissonance.

The latter will too often regurgitate the self-justifying language of the business people in their companies.

Ever listen to ad tech people spew absurdities about people wanting to be engaged with "their" brands? How about the justifications for massive data collection and analysis - targeted ads are so much better for people. Pfft.

Then there are, say, NSA engineers who convince themselves that what they do is necessary, if illegal. That said, I saw a lot of NSA LinkedIn profiles that swapped out NSA for DoD a few years back.

Company leaders tend to hand employees ideas and the slogans to repeat to themselves and others. The internal spin is huge and insidious.

IMHO


My undergrad Computer Engineering curriculum as far back as the mid 90’s offered a dedicated “social and ethical issues in computing” course, which included not only ethics but the societal issues around hacking, copyright, automation, robots, etc. Do these courses no longer exist? I think tech professionals ought to agree to Do No Harm and be held accountable when they do. Problem is the vague and debatable definition of “harm”.


Every ABET accredited degree (CS and/or CE) has a minimum requirement for ethics courses. The software industry just doesn't have a minimum requirement for accredited degrees (or any degrees at all, for that matter).


I actually know Sandy and he’s a conscientious guy who cares about this stuff. He’s a good dude who wants to make positive change by being in the conversation.


There were many people working on the Manhattan project who then later became nonproliferation advocates. I personally would rather that people feel like they can work for companies that have made mistakes and voice their opinions about where things should go. It would be pretty hard to find out what is happening at companies if there weren't former employees talking about it.


> So from one reckless company that doesn't give a damn about the law to the next.

Uber doesn't appear to have historically given a damn about the law, but AFAIK it has historically given a damn about its users. Facebook, OTOH, doesn't appear to be giving a damn about its users.

As for the law: there are plenty of unjust laws out there; I respect someone who fights unjust laws such as the taxi monopolies. I don't respect someone who fights just laws.


Why should Facebook give a damn about their users? Users are the raw material. It’s like asking a car manufacturer to give a damn about the feelings of sheet metal or how emotionally satisfied door handles are.


You get to work with cool stuff and get paid money! Who cares about ethics, it's not like you suffer consequences on failure. (I'm not entirely sure the companies do either...)




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