How to be an Ethical, Conscientious Computer Programmer

The reason most people get into coding is through a love of technology combined with creating something from nothing. As a child you may have started by copying code from magazines or simply got interested through modifications, console commands & cheat codes, and other gaming hacks. Problem solving, logic and more factors combine to make programming something that can begin as a child and end up a life-long career. 

 

Programmers usually aren’t concerned with marketing, budgets, or other areas of a corporation. It is generally the creation of applications, tools, and other pieces of software that is the main core of their work.

 

Are there areas that programmers should consider though further down the line? 

Long term ramifications

When you start planning your new project do you ever think about what effects it could have in the future? Of course, most programmers wouldn’t choose to take on an unethical project but it is hard to tell how things might pan out later on. If your software is used for an unethical purpose is it your fault or your employers?

 

Of course, it isn’t just the ethical use of code to consider. There are many ways to be more conscientious in your line of work. There are many roles you could take that would put you on differently perceived sides of the fence. 

Military usage

Is it patriotic to write code and algorithms for the military and air force knowing that people will be attacked on results made from your programming? Or is it unethical? Used correctly these algorithms could save human lives but used wrongly and the data becomes skewed and targets are made out of the wrong people. Below are some more examples of where some form of ethics comes into play. 

Cybersecurity

Cybercrime is a growing problem. Many coders learn computer programming in University, and why not? It provides more knowledge onto the solid base you no doubt started with. It is where you take those skills next that matters. One area that a programmer could head into is cybersecurity.

 

Programming defenses and ways to defeat hackers and viruses not to mention DDoS attacks and worse should be an ethical option for a coder. Of course, your employers might ask you to use your skills to hack your way into a competitor’s networks or even other governments. 

Hacking for good causes

White hat hackers perform a role in cybersecurity. Generally, a white hat will use their skills to test for weaknesses in systems. Basically, they are paid to hack systems by the actual owners so that any vulnerabilities or problem areas can be fixed before anyone tries to exploit them.

 

Black hats are the opposite. These are hackers that attack networks for a variety of reasons. They may have started out hacking systems for fun (green hats) to see if they could do it. Others attack maliciously (blue hats), and then there are the ones motivated by money; the black hats. There are gangs and individual hackers who write malicious software to target victims for personal information or to extort money.

 

Black hats often switch sides and end up working in cybersecurity. Sometimes because they decided ethically it was the right thing to do and other times because they got caught. 

Good causes vs corporations

As a programmer, you could also consider who your employer is. Would it be more ethical to work for a charitable or environmentally-minded employer, as opposed to a big corporation using dubious supply methods from third world countries? Of course, most people would answer yes. But, what if your role was writing internal software for Human Resources and apps for training? Would you really have any ethical issues to answer for? 

The environment

You may not realize that another area of being a conscientious and thoughtful programmer is how much you are affecting the environment. Sometime in the future, the internet is likely to end up the biggest producer of carbon emissions on our planet. There is lots of talk now about green code or clean coding. It is simply about writing code that will use the least amount of energy and put the minimum strain on servers and other systems. According to the National Cyber Security Centre in the UK, clean coding leads to better security of systems and platforms too.

Summary

Being a programmer used to be simple. You needed the skills and the brains for sure, but you didn’t need to worry if you were green enough. Now it is clear that more discussions are needed between programmers and developers about ethics and morals. When you are programming those loot boxes for the next big game is it right that you are weighting it so people keep spending money? Especially when you know how little chance they have of getting anything good. Coding can be used for so many good purposes but also for the wrong ones and there are many areas that programmers will need to consider as the world becomes less clear.

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