Due to recent events at the university where I'm studying, where a server was hacked and the proffessional reputation of a couple of students seriously damaged, I've come to realize how much needed is an education about the ethics of our profession. As far as I know, there's no curricula in any university (well, perhaps the M.I.T. or something like that) that offers even a small subject about what are the best ways to behave with regard to your subordinates, pairs, coworkers, or your boss; and in order to correctly manage the responsibilities that we inherit due to our jobs.

Our orientation is basically a technical one. Most of the people that come out of college (at least this one) with a degree in Software Engineering are glorified programmers, only with a superficial knowledge about what being an Engineer really is, and with absolutely no concience of the profound implications of the work that they will be performing. Who's to blame for that? Well, on one hand, the proffessors that call themselves as such, but are anything but because they do not teach anything. On the other hand, society itself and the kind of knowledge and values the students receive prior to their entrance at college.

We're in the age of information, people. The world revolves around computers and IT. If it were to dissappear, major shit would hit the fan. We're at the heart of that. There's not a chance that we can ignore the ethics and morality associated to our job when we are the ones that have the power and the responsibility.

Spiderman's uncle was right.. and also a little corny

This can't be an issue left to the student's good will, or perhaps to the fear that if someone finds out about what you did, there could be serious consecuences. That's what an environment based on fear and law enforcement would do. We're talking about an environment that should promote a change in the inside, and the awareness that IT is about computers, but also about the way those computers are used by the people. An environment where a student should be able to have mentors and examples to follow when it comes down to the proper and correct ways to use the power at hand. Today, we have almost none, unless we search outside of college.

Some people would think that the students should be screened previously, so that only the "ethically correct" may access that knowledge and wisdom (I swear someone told me just that yesterday.. couldn't believe what I was hearing). Some sort of thinking that "bad apples don't spoil the good ones". I obviously don't believe in that approach. Mostly because everyone should have the chance to prove themselves that they're worthy and able to be more than what they are. As Sartre stated: Freedom is what you do with what's been done to you. It's eventually your decision to change. And also because the institutions we would rely on to make that kind of screening are already spoiled, so there's no point in trying to let only the good ones in, while there's corruption inside already. The institution must be changed the other way around, from its base, all the way up.

The episode that happened in the recent months was not an act of someone who was evil, just naive. Here, right now, all of this should be a catalyst for change, not only for the people involved, but also for the institution itself. Some of those lives that were involved could be ruined because of the mistakes that have been made. We ought to learn from this. Not merely to abide to the law, that's just fear at work. We should learn to be responsible for our actions, and to understand the consecuences that those actions may provoke. And above all, we should learn to take care of the people that's involved. It's not ethically correct to save our butts and let our fellow partners go down, on fear that we could also go down, when we could've done something about that. That goes for the professors/managers as well as for the plain students/workers, but mostly to those that have the power to do something. And this not only applies whenever something goes wrong and heads are lining up to be beheaded.. it also applies when you're designing a piece of software that may influence the lives of millions of people and you decide that testing won't be neccesary, or that the cheaper alternative will do because you really don't care. Or merely to treat your coworkers the right way they deserve to be treated, and they deserve not to be treasoned. Because that people will be there for you in order to give help and support, no matter what. Unless you choose to go with a higher power and leave them behind. In that case, you've chosen your path, but it's not the one I'd like to walk.

Comments (3)

On February 21, 2010 at 12:02 PM , Anonymous said...

[applause mode on] I'm with you! [applause mode off]
No se como alguien todavía puede respira en ese ambiente.

On February 22, 2010 at 12:03 AM , Néstor Daniel Altamirano said...

We don't.. we are holding our breath 'till the end.. :)

On March 1, 2010 at 9:02 PM , Olga said...

Por lo que veo se trata de la (falta de) Ética en la Informática. Y de (la falta de) enseñanza de la ética en las universidades técnicas. Es un tema complicado porque lo que decís de tu ambiente laboral y estudiantil se podría decir, me parece, de cualquier otro ambiente laboral y escolar: la falta de ética es moneda corriente.
Pero incluirla en la currícula implica correr el riesgo de que esa materia -así como la de educación sexual- caiga en manos de miembros del clero (y las de prevención de la drogadicción en manos de la policía)... y creo que vas a estar de acuerdo en que ésa no es la solución.
Vos usás la expresión "éticamente correcto" que me hace pensar en lo "políticamente correcto". Más de una vez lo que me pareció éticamente correcto -hablo del ambiente escolar donde trabajo- no resultó ser lo más correcto desde el punto de vista político y así es como voy peregrinando de trabajo en trabajo ya que no puedo pasar demasiado tiempo sin respirar... y esto tiene que ver con algo que leí sobre Bill Gates en el libro "Modernidad líquida", algo que me consoló bastante y que prometí compartirlo con vos...
Pero más allá de las semejanzas con los otros ambientes laborales, el desafío que la informática pone a los ambientes laborales tradicionales es, me parece, de otra índole, por la velocidad que te permite la informática, que acelera y agudiza los procesos, destartalando y erosionando más rápidamente el obsoleto sistema burocrático de la democracia local.
No sé quién va a ganar la pulseada. Si la informatización vino para quedarse, espero que de una buena y santa vez salte en mil pedazos este obsoleto y kafkiano sistema de gobierno que tenemos. Espero vivir para verlo y hay que seguir peleando.

Felicitaciones por las reflexiones, tus preocupaciones filosóficas dignifican tu condición de técnico.

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