What are our responsibilities as software developers beyond writing code? 🌎💻

October 03, 2020

  • career
  • ethics

Originally posted on DEV

Discuss:

  • How has tech shaped our society? Your life?
  • What ethical responsibilities do we have as software developers?
  • What are ways you keep yourself accountable in your day to day?

Today, it’s impossible to think of a world without any influence of code.

I grew up in the age of rising social media. In 2009, I created my first social media account via Facebook. I was only in middle school.

I know. Middle school feels too early.

Surprisingly though, most of my classmates were on Facebook and I simply didn’t want to miss out. I still remember the initial feelings of wariness I had when first registering my profile. Should I use a fake name? Should I even have my full name on the web? Is this safe?

I was cautious. But with an easy click of a button, I entered a new world and that wariness went away.

Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn… has there been a week that went by in the past twelve years where I didn’t check some form of social media? Probably not.

Thousands of hours of mindless scrolling since middle school. Damn.

Nothing is black and white.

Social media has given me an outlet to stay connected with friends who are far away and has helped me maintain a sense of humanity during this isolating age of quarantine.

I’ve increasingly relied on the convenience provided by companies like Uber, Lyft, AirBnB, and Amazon. With a click of a button I can have products delivered to me next day. Within five minutes, I can have a driver come pick me up and take me wherever I want to be. If I want Mexican food, I can take out my phone and do a quick search filtering out the lower rated places. How convenient!

But there’s a lot we ignore behind this convenience.


Taking part in the creation

In college, I took computer science courses. I studied Data Structures, Discrete Mathematics, Algorithms, Databases… I attended engineering career fairs. I remember packing into the auditorium with hundreds of other students. There were long lines before every booth just to chat with recruiters. Recruiters pitched fancy offices, free food perks, and appealed to bright-eyed students promising “interesting engineering problems”. Never in my classes, nor these conversations with recruiters, did the ethics of software development, nor the potential consequences behind code come up.

As software engineers, we are programmed to think about ways we can automate tasks with code.

In fact, that’s what we get paid for. At times, writing code can feel like a separate thing from the “real” world. In our day to day, when we’re simply tackling the micro-level problems at hand, it’s hard to see the macro-level impact we have. In reality, we’re building products that change everyday experiences of real people. The code we write can potentially shape the habits of even young kids. But that’s not what we think about when we’re writing code.

For some, writing code is simply a means to make a living, nothing more. Developers can argue that the larger responsibility of the different consequences behind the code we write may lie on business people who make the larger decisions, or the product designers… But is that really true?

If we churn out code without ever stopping to think about the higher-level implications of the code we’re writing, the motivations behind the companies we work for, what impact do we have?

What kind of society are we creating?


Thanks for reading until the end. Ethics and the influence of tech and code is something I often think about. At the same time, I don’t really know how to think about it… What are you thoughts?


© 2020