You can test code but can you test ethics? Why you should be a #TechEthicist
"In Japan, they have a word for death from overwork," but are the ways we are working slowly killing our ethical boundaries too?
I have worked in technology since 1973, and over the years I have seen colleagues with high levels of stress, working extraordinary hours to complete a project, cancelled vacations, divorces and in more than one case, death on a project.
At its best, technology means a mesh of people using processes and loads of fun stuff to accomplish the impossible, from space missions like Gemini and Apollo to artificial intelligence that helps organisations do amazing things.
But sometimes we are asked to go beyond the limits. We are asked to make:
- Code that we know is for extracting information to use in a non-ethical way.
- Websites that tempt vulnerable people to provide personal information or make decisions that cause harm or financial loss.
- #Fakenews: let’s face it, somebody writes and maintains it.
- Artificial Intelligence with a dark side.
- Programmes of “improvement” that will result in people getting laid off.
Claire Agutter, a leading technologist who has worked on a new type of digital management called VeriSM, is also worried. She is campaigning for change, alongside people like Hannah Foxwell, a loud voice for the HumanOPS movement. Hannah is using social media and meet-ups to help spread the word that people in technology need to be treated ethically. HumanOPS is asking questions like:
- Is being on-call ethical? (Yes, but is it because we have poor processes or tools?)
- Is being empowered to do whatever we need to keep a project on time ethical? (Of course, but only if we know what good timing looks like and that escalating issues gets us support.)
- Is what I am creating and how it is delivered to consumers, internal or external, always done ethically? (You can’t test ethical: you can only test code.)
- Is my drug-taking, drinking, obesity, or stress at home related to the unethical way I am being asked to work? (Sadly in many cases, the answer is yes.)
- People first – we say this often, but do we understand what it means?
- We create many things using technology but what is the impact on the end consumer?
- ‘Diverse teams’ is a buzz phrase for Agile and DevOps, but how diverse are those teams in terms of gender, age, skills, and political makeup?
- Can we work without hiding behind the statement: ‘well that is what was in the contract’?
- Can we prove that on a daily basis what we did was for the good of the company, the staff and the customers?
Many people when they leave work, continue to work. Emails, web searches, late-night conversations are just some examples. Technology has provided us with a way of achieving more (working longer) than we ever anticipated. Cloud, DevOps, Agile, Lean, ITSM all claim to offer the possibility of using automation to help people do more, but with less effort.
Really? System architecture-supporting products used over the internet have increased in complexity so much that when a domino falls, it is a well-publicised disaster and people’s heads are on the block.
IT as a Human is my way of saying that as we create data to be mined or applications to be used by millions, we need to consider the people involved. The people who are makers, supporters and consumers.
The HumanOPS mantra says we are not always constant and available. Our well-being has a direct impact on the reliability and cost of technology.
Consider these questions in the context of your organisation:
Follow the crowd – the #TechEthicist crowd
As a leader myself, I am not sure I asked myself daily: is what I am asking of my team (or vendors) fully ethical? But I do now. And I ask you to look at the values of HumanOPS and join Claire, Hannah and I on the 24th October 2018 at #ITSMCrowd.
Then add to your profile the term #TechEthicist. Get the conversation going on making and using technology in such a way that it always benefits humanity.
I ask you to make #HumanOPS a priority beginning today. Create centres of excellence. Create teams that can work together both technically and politically. Create operating models that help great technology! Most importantly, monitor things, know when you are not achieving this, and do something about it. Don’t let your ethics die a death – get them to work for all of us.