Reading05: Whistleblower or Hero?

The Challenger disaster was absolutely something that could have been avoided. The physical cause of the malfunction was a failed seal on a rocket booster cause by erosion on an O ring seal. The real root cause, in my opinion, is a failure of communication and terrible decision making.

In “How Challenger Exploded, and Other Mistakes Were Made,” we are provided examples of data and graphs provided to NASA by the engineers. I find the data and graphs hard to read and understand. I know nothing about O-rings, but I can see how the data provided may be unclear. However, despite the poorly constructed data, NASA should have listened more closely to the engineers, and the engineers should have pushed harder with their opinions. Also, whether the engineers shared easily readable data or not, NASA was informed that the O-ring would probably fail, and that should have been information enough to delay take off. NASA was warned about the major malfunction, and a NASA manager’s response was “My God, Thiokol, when do you want me to launch — next April?” The response to that statement should have been yes, wait to launch until it is safe. It is also shared that opposite to normal protocol, NASA requested the engineers try “to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was not safe” to launch. NASA should have been trying to protect the astronauts on board, not trying to launch no matter what.

I think Roger Boisjoly was ethical in sharing the information with the public. It should have acted as a push for NASA to do better in the future. Instead of being a situation for NASA to point fingers, it should have been taken as a lesson in better communication and a lesson in better, more thoughtful decision making. However, NASA learned nothing from Roger Boisjoly’s warning. Instead the same thing happened seventeen years later when the Columbia malfunctioned on re-entry and killed another 7 astronauts. This was another malfunction that could have been avoided and lives could have been saved. In this case, NASA managers and Thiokol managers were in the wrong by not sharing what they knew and taking responsibility for the deaths of 7 people. Roger Boisjoly should have been a hero. His opinion on his creation should have been taken more seriously and lives should have been saved. His sharing of information on the malfunction should have been a huge lesson for NASA saving lives in the future, but it was not. Instead, poor Roger Boisjoly was shunned from doing what he loved, for standing up for what he loved, and his career, life, and everything were destroyed.

The culture of “whistleblowing”has unfortunately  discouraged stepping up, speaking out, admitting fault, and making redesigns.” The way whistleblowing is handled makes companies less trustworthy. When faced with a serious problem that could have been avoided at General Motors, the CEO of GM said “If you are aware of a potential problem affecting safety or quality and you don’t speak up, you’re part of the problem, and that is not acceptable. If you see a problem you don’t believe is being handled correctly, elevate it to your supervisor. If you still don’t believe it’s being handled correctly, contact me directly.” However, an investigation from BusinessWeek “detailed the repeated, failed attempts of one internal whistleblower to fix the problem.” It makes me feel like I can not trust these companies and their products. If they are going to “go out of their way to hide [problems] and fight the people who expose them,” then why should I trust that their products are not going to malfunction and hurt me.

It seems to me that punishing whistleblowers who have the intent to better the company is wrong. I do agree that some people whistle blow for the wrong reasons, and these situations do require repercussions, however some whistleblowers, like Boisjoly, have a good intent, and should be able to continue to live their lives. In “How Challenger Exploded, and Other Mistakes Were Made,” it is said:

The trick is knowing which errors must be addressed and which can be accepted, and which are being accepted simply because we fail to see how dangerous they are.

I think some whistleblowers like Boisjoly truly are trying to make the world a better place, because some errors are being wrongly accepted as “risk.” Being an astronaut is a risky thing. The 14 astronauts killed in both Challenger and Columbia probably understood that there was a chance of death, but the were also probably under the impression that NASA had the best intentions to get them home safely. After hearing the accounts of Boisjoly, I would not have trusted NASA with my life. NASA should have learned.

Reading 04: Digging a Deep Hole of Bias

I believe the lack of diversity is a huge problem in the technology industry. Diversity brings a variety of view points and ways of thinking. I believe this diversity of opinions and thoughts helps make better more well-rounded products and software. Not only is there a lack of diversity in the technology industry, there is also a lack of compassion for anyone who thinks differently. This makes for uncomfortable or unwelcoming work environments.

It is unfortunate that the technology industry took such a turn to “brogrammer” culture, because it makes the industry so unwelcoming to people who are “different.” It was not always this way. In the article “Why Women Stopped Coding,” it is pointed out that”A lot of computing pioneers — the people who programmed the first digital computers — were women.” On top of being the original coders, the percentage of women in technology was on the rise until the 1980’s when the personal computer came out. The early personal computers popularized the idea that “computers are for boys.” This seems to be the start of the downfall of the percentage of women in computing. Computers were only being bought for boys, and “as personal computers became more common, computer science professors increasingly assumed that their students had grown up playing with computers at home.” In my opinion this created the exclusivity of the technology industry. I felt this pressure to already have a basic understand of coding and technology when I took my first computer science class, and it definitely felt exclusive.

The unwelcoming workplace statistics provided in the article “A new survey explains one big reason there are so few women in technology,” are both alarming and unsurprising at the same time. Same with the fiasco that happened at Uber. Some of the statistics and stories told are very alarming and would absolutely deter women from even entering the industry. To read that 60% of women in a survey of women in technology reported sexual harassment, is shocking because that is two times the national average. However I was actually very unsurprised by a lot of the stories a read because they are similar to things I have already experienced and I have not even worked in the technology industry full time yet. This summer I worked at a large tech company and was the only girl in my friend group of interns. I was constantly made fun of or talked down to for being a woman, whether they realized they were doing it or not. At the Grace Hopper Conference, I listened to the story of a Black woman who was the CEO and founder of a company, that was eventually kicked out of her position when she was pregnant because “It’s already hard enough having a black woman as CEO, let alone a pregnant black woman.” It’s this type of culture that made me decide I could not live in a city like Silicon Valley where the majority of the population is computer scientists and “brogrammers.”

I need to live in a city not made up of “brogrammers” because I need to be surrounded by people who think differently. That is what the technology industry is missing, people who think differently. In an interview, Melinda Gates discussed when she made the decision to just be herself:

 And I started to learn that being myself could work. By then, I was a manager and I ended up inadvertently attracting huge teams around me who wanted to act in the same way. And people would even say to me, “How in the world did you recruit that amazing programmer to one of your teams?” and I would say, well I think they just want to work in this type of environment.

Melinda Gates detailed that she attracted the top talent by forming teams of people who did not want the competitive nature of other teams. People want to be themselves, and they want to be surrounded by other creative people who think differently. By making diverse, uncompetitive teams, we can make a much more welcoming environment for everyone, not just women and minorities, and this can help make the workplace more fun and less stressful.

The lack of diversity that currently exists in technology, is bad for business, and bad for the future of technology. When asked about the risks of not diversifying technology, Melinda Gates says:

I think we’ll have so much hidden bias coded into the system that we won’t even realize all the places that we have it. If you don’t have a diverse workforce programming artificial intelligence and thinking about the data sets to feed in, and how to look at a particular program, you’re going to have so much bias in the system, you’re going to have a hard time rolling it back later or taking it out.

The longer we wait to make the workplace comfortable for diverse individuals, the more technology suffers from bias and lack of diversity, and the deeper we dig a hole that we will not be able to get out of. Women and minorities bring different points of view and different ways to solve problems. It also can be argued that women bring a level of compassion to their work that men might not. Compassion can make for a more meaningful experience not only for the user of the product, but also make it easier for future computer scientists who work on the product.

Reading 03: Be Happy, Be Healthy, Put Family First

The best way for me to talk about work-life balance, is to talk about my family experience. Both my parents worked before they had kids. When they did decide to have children, my mom stopped working to become a stay at home mom. My dad worked his way up and became successful in his company. The “classic” american family. What makes us a little less “classic” is my dad’s ability to balance work and life so well. When my dad was young, his dad worked 2 hours away, so he only saw him Friday through Sunday. My dad decided that he did not want his children to have that kind of relationship with their father, and he decided that he was going to prioritize his family. My dad never  missed a dance recital or dance competition. He never missed a field hockey game or ski meet, and even helped coach both those sports. He is with me for every birthday and every holiday. He drives the two hour drive from Grand Rapids to South Bend to come to Notre Dame football and hockey games with me. He even flew to Virginia Beach last year to watch me play in the college club field hockey nationals. His job requires him to travel a lot, but he calls every night to say good night and makes sure he is home for big events. This means sometimes he has to take a conference call on the sidelines, or he has to bring his computer in the car while my mom drives, but he has made it very clear to his daughters that we are a priority in his life.

I know it can not be easy on my dad all the time. But I think if both parents decide and agree exactly on what their family dynamic should be, and then make that a priority, it is possible to have it all. It probably would not have been as easy for my dad if my mom was not a stay at home mom, but she made that decision, and she does not regret it. To me, “having it all” means your family is happy and healthy. Jobs can come and go, but I know my family will always be there for me.

Balance in a family is also important. In the article “Why I Put My Wife’s Career First,” the author discusses the “balance” that he has in his family, where his wife is the successful business woman, and he is the “lead parent.” I guess if this “balance” works for his family, and is what makes his family happy, then good for them, and I am glad they found something that works. Personally, I have a hard time with the term “lead parent” because both my parents parented me equally.  Even though my mom is the one who stayed home I would not call her the “lead parent.” The author of the article details his role:

Despite many days of weariness, I would never give up my years of being what the journalist Katrin Bennhold has called “The One”—the parent my child trusted to help master his first stage role, the parent who shared my child’s wonder at his first musical composition, the parent my boys called for when they needed comfort in the night.

In my life, my dad worked really hard to not let this be a reality. He still wanted to be a big part of my life. I go to both parents equally for advice, comfort, love, and laughs. I hope that some day my children have the same kind of strong relationships with both their parents that I have been lucky enough to have with mine. Although I am not sure yet that I want to be a stay at home mother like my mom, I will talk with my husband to find the best way for our family to achieve the same amount of love, attention, and fun that my family has had my whole life. It will take compromises and sacrifices, but it is possible.

As far as burnout goes, I can see how it happens. I sometimes feel burned out at school when I have so much work and get so little sleep. I have to miss family member’s birthdays because of homework and school and this makes me sad! It helps me to have something to look forward too! This year I am going to Hawaii with my family after school is done, and that is one thing that is really getting me through!

I think companies should help their employees avoid feeling burned out. Giving their employees more vacation time, or more flexibility, allows them to not feel as “trapped in the office.” Giving employees something to look forward to, like happy hours and catered lunches, helps them feel more appreciated and less like a cog in the machine. Encouraging employees to try new things or to change teams within the company is another great way to avoid burnout. Some companies require or allow “hack days” to encourage employees to pursue their own projects or research new technologies. This helps employees to  change it up every once in awhile and try new things.

It is important for companies to allow these kinds of things because it tells it’s employees that the company cares about their mental health and overall happiness. Happier employees will be more willing to stay, and probably produce better products.

In order to find balance and avoid burnout, I am going to try to stick to a schedule. I will work hard during work times and try new things and schedule time with friends and family outside of work. To avoid burnout, I will try to change up this routine every once in a while, give myself things to look forward to, form good relationships with my coworkers, and try to balance me time and social time outside of work. It is important to have relaxing evenings alone with a movie but also to maintain positive relationships outside of work.

Project 01: Code of Ethics Reflection

Our code of ethics is broken into 3 sections: Integrity, Community, and Engagement. Integrity is important as both a student and a computer scientist. Our work should be our own and our work should better society, or at least be used for good and not evil. Community is important because computer science requires a lot of group work and open source contributions. We should be the best computer scientists we can be. We should be supportive of each other and try to be good ambassadors for our field. Engagement is important in everything we do. We will do our best learning if we are totally engaged in our studies or work, and if we are passionate about the subject. We can help others learn better by being engaged in class and asking thought provoking questions. We can help others be more excited and passionate by sharing our love for certain topics with them. By being engaged in any sort of group work we can produce better more cohesive products. And finally by being engaged in our own projects we can help others (or ourselves) in the future who may try to use or read your code.

I think one of the major weaknesses in our code of ethics is that there is a lot of overlap in our three main sections. The overlap makes the document cohesive, but also makes the separation confusing in some parts. If someone were to give you each individual bullet point, and ask you put them in the correct categories (Integrity, Community, or Engagement), it would be pretty difficult. In order to fix this problem we could try to elaborate on each bullet point more and further discuss it’s relation to the section it’s in. We could also give a better description of what separates each section.

I believe a code of ethics can be very useful! It is a great way to let key values for a group of people be known. However, it is only effective if people actually abide by it. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people out there who think they are above these rules. I think this brings me back to the “Community” aspect and being a good ambassador. By being a strong representative of a “good” or “ethical” computer scientist, we can hopefully inspire others to do the same, and show the world that we are ethical people.

I found it useful to discuss with others what makes a “good” and “ethical” computer scientist and student. This helped me find goals to strive for and ideals to abide by. Hopefully others will try to strive to be “good” and “ethical” as well.

Reading 02: Job Jumping

As I prepare to make the move to the west coast, I constantly hear the phrase “Oh, what a good thing to do while you’re young!” The attitude most people have towards my decision to move west reflects my attitude towards job jumping. I think job jumping can be great! I agree with the articles that discuss how job hopping can increasing your pay and your value as an employee. However, I think there is a point where we must draw the line.

My personal career path is headed towards one dream job, but there are multiple potential paths to get there. The job I have already signed for is not my dream job, but it is a great place to start out and I feel very lucky to have the opportunity. I think if I do not change companies after a few years, I will most likely at least change teams within the company to diversify my skills. Otherwise I may change companies a couple times and work on making myself a better candidate for my dream role. However, once I feel ready to apply to my dream company I am not sure I could see myself wanting to be anywhere else. Maybe I would consider switching teams or divisions within the company, but I think if you are happy with where you are at, why change?

I think job jumping can be fun and exciting when you are young and chasing money. It keeps you engaged and satisfies your need to continue learning more and pushing your self to become better. It can also help you increase your own value as an employee. I recently talked to a woman who loved her job at the smaller company she was working at but felt she was not being paid enough money, so she moved to a new position at a big tech company, and then her old company offered her much more money to come back after a year or so. It is unfortunate that some companies do not realize what they are missing until it’s gone, but good for this woman to finally be paid what she is truly worth by the company she most enjoyed working at.

I do, however, feel there is a point in life where job jumping will lose its value. One major flaw to job jumping is never staying at a company long enough to fully vest your stock options or retirement. People will lose out on so much money by leaving companies before they earn their full potential of stock or before they are eligible to receive and keep their companies 401k matching policies. Another flaw not staying long enough to earn a promotion. I think being promoted within a company can say a lot more on your resume than seeing you work the same role at two different companies. There is also a point in your life where you will have important things that require a little more stability, like a spouse or children. When a family is involved in your decisions you have to think more about switching locations or jobs, along with switching health and insurance plans. You also might want a more stable job that requires less outside time so you can spend more time with your family instead of constantly needing to spend outside of work time interviewing, preparing for interviews, emailing recruiters, applying to new jobs, and learning the skills required for a new job.

Company loyalty is another fear with job jumping. I have already told one story in this blog where switching jobs ended up being a good idea for someone and allowed them to return to the company she previously worked for and still get the raise she deserved. In that situation, she showed loyalty to the company, but it seems unfair to her that the company did not just pay her what she deserved in the first place. While I do see how company loyalty can look good on an resume, I also think it is fair to have the understanding that just as I can be let go at anytime from a company, I should be able to leave at any time for any reason as well.

Non-competes and NDA’s are tricky. I understand from the company’s point of view that they would not want a former employee using their former companies ideas and tools at another competing company. However, as an employee, I feel I should be able to seek employment at another competing company if I feel I am being treated unfairly at my current company. For example, if it were someone’s dream job to work on e-commerce, but they were being treated unfairly in their current e-commerce position, it seems unfair to tell that employee that for the next year and half they can not work at their dream job, or use the skills they know how to use best, just because they are afraid of their secrets being traded between companies. It seems unethical to restrict someone from working in a job that they love for selfish reasons.

Reading 01: Hackers. Are We Artists or Criminals?

I think Mark Zuckerburg gives the best description of what a hacker is:

The word “hacker” has an unfairly negative connotation from being portrayed in the media as people who break into computers. In reality, hacking just means building something quickly or testing the boundaries of what can be done. Like most things, it can be used for good or bad, but the vast majority of hackers I’ve met tend to be idealistic people who want to have a positive impact on the world.

I really like his explanation of what a hacker is because it is optimistic and focuses more on the good a hacker can do than on the bad. He also includes

Hackers believe that something can always be better, and that nothing is ever complete. They just have to go fix it

I think this addition to his statement above solidifies his opinion that hackers are trying to better the world. Unfortunately, the other articles I read seemed to focus more on the freedoms that hackers deserve and the unfair treatment of hackers, and these are the arguments against the “negative connotation” that I personally find holes in and that cause me to relate less and less to the idea of being a “hacker.”

I relate to Zuckerburg’s core values he identifies: Focus on Impact, Move Fast, Be BoldBe Open, and Build Social Value. These values I think are a great way to sum up the core values of what a hacker should strive for! However, as stated above, most articles on “hacker culture” focus on other values that I disagree with. According the the wikipedia article on Hacker Ethics,  the core values of a hacker are: sharing, openness, decentralization, free access to computers, and world improvement. I was ok with this list until they continued the list with additions from Steven Levy. The two most problematic additions for me are “Access to computers—and anything which might teach you something about the way the world works—should be unlimited and total. Always yield to the Hands-On Imperative!” and “All information should be free.” In many articles I find that the biggest thing i disagree with is Hackers belief that they should just be able to access anything. I do not think Hackers should be able to access all information, and I think certain boundaries are necessary. This promotes Zuckerburg’s idea of nothing being complete, and that anyone can help to fix things that require fixing. But this also means bad people can exploit these errors, and can have access to information that is not necessary for them to have access to. By allowing all information to be free and anyone being able to access any computer, we are allowing the bad guys to also have access to any information and anyones computer.

The idea of anyone being able to access anyone’s information is selfish on the part of the hacker. I feel like this is allowing those who have the knowledge of hacking to be able to exploit those who do not. I think security and privacy are there for a very important reason and giving hackers too much power is dangerous.

I do however, agree with a few of Levy’s additions to hacker ethics.

  • Hackers should be judged by their hacking, not criteria such as degrees, age, race, sex, or position
  • You can create art and beauty on a computer
  • Computers can change your life for the better

I think there should be more equality in computer science than there is now, and I think we should be judged solely on our skills. I also agree that hackers can create beautiful things and change peoples life in a positive way! These three statements support Mark Zuckerburg’s definition of a hacker that I so closely relate to and I find it a shame that anyone would take such a beautiful art and ruin it for others. It is not enough to encourage hacker ethics, unfortunately there will always be bad people out there who ruin the fun for everyone, and use their power for evil.

I agree with the author of “Hackers and Painters” that Hacking can be a beautiful and expressive art form. However, it is people like the author of”The Conscience of a Hacker” that ruin the fun and beauty for everyone. I find this author to be arrogant, whiny, and dangerous. He makes some valid points about hacking culture, however the paragraph where he admits he is a criminal whose crimes include being “curious” and “outsmarting you” is the reason hackers are given a bad name. People who believe they are above others because of their skill, and who should have access to whatever they want are dangerous.

Reading 00: Be Confident in your (Parable of the) Talents

There are many lessons to learn from the Parable of the Talents. My biggest take aways are that success is related to the level of work we put into something and that we are held accountable for our work. The first and second servant are  rewarded for their hard work and their use of the talents they were given. The third servant does not work hard like the first and second servant and instead bury’s his talents, producing no more. Their master is displeased with the third servant and he now must be held accountable for his lack of success.

I do understand that in this parable “talents” refers to a form of currency. However, it is easy to think about it using the other definition of talents as well. If we think of talent to mean “a special natural ability or aptitude” (as defined by dictionary.com), this story is about two servants who take their god given abilities and work hard to learn new ones. They are then rewarded for their successes and hard work. When I watched the video clip of Karlie Kloss assigned with this reading, I connected her message, with this parable and my life as a computer scientist. Kloss discussed having a love for math, and not being sure what she could do with it other than become a doctor. No one recognized her talents for math and suggest she take a computer science course or pushed her towards engineering. However, she recognized her talent for problem solving and is working right now to expand her god-given talents and she discusses the rewards of finding a way to use her talents. I had a similar journey into computer science. I loved math, had no idea what to do with it, and had no one suggest to me or push me to learn how to code. This resulted in me finding out about computer science kind of late in the game.

I was very intimidated hearing my classmates in my computer science intro course talk about their prior experience  with the field and I felt very behind. I later learned I was not alone and many people were learning how to code for the first time, but before I had this knowledge it pushed to work even harder to perfect this new talent. In the video “What Most Schools Don’t Teach” they further discuss the pleasure one feels when you have a success in computer science. The first time you see “Hello World” pop up in your terminal, every bug you finally fix, and any final working product can bring someone an amazing sense of pride. If I had done as the third brother, and buried my talent when I felt intimidated by other students talents, I would have never found the sense of reward that exists in computer science. If you work hard and recognize your own talents, you will find success and happiness.

On the other hand, the third brother who buried his talents and did not work hard was scolded for his actions and held accountable. This is a smart lesson to remember as you journey through computer science.  It is important to remember that we always accountable for a product we produce. Some computer scientists will eventually face a difficult situation where the work they are doing may make them feel morally uncomfortable. For example, the author of “The Code I’m Still Ashamed Of” writes about a project he consulted where he did what the customer asked, but the product may have greatly affected the lives of people who used it, and may have even caused death. Although the part of the project he worked on was not the cause of death, he still felt guilt because he was a part of the team that promoted this product.    He worked hard and found the success of completing the project as customer asked, but now feels accountable for being a part of the problem. As computer scientists we must remember that what we do can hurt others and have negative side effects.

Being a computer scientist has highs and lows. We experience amazing pride as we work hard and find success, but we also can be held accountable for our work if it goes bad. The overall lesson I am taking away from this parable is that we must work hard to find success in life and to develop our talents, but we also must remember the ramifications of our hard work and actions. If you work hard for the wrong cause, you will be held accountable, or at least experience guilt.

Reading 00: About Me

Hi! I am Kylie Hausch, a senior Computer Science student at Notre Dame. I am in my final year of the five-year dual-degree engineering program with Saint Mary’s College and Notre Dame. I graduated from Saint Mary’s in May 2017 with a B.S. in Computing and Applied Mathematics. I chose to study Math and Computer Science because of my love for solving puzzles. In high school, math was my favorite subject and I was unsure what I could do with that in the future. One of my teachers encouraged me to consider engineering. When I found out about Saint Mary’s dual degree program, I was excited to discover a way to study both math and engineering. Upon taking the intro to engineering class, I discovered computer science and I could not be happier with my decision. I love the problem solving, logic, and puzzles that computer science challenges me with everyday. I hope to use my degrees to work as a software engineer in the entertainment industry.

I’ve lived in Grand Rapids, Michigan my entire life except for two summers for internships. In the summer of 2016 was an IT intern at AbbVie in North Chicago, Illinois. I worked for the global business analytics group where I created dashboards for bug tracking, tested dashboards, and reengineered the distribution of dashboards to better classify data. In the summer of 2017 I was a Software Development Engineering Intern at Amazon in Seattle Washington. I worked for the Amazon Education team and built an offline mode for children’s reading app and worked on my project management skills.

My hobbies include field hockey, skiing, and watching movies. I also enjoy doing different kinds of puzzles. I am interested in computer graphics, animation, and virtual reality.

I hope in this class to gain a better understanding of some of the hot topics in computer science by discussing the different sides to certain topics and understanding other people’s stances on big issues.

To me, one of the most pressing ethical and moral issues in computer science today is how we handle AI. As computer scientists we must understand that our actions have huge consequences. We are often on a quest to develop the coolest and most exciting new technologies, but we often do not stop to think what negative ramifications these new technologies could have. We do not check, double check and triple check our work we leave for bad people to exploit errors and use our technology for bad. In AI, we leave room for allowing people to teach computers negative qualities and bad things. We are creating technology that if not set up correctly can be used for evil.

One topic that I am very passionate about and hope we discuss in class is women in computing and encouraging women to pursue computer science, along with encouraging men to create a welcoming environment for women. I think tackling the “brogrammer” culture is a huge step that needs to be made.