Reading 05

As engineers, we get to work on some pretty cool stuff, and we can help to improve other people’s lives using our knowledge and skills. This is great, but it is also a huge responsibility. In some cases, it’s a matter of life and death. One such case is the Challenger disaster of 1986. The physical cause of the disaster was the cold temperature and the rubber O-ring, but the true cause of the fatal disaster was pride, apathy, and the failure to stand up for what is right under pressure. This is an interesting case because the truth didn’t come out until after people had died. Although Roger Boisjoly is held up as a hero for blowing the whistle on NASA’s failure to listen to his warnings prior to the launch, Vivian Weil notes that “once the decision to launch had been made, he and the other engineers in Utah fell into line, as expected, and accepted the decision” (Whistleblowing: What Have We Learned Since the Challenger?). Even though he may have acted more ethically than his superiors, he still fell short. The scariest thing is that there were so many opportunities to stop the launch. They had put in the work to identify an issue, and they continued anyway, fully knowing that lives were at stake. All it would have taken was for one person along the line to postpone the launch. Everyone who was involved was equally to blame whether that’s the management that disregarded the warning or Boisjoly himself who went along with the decision and accepted it. It’s hard to speak out against authority, but it’s so important to, especially when doing so could save a life.

I don’t think it was unethical of Boisjoly to share information about what went wrong with the public. He didn’t go straight to the public via some platform such as WikiLeaks; Boisjoly exposed the errors in a proper manner when summoned to testify during the Rogers Commission. Morton Thiokol probably only retaliated against him because they knew they had made mistake, and they were embarrassed that others were made aware of it. It also reflected poorly on NASA as a client for proceeding despite the risks. This is where pride came into play. The two companies didn’t want to admit that they’d messed up and take responsibility for the deaths of people who had trusted them. Even though he faced backlash from his employer and others in the industry, it’s pretty safe to say that Boisjoly made the right move in exposing the poor decisions made leading up to the Challenger launch. It’s unfortunate that he was punished rather than rewarded for being honest and telling the truth, but it was ethically the right decision to make, and I think the personal peace of knowing that he did the right thing outweighed the negative consequences he faced. It would have been worse to stay in a company or profession that didn’t take safety concerns seriously enough and have to live with the guilt of knowing that he didn’t do everything possible to ensure other people’s safety. As awful as the Challenger incident was, we can’t go back in time and bring those people back to life. The only way to honor them is to move forward with a greater care for human life, and to keep this at the center of every decision made.

Reading 04

While it would be easier to assume that people in the tech community would conduct themselves with decent behavior, that would be a naive assumption to make. The reality is, in any group of people, there are some who make bad choices. I don’t know that I would go so far as to say Codes of Conduct are necessary, but I don’t see anything wrong with them if they are properly worded and very specific. Although I think it would be naive to expect everyone to behave decently, I think it’s reasonable to say that most people have a general understanding of what should and shouldn’t be allowed (at least in terms of social acceptance), and they certainly speak out when they see injustices happening. If a Code of Conduct is necessary to concretely point out a wrongdoing and support decisions made in response to that wrongdoing like laws do, then we should use them. The difficulty, however, comes in writing a good Code of Conduct and interpreting it.

I appreciate Jesse Noller’s Code of Conduct for PyCons because it establishes a policy for how harassment will be dealt with by the conference hosts. His approach to creating and implementing this Code of Conduct for the protection of the well-being of conference attendees seems genuine, and I respect that. I also think it’s important to note that if these rules were not in place, and someone at the conference was actually being harassed to the point where they felt unsafe, they could call the police and report it, though it gives peace of mind to attendees knowing that the conference holders don’t stand for that behavior either. On the other hand, some of the other Codes of Conduct are too vague, and quite frankly they contain language that you would use when talking to a child. Django’s Code of Conduct says to “Be friendly and patient”, “Be welcoming”, and “Be respectful”. These all sound like phrases a parent uses when sending their child off to their first day of kindergarten, and while they’re all good practices to follow, they are still open to interpretation. In Go’s Code of Conduct proposal, the writers explain that “there are varying definitions of the ‘right thing’; a Code of Conduct specifies what that means” and to their credit, I think their Code of Conduct is more specific than Django’s, but it is still ambiguous because “insulting remarks” are subjective and are labeled as such only when the recipient feels insulted, which is a claim that can’t be verified since you can’t tell someone how they feel. In some cases, it may be an unjustified claim, but it would still have to be honored.

The real issue here is the question of where one person’s rights end and another’s begin. Do you have a right not to be insulted? Am I obligated to censor my speech so as not to insult anyone intentionally or unintentionally? While I would say we should always try to avoid saying or doing things that we think will hurt people, I think today’s society has coddled us and tries harder to shield us from unpleasant things at the expense of teaching us to deal with them when they happen. I am not condoning bad behavior, but I think we have become overly sensitive in what we consider to be bad behavior. I don’t think James Damore should have been fired for expressing his opinions, especially since they were carefully worded and thought out so as to avoid being disrespectful, and I think we can all agree that he used more tact than the author of the article reproduced in An anonymous response to dangerous FOSS Codes of Conduct. Disagreement and unpopular opinions should not be condemned. Damore was presenting reasonable arguments and trying to promote discussion in an appropriate manner, and the fact that he was shut down reinforces what he stated in his manifesto. When it comes to equitable outcomes, it doesn’t seem as though everyone can be happy, and when it comes to free speech in the tech industry and society in general, it does appear that conservative voices are the ones losing because most big tech companies are left-leaning and conservative opinions and values are generally the unpopular opinion.

As individuals, we should speak out against things we don’t believe are right just as much as we should speak up for things we do believe are good. That being said, we shouldn’t advocate for the termination of a coworker who has a different opinion. If someone is truly causing harm or just being a jerk, nobody will want to work with them anyway, and they won’t make it very long in the industry. As a Catholic, I would say a good rule of thumb is to treat everyone in a manner that upholds their dignity as a human. Though this is still a vague statement, this is what I will choose to follow, and I believe it will steer me in a direction that avoids harm. I don’t think you could ever write a set of rules that are specific enough to eliminate all ambiguity regarding what is and isn’t acceptable in regards to human interaction, so I think we should all try our best to promote positive interactions and discourage negative ones because shouting over everyone else or just plugging your ears because you don’t want to listen gets us nowhere.

Reading 03

I’ve always envisioned myself getting married and having kids one day. I didn’t think I would need to choose my career based on this decision, but to be honest, I didn’t often think about what my future career would be. Growing up, my mom did a great job of putting on a happy face while she worked full time, attended parent-teacher conferences, volunteered at our school library, brought us to our various appointments, music lessons and extracurriculars, and came home to a messy house which she proceeded to clean. Did I mention there are 5 kids in my family? For a long time she was underappreciated because she never complained about doing any of this, and my siblings and I were too young to understand the toll that all of this took on her. My dad began to work from home and eventually traded in his career to pursue something he was passionate about: coaching tennis. My mom is the breadwinner of the family, so we were fine financially, and this shift allowed my dad to stay home to take my younger sister to all of her activities.

Now that most of us have grown up and left the house, things have been a little bit easier on my parents. I think it got easier for my mom as time went on because with every promotion, she got more flexibility over her work schedule and a raise, so she was able to schedule meetings around our appointments and still be financially stable. The trade-off was that when she was home, she wasn’t always fully with us because she had to be on call a lot of the time.

I don’t think that parents can have it all in the traditional sense of the phrase. People have a limited amount of time and energy, and it’s up to them to decide how they want to allocate these resources and what they think is worth investing in. Of course, it also depends on how you define “having it all”, “successful”, and “fulfilling”. Some people will never feel fulfilled until they have a family. Others will feel fulfilled and successful when they reach a certain position or salary. I believe that if you define a successful, fulfilling career in this way rather than as the top position in a given field, parents can have it all. It seems to me that those who feel like they can’t or don’t have it all should re-examine where they are and compare that to their priorities instead of comparing that to other people (with or without kids) to see if they’re happy with where they are and what they have. Personally, having it all would mean that I’m doing okay and that everything I do contributes rather than detracts from my well being. I would want healthy relationships in my life, and if/when I have a family, I would want them to feel loved and supported by me. Professionally, I would want a job that I was interested in (or at the very least felt neutral about) that paid enough to live comfortably, and I would expect myself to perform at the same level as others in that position who didn’t have kids. I’m not saying my work day would look exactly like theirs, but I would expect the quality of work to be the same. This is all much easier said than done, and I can’t say this is how I’ll handle things when the time comes, but for now, these are my thoughts on the matter.

Being a parent is an act of self-sacrifice, and I believe your kids should come first. You can always get another job, but your kids are your responsibility. I really like how Mary Matalin put it when she made her decision to leave her job after asking herself “Who needs me more?” and coming to the realization that “I’m indispensable to my kids, but I’m not close to indispensable to the White House”. Someone else can probably be trained to do your job, but you are the only parents your kids have. Other people sometimes step in and fill that role (or try to) when necessary, but there is often hurt that results when parents aren’t there to be parents because that’s not the natural order of things. There are people who do a fantastic job of raising kids that aren’t their own, but deep down, it can feel like something is missing. I have a friend whose dad prioritizes work over her, and while she lives a very comfortable life materially, she deals with a lot emotionally as a result of this broken relationship.

Just because women tend to be more willing to compromise their career for their family or are more needed at home, doesn’t mean their intellectual and professional skills should just be forgotten or seen as forfeited when they start a family. I feel like the feminist movement, while it may have had good intentions, played into the “either/or” narrative and swung to the other extreme, trying to encourage women to be more like men. From a Catholic perspective, I don’t agree with this message. I like what Lisa Jackson says better: “to be a strong woman, you don’t have to give up on the things that define you as a woman. Empowering yourself doesn’t have to mean rejecting motherhood, or eliminating the nurturing or feminine aspects of who you are.” Pope John Paul II also talked about the unique gifts that women have to offer when he wrote about “The Feminine Genius”.

I don’t think companies are ethically obliged to make it easier for workers to find work-life balance, but I would like them to, and it would be beneficial for them to do so. Companies that are more flexible and understanding of this balance or are more sensitive to crises tend to retain more talent, and people who work for these companies feel more valued, which makes them more motivated to do their best for the company. Amazon seems like an exception to the rule since they’re still successful even with a low retention rate and high burnout, but we’ll see how long they can keep it up.

Burnout is counterproductive, but it’s so hard to avoid even now as a college student with all of the pressures and demands we face. After reading How to Recognize Burnout Before You’re Burned Out, I realized that this is exactly where I am, and we’ve only been in classes for 3 weeks. Although everything I’m doing is good, and I shouldn’t be complaining about all of the opportunities I have, I also have to be aware of my own well-being and remind myself that it’s okay to feel overwhelmed. I’m working on carving out time to play the guitar or just sit in the chapel or play the guitar in the chapel to recover and keep myself grounded and all in one piece. The idea is that this will help bring everything else in my life together and help me to be more productive in the time that I am spending doing work, and I’ll be happier and continue to perform at the level I am now while spending less time doing work. We’ll see how this goes.

Reading 02

I’ve always admired people who knew exactly what they wanted to do with their lives because at that point, it’s just a matter of connecting the dots by figuring out what the steps are to get from point A to point B and then doing it, which I know is easier said than done, but at least there’s a process to follow there. I’ve always felt like I was more of a wanderer. I don’t really know what I want to do, and I prefer having limited options because making decisions stresses me out. I’ve always viewed this lack of a destination as a weakness and thought maybe it was the result of a lack of passion or motivation (it’s not really because I’m curious about too many things and can’t pick one). I’ve even wondered if I’m in the wrong major because I don’t feel like I actively chose computer science; I feel like I just sort of stumbled into it and stuck around. I don’t seek out articles on the latest technology being developed, and I don’t get the same amount of satisfaction and joy from writing code for a side project as I do spending a day on a service project. Upon further reflection, however, I’ve come to realize that my relationship with technology isn’t necessarily bad. It’s just different from what I consider the mainstream, stereotypical one. I see technology as a means to an end rather than an end in itself. I’m more concerned about the why, and I believe the what and the how will follow.

All of that being said, I don’t know where my career is headed or what’s in store for me. As a senior, I should probably be taking the job search more seriously than I have been, and there’s a lot of pressure to decide what I want to do with my life and secure a job before I graduate in May. What I have to continue to remind myself throughout this process is that I’m not committed to my first job for the rest of my life. It’s perfectly acceptable to go through career changes and try different things. As Vivian Giang expresses in You Should Plan On Switching Jobs Every Three Years For The Rest Of Your Life, it might actually be a good thing to change jobs frequently. While I don’t see myself going to that extreme, I would be surprised if I stuck to the same job for the rest of my life. Knowing myself, I will probably change jobs a few times in the early stages of my career and settle into one that I like, remaining with that company until retirement. Keep in mind that this is all complete conjecture, of course, and I’m still growing and changing, but as of right now, this is my best guess. Giang writes that if you don’t change jobs enough, you actually lose stability. I don’t think I agree with that statement, or at the very least, I wouldn’t want to have a career in a field for which that statement is true. There are some companies that are big enough that you can change roles and projects to learn new skills and challenge yourself while still remaining an employee of that company.

Although I would ideally eventually like to stay with a company for a long time before I retire, I think that’s a personal choice that I will make, and it should not necessarily be expected of me or required by law. I would probably choose a company that values loyalty, but I don’t expect all companies to do so. I think that should be up to the companies themselves. I don’t think people should be punished for wanting to leave one company and go to another, which is why broad non-competes don’t sit well with me. I understand that trade secrets need to be protected, but just as locks should only be placed around the lines of code that absolutely require them, non-competes and NDAs should only cover what is concretely identifiable and unique to the company. From the articles that I read, I get the impression that that’s not happening. For example, Jerry’s experience in How Companies Kill Their Employees’ Job Searches was that a non-compete prevented him from using knowledge he had prior to working for that company, which doesn’t seem ethical to me. Companies should have a right to protect what is theirs, but skills and knowledge that employees bring to the company should still belong to the employee after they leave. Even some of the skills that an employee learns on the job with a company should be considered property of the employee and not the company because work experience is highly valued in the market, so it wouldn’t make sense if all you had to offer your next company was what you had to offer your previous company before you began working for them. I know it is not as straightforward as this and there is a gray area when it comes to intangible and abstract advantages, but as a general rule of thumb, I think only trade secrets should be contractually protected and employees should be able to use skills, experiences, and approaches to problem-solving they’ve learned through previous jobs at their next jobs. Furthermore, it seems unethical to prevent someone from working for a competitor if they can do so without leaking information about what their previous employer is doing. Employees and employers should act ethically about what they provide and ask of each other, and those who don’t will likely gain a bad reputation and in the case of an individual acting unethically, companies should be unwilling to hire such a person, and in the case of a company asking its employers to spill secrets on their competitors, consumers should stop supporting them and employees quit so that they go out of business. I realize that I’m saying “should” instead of “will” because this is what ought to happen if everybody respected one another, and maybe it’s a naive perspective of the situation, but it’s the way I make sense of things, and I’m still against these ridiculous non-competes that go too far and protect the companies at the expense of the workers.