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.

Reading 01

As the fourth of five children in my family, I learned very quickly that life isn’t fair. Along with this lesson, however, my parents also instilled in us the notion that it didn’t matter that life wasn’t fair because if you didn’t like something, it was up to you to do everything you could to change it. This message is simple, yet effective. It’s empowering. Instead of focusing on the challenges I might face when attempting to do something and resigning to them, I had a more positive and productive outlook on things by remembering that I had the ability to effect change. This is a message that more children should be taught and that more people in general should remember.

Before I continue, I would like to formally acknowledge that I, like everyone else, am biased by my personal experience of life. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. These varying life experiences are the basis for the diversity that people like Scott Page argue is so important. On the other hand, some people argue that these biases create an unfair environment under the disguise of meritocracy in the tech industry. This group of thought also defines a meritocracy as an environment in which people succeed solely based on merit of technical skills. I disagree with this definition. It might be relevant if technology didn’t affect other people and its consequences were restricted to the technology being developed and its developer. We all know that’s not how it works though, and that contradicts the purpose of technology. I would instead consider meritocracy to be an environment in which people succeed based on their skills of any kind, not just specifically their technical skills. Under this definition, the tech industry is a meritocracy. Under the original definition mentioned, I would say that meritocracy is an ideal worth pursuing.

Most of the arguments against the claim that the tech industry is meritocratic strike me as highly political. They focus on differences in race, gender, socioeconomic status, etc.  While I realize that these factors do influence every individual’s experience, I don’t quite buy that if a person was skilled and determined enough, they still wouldn’t be able to overcome these difficulties (at least not in America which is the region I will focus on since (1) I am most familiar with this culture since I was born and raised here and (2) the articles mostly criticize Silicon Valley). Like I said earlier, this may be a product of my upbringing, but I don’t think it hurts to approach life with this “can do”/”where there’s a will there’s a way” attitude. In fact, I find it more harmful, discouraging, and debilitating to teach people that the world is against you for things that are out of your control.

In Silicon Valley Isn’t a Meritocracy. And It’s Dangerous to Hero-Worship Entrepreneurs, Alice Marwick provides the following reasons to support her claim that the tech industry is not a meritocracy: “This requires middle- to upper-class wealth, which filters out most people” and “There are levels of participation that are enabled by either being wealthier of having the free time to participate.” Marwick seems to suggest that people of lower economic status are automatically excluded or prevented from succeeding solely because of their economic status. I think if someone were really determined or had a good idea and the skills to succeed, they could find funding or use crowdsourcing to gain support for their idea and eventually make it happen. If they needed time to make their idea happen, they would have to be willing to take the risk of quitting their job to focus on accomplishing this. Many people are already doing this from parents who quit their jobs so they can start a business to others who leave their full-time jobs to pursue careers in YouTube.

Furthermore, when talking about meritocracy, Marwick comments that “The result of this mythology is that it denies the role of personal connections, wealth, background, gender, race, or education in an individual’s success.” Once again, the danger of believing this is that it tells people they can’t do things because of these factors instead of empowering them to change their situation. Networking and effective communication are skills, and if those are required to create personal connections or acquire financial funding, then people should be encouraged to develop those skills instead of just blaming their situation on everyone and everything else. Facing challenges doesn’t set you apart from other people nor does it make you successful. Overcoming challenges does. Someone who has or is able to develop the skills necessary to succeed within the tech industry would be able to use these skills to overcome any disadvantages and succeed just as much as someone who came in without any disadvantages to begin with. That’s why I see the industry as meritocratic.

Even if you don’t believe meritocracy is an accurate representation of the current state of the tech industry, it is productive to treat it as one as long as it is properly interpreted. If meritocracy is promoted as an environment where people with a strong work ethic and good character succeed, it encourages people to work harder. If it is framed as the systemic oppression of helpless people, then people are discouraged and more likely to quite early on, attributing their failure to anything other than themselves and not taking responsibility for their own failures and successes. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy; people don’t work as hard and don’t get as far because they believed all along that they were doomed to fail before they even began. It’s the difference between blaming others’ success on “pushyocracy” as Dawn Nafus would put it and recognizing that persistence and persuasion are important skills when working with people and developing technology that you want them to use (Nafus quoted in Joseph Reagle’s Naive meritocracy and the meanings of myth).

Maybe I’ve just been lucky and not faced the oppression or discrimination that others have. Maybe I’m just like Meredith Patterson who was mentioned in Joseph Reagle’s article. Or maybe it doesn’t matter where I’ve come from because I believe I can be better than I am today – not without the help of other people and not just with the skill set I have today, but with the understanding that I am capable of learning, of growth, and that I can find a way to make things happen if I want to. It might not be easy or pretty or straightforward, but it’s doable. And it starts with me. And if you want to succeed, it starts with you. It starts with encouraging children that they can do it too.

Reading 00

In the Parable of the Talents, a master rewards and praises two of his servants who doubled his talents in his absence and reprimands the servant who preserved the single talent he was given rather than losing it or using it to make more for his master. When considering this parable in the context of this course, the talents in this parable are like the computing skills we have. Their fullest potential is realized when the servants trade them and double the amount, and talents are wasted when they are buried. Similarly, our computing skills and talents grow and come to fruition when we use them to help others. By trading the talents they were given, the two servants were able to double what they had. This concept is echoed by Jeff Atwood when he writes that “by helping others become better programmers, you too would become a better programmer.”

Trading talents and using computers with the intention of improving people’s lives and helping people become the best version of themselves doesn’t come without risks. The servant who buried the talent he was given did so out of fear, probably because he couldn’t guarantee that he would walk away with at least a single talent if he had tried to trade it. When developing software, there is always a chance that a mistake will be made that has negative consequences. However, we cannot let this deter us from trying to use our skills to help people. There are measures we can take to try to minimize the chances of causing harm. Being informed and educated about how to do something before attempting to do it is a good start, especially if it has grave consequences.

Another important idea that is presented in this parable is integrity. Integrity is consistent with the discussion of ethics, and it exhibits a mastery of ethical behavior because a person with integrity acts ethically at all times. This message comes across when the master says “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much” (Matthew 25:23). Those who can be trusted to do the right thing in small matters can also be trusted to do the right thing when it comes to more important things (at least when compared to those who don’t do the right thing for less important matters). The master goes on to say that “to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away,” implying that as people start to see that they can trust you to properly handle certain things, you will be given more responsibility (Matthew 25:29). If you can’t use your gifts appropriately and keep up with your responsibilities, you lose other people’s trust, and your responsibilities (which are opportunities to use your gifts and contribute to something greater than yourself) will be taken away. This principle applies to most things in life, not just computer science and engineering skills.

It is important to note that the servant who was scolded did not intentionally do anything wrong. He tried his best with what he was given, and still managed to disappoint his master. Fear inhibited him from doing what he knew his master expected of him, and even though he thought he had taken the best course of action for the circumstances, he was still scolded and sentenced to “the outer darkness” where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth,” which sounds like a very unpleasant place. I think the lesson to be learned here is that we should not let fear prevent us from doing what we know is right, regardless of how others might respond to our choices. At the end of the day, if we have seriously thought through our decisions and how they would impact others, made the decision that we think would be best, and are able to explain/support the decision that was made, we should have little to fear about how others will react.

Reading 00

Hi there! Welcome to my blog for CSE 40175 Ethical and Professional Issues. My name is Chau-Nhi, and I am a senior majoring in Computer Science. I’m from Minnesota, but I currently live in Farley Hall, home of the Finest. In my free time, you’ll probably find me playing the guitar and singing in my room or trying to do something artsy with hand lettering. Other things I’m involved in on campus are World Hunger Coalition, tutoring at the Robinson Center, and liturgical life in Farley. Faith is very important to me, so I’m excited to be taking a class that fosters discussion around how values shape our work as engineers, and I hope to gain a better understanding of how my faith can inform my studies and work when some people believe these two should be kept separate. I chose to study computer science because of two reasons: (1) I didn’t like any other engineering disciplines, and (2) I thought it would be the best way for me to use my skills to help other people. In order to actually use my knowledge and skills in computer science to help people, I need to take the time to consider the ethical implications of what I’m doing, which can be tricky because any time humans are involved, things get a lot more complicated.

I hope this class will force me to think about and take a stand on some issues that I may have been avoiding because I don’t like conflict. I’m not very familiar with current ethical and moral issues that computer scientists and engineers are dealing with. Since I didn’t follow politics growing up, it would be interesting to discuss how politics and technology influence each other, and how other people/disciplines are affected by choices that computer scientists and engineers make.

Please keep in mind that these posts are my initial reaction to readings for this course, and that my opinions and stances may change after discussing these issues in class or with other people.