Glyph Lefkowitz just wrote an excellent article titled Ethics for Programmers: Primum non Nocere. It's an excellent read, and I encourage everyone to do so.

Because of the sheer importance of computer systems in our lives and societies, we need to ensure, not just through rigorous development practices and source code review by our peers, that our product is of the highest quality it can be and free from malicious code by adhering to ethical, industry-wide standards.

The only real problem with this sort of thing is not just programmers, but managers and thus companies should be forced to abide by these ethics.  Perhaps even penalties for failure to do so.  Reason being that managers will always have ideas that we programmers consider unethical, then we get fired for refusing to do the work as it violates our ethics. 

I see this as a Good Thing (tm).  However, I don't see it happening soon enough.  Also don't see any sort of body to be a central place that us ethical programmer can associate with.  The first that comes to mind is the ACM (who have a Code of Ethics themselves).  Perhaps the need to for this sort of standards body could help springboard the idea of a Programmer's Union.  (Which is needed, because if I refuse to do the work because of ethical reasons, that it's not hard for a company to just find another programmer without such ethical constraints).

In any event, the idea of industry-wide standards of ethics is a Good Thing.  I just hope that everyone has the testicular fortitude to abide by their ethics in the face of management.


  • The Industry


  • 1/8/2014 - Updated the link to the ACM's Code of Ethics.
  • 4/7/2006 - Article published.