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Tech Ethics and Professionalism

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Anne Currie, strategist at Container Solutions and co-founder of the Sustainable Servers campaign, is giving a talk titled "Are Tech Ethics Unprofessional?" at the upcoming conference. The Aginext conference runs in London on 21-22 March, and is focused on looking at the future of agile, lean, CI/CD and DevOps transformations. InfoQ will record some of the conference sessions and is talking to some of the speakers.

Currie spoke to InfoQ about her talk. 

InfoQ: Why has tech ethics become such a hot topic lately?

Anne Currie: We've started to realise that tech can no longer be about things, not people. We have become too big and too powerful to not consider our impact on society and the planet. We aren't artisans any more.

InfoQ: What's changed in the attitudes of the tech community over the last couple of years?

Currie: We started to realise that we have the responsibility to question and the power. Even a year ago, developers were telling me they were questioning if what they were instructed to do was unprofessional. Since then we've realised it is quite the reverse. A lot of ethical mistakes are merely inadvertent. If we don't mention issues when we see them, we are not doing a responsible job. After all, we are the experts.

InfoQ: Please give us some some examples of where ethical behaviour has made a difference, and where things have fallen down.

Currie: Google is the biggest non-governmental purchaser of renewable power on the planet. They have the most ambitious plans of any tech company to stop harming the climate. This is a great example of doing the right thing, at scale, effectively.

For things falling down: bitcoin & its completely unconcerned attitude to pollution. FB and their unconcerned attitude to their own power over their users.

InfoQ: What are some ways that ethical behaviour can be encouraged and promoted ?

Currie: Increasingly we outsource to platforms and frameworks. For example we outsource hosting to the cloud providers (along with the climate impacts) we outsource the complexities of web dev to JS frameworks like React or Angular (along with accessibility and security). We need to demand appropriate ethical behaviour from these platforms (e.g. security, accessibility and renewable hosting). The future is abstraction, so we need to not abstract away any feelings of personal responsibility.

InfoQ: How do we as a technical community make it safe to speak up, especially in situations where doing so could have impact on someone's employment (or worse)?

Currie: Those of us who are secure or brave enough to speak out (and remember, no one is going to die here) need to just get used to constantly talking about their ethical demands. We're happy to talk about our diversity demands. What about sustainability & accessibility?

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