Bill Sourour’s article, “The Code I’m Still Ashamed Of,” discusses the very real issue of ethical guidelines—or the lack thereof—in tech. He was employed by an interactive marketing firm that had been founded by a medical doctor and who’s main clients were large pharmaceutical companies. One of his assignments there involved a drug that was mainly targeted towards teenage girls. He was expected to create a quiz and that would recommend a particular drug based on the answer set; regardless of the answer set, it always gave the same drug as a result. He delivered the complete project and later on learned that multiple girls had become severely depressed or committed suicide after using the same drug he build the quiz for.
One can argue that Sourour was just doing his job, and a good one at that. He followed the guidelines of the project and met the requirements provided by the client. It was only natural for him as a developer to do what he was told. Even so, there is no denying that he did not play a part in the unethical practices of the client. He should have spoken up sooner.
Even though Sourour resigned soon after learning what the drug was doing to the young girls taking it, he still played a small role in harming these patients that were taking the drug.
I myself have never written any code that I’m not proud or ashamed of, not at my previous internship nor in any school assignments. I’ve only ever had to worry about making good grades on my coding assignments, never about causing harm to anyone or anything else. I can’t necessarily relate to Sourour, but I can learn from his mistakes. Sourour later mentions, “As developer, we are often one of the last lines of defense against potentially dangerous and unethical practices,” and I agree. I agree that we developers do have a say in the code we ship out. I believe that if we speak out loudly enough, we will be heard and possibly save lives as opposed to harming them. We as developers just need to be extremely critical of our assigned projects and their purposes.
Lastly, Sourour mentions that we are quickly approaching a time where the software that developers write will be driving the vehicles that we are all passengers in. Software is slowly taking a larger presence in our lives and so it’s more important for developers to ensure that the correct ethical practices are in place. The developers job will now not only require them to complete the many assignments and tasks thrown at them, but they will also have to look at the assignments’ requirements closely. They will need to be more critical of what they are being asked to do. As my senior year comes to a close and I get one step closer to being one of those developers, I will make sure to keep Sourour’s words in mind. I will remember that I, a developer, am the last line of defense against unethical practices.