Ethical behavior in software development



Ethics, as a branch of philosophy, has existed since ancient Greece and has been adopted in many areas of life, including industries and professional practices, as a guide to moral behavior. In fields such as medicine, ethical considerations are fairly straightforward – “do no harm” being the most important.

In terms of engineering, ethics were first adopted around 1912 by American engineering companies and have followed the air of providing honest, impartial, just and equal services, which contribute to the protection of the public safety, health and welfare. The ethical issue of protecting the welfare of the public is sufficiently clear in engineering disciplines like civil engineering, but what about younger disciplines like software engineering, where the degree of contact between software engineers and members of the public is less apparent?

Industry ethics

Ethical breaches on the part of some IT industry bodies and fringe participants, such as hackers and unregulated entities, are regularly observed. From online fraud and DDOS attacks to violating Facebook’s privacy policies, ethical behavior in software seems in urgent need of further articulation and streamlining: “A code of conduct that applies to everything. which is digital would be ideal, ”says Moira de Roche, IFIP Board of Directors. Director and non-executive director of IITPSA, but in reality what needs to be encouraged is “a common understanding of integrity among professionals – both individually and as IT organizations”.

The actions of IT professionals are changing the world, as the International Federation for Information Processing (IFIP) Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct specifically points out, and as such ICT professionals should “contribute positively to society in a way that minimizes unintentional ethical errors and maximizes Opportunities.” This extends to cases of good and bad practice where failure to follow industry standard practices may lead to opportunities for unethical acts; for example, failure to update necessary security measures can lead to compromised data, making systems more vulnerable to hacking and cyber attacks. keeping in mind the power that ICT professionals have in shaping society can ultimately help make the ICT industry more ethical that as a whole.

Organizational ethics

Boards of professional members and bodies within industries help articulate and regulate codes of ethics, which in turn serve as guides for individual organizations when drafting their own codes of ethics. Within the software industry, the Association for Computing Machinery and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers were among the first to adopt a code of ethics and professional conduct in the 1990s, although the concept of IT ethics has been explored since the 1940s.

The codes of these bodies have contributed to the formation of specialized research and regulatory bodies, such as IFIP, which help more regional bodies, such as the Institute of Information Technology Professionals South Africa (IITPSA), to formulate their own codes of ethics and, in turn, to be accountable to them. IIITPSA is recognized by SAQA and accredited with the IFIP International Professional Practice Partnership, a platform designed to help shape and implement policies aimed at fostering professionalism in the global ICT sector, on which their own code of conduct is aligned.

These regulatory bodies then serve as guides to individual members, making membership in IITPSA beneficial in ensuring adherence to industry standards and ethics through their code of ethics, their “global awareness of” the profession ”, to which all members are held accountable. Organizational codes of ethics stipulate what ethical and moral conduct is expected of members and employees throughout the organization, in the form of ethical principles and practices.

At the organizational level, codes of ethics must “give voice to the values ​​of an organization and inform ethical decision-making”, explains De Roche.

BBD CIO and IITPSA Professional CIO, Tony van der Linden, explains: “As stated in the BBD Code of Conduct, at BBD we believe that acting ethically and responsibly is not only the right thing to do, but also the right thing to do. for our business. Our Code, reinforced by our daily behavior, represents the model for doing business the right way, and “doing business the right way” can only be achieved when individuals act ethically and consistently within our Code. , our policies and the law. “

The IITPSA Professional CIO (Pr.CIO) designation in South Africa recognizes highly skilled and experienced CIOs at the peak of their careers. The IITPSA Pr. CIO designation is awarded only to professionals who have gained extensive experience in the role of CIO, specifically recognizing the qualifications and experience in the role of senior manager responsible for the interface between the company and the computer science.

Individual ethics

“Ethics boils down to individual decision-making. It’s deciding on a daily basis not to be an unethical person, ”describes De Roche. “It’s about what is naturally right and understanding that there are consequences to one’s actions. As a leading software development company, BBD believes that its reputation for acting ethically and responsibly is built one decision at a time, every day, by each of its employees.

Recognizing right from wrong and acting on it is ethics put into practice, and the collective understanding of an ethical code is what defines these ethical behaviors. Seeing through an “ethical lens” can help guide decisions, especially in cases where direct involvement may not be the case, but turning a blind eye is the unethical decision to make. “Joining a professional body, like IITPSA, for professional liability, and subscribing to its code of ethics as a benchmark when faced with difficult decisions, can help,” said Tony Parry, CEO of IITPSA. It is worth knowing if your organization is a member of such a body, otherwise joining as an individual for your own professional responsibility can help you keep abreast of developments within codes of ethics as they arise. as the relationship and adoption of the IT industry with ethics evolves. .

In cases where the ethical choice is not necessarily the most obvious, such as with free code and open source software, attribution or recognition may in fact be required. This is where questioning the ethics behind your use of the framework, and respecting the framework for the value it adds to society, helps guide your decision. And in case of doubt, it is advisable to ask for authorization or contribution, either from direct superiors or from professional bodies.

A lasting ethic

As stated in the IFIP Code of Ethics and Business Conduct: “Codes with fixed references are of little help in a rapidly changing ICT environment”, and as such the Code is based on on an ambitious model which sets ethical objectives. This is useful in an environment where technologies such as AI, machine learning and robotics are at play and questions such as “how to punish an autonomous car for hitting a pedestrian?” »Arise. “Ethical considerations should not be any different in the future,” explains De Roche. “Decision-making processes must remain the same and professionals must remain fair and impartial. ”

“We must embody and convey the same ethics in devices and technologies with decision support software”, reiterates De Roche. And it’s more important than ever for people behind this technology, by actively making decisions that impact the performance of the technology.

“At BBD, we teach skills and instill the passion to work, grow and play in each of our employees, but it is difficult, if not impossible, to make unethical people ethical,” says Van der Linden . “Our leaders are drawn from those who understand this from the start and demonstrate good ethics in their day-to-day choices, while also excelling and developing their own abilities and helping others along the same path. When creating technology that can have the ability to make its own choice, like AI, these are the people we want to involve from the start, guiding and implementing safeguards, just as they guide. their own people. “

Being ethical should be innate to all of us, but in these times when doing what is right is not as clear as it seems, always look at your organization’s code of ethics, your personal values ​​and your core function. as a software engineer to contribute to society and human well-being in general.

Do not forget that :

  • Your actions, whether direct or indirect, have an impact on society and change people’s lives;
  • Adhering to best practices where possible can help minimize the threat of unethical behavior by others;
  • Professional bodies have clearly identified and articulated codes of ethics which are useful guides for acting in an ethical manner; and
  • An ethical industry boils down to ethical organizations, and ethical organizations boil down to ethical individuals. Always approach things with an ethical lens and when in doubt, ask.

Recognizing that everyone is involved in IT and minimizing the negative impacts of integrated technologies in almost all sectors of society is a key responsibility of all ICT practitioners and should guide your professional practice and the decisions you make. .

For more information on IIITPSA’s codes of conduct or how to become a member, visit

Reference: IFIP 2020 Ethics Task and Finish Group



Comments are closed.