Earlier this week, a post written by programmer and teacher Bill Sourour went viral. It’s called “Code I’m Still Ashamed Of.”
In it he recounts a horrible story of being a young programmer who landed a job building a website for a pharmaceutical company. The whole post is worth a read, but the upshot is he was duped into helping the company skirt drug advertising laws in order to persuade young women to take a particular drug.
He later found out the drug was known to worsen depression and at least one young woman committed suicide while taking it. He found out his sister was taking the drug and warned her off it.
Decades later, he still feels guilty about it, he told Business Insider. And he was inspired to write the post after he viewed a talk by Robert Martin, called “The Future of Programming.” Martin is a famous-in-his-world programmer and speaker better known as “Uncle Bob.”
Software developers ‘kill people’
Martin argues in that talk that software developers better figure out how to self-regulate themselves and fast.
Slideshare/Lemi Orhan Ergin
“Let’s decide what it means to be a programmer,”Martin says in the video. “Civilization depends on us. Civilization doesn’t understand this yet.”
His point is that in today’s world, everything we do like buying things, making a phone call, driving cars, flying in planes, involves software. And dozens of people have already been killed by faulty software in cars, while hundreds of people have been killed from faulty software during air travel.
“We are killing people,” Martin says. “We did not get into this business to kill people. And this is only getting worse.”
He pointed out that “there are hints” that developers will increasingly face some real heat in the years to come. He cited Volkswagen America’s CEO, Michael Horn, who at first blamed software engineers for the company’s emissions cheating scandal during a Congressional hearing, claimed the coders had acted on their own “for whatever reason.” Horn later resigned after US prosecutors accused the company of making this decision at the highest levels and then trying to cover it up.
But Martin pointed out, “The weird thing is, it was software developers who wrote that code. It was us. Some programmers wrote cheating code. Do you think they knew? I think they probably knew.”