Nowadays we hear a lot about the required staff and the required jobs. Non-essential workers are either laid off and filing for unemployment or, like us in the technology sector, are working from home with minimal difficulty. Essential workers are expected to attend despite the epidemic and keep their lives in line. As the quarantine goes on, even the lucky ones among us are learning how to do without acceptable things and feeling the pressure of isolation and uncertainty and sadness. People with school-age children are trying to deal with 24/7 childcare while balancing work needs.
As people spend less and spend less, the economy begins to shrink, falter and spiral downwards. Watching this game, I wonder, is it really essential? Food and grocery stores are obviously essential. Such as healthcare providers and those who keep water and electrons flowing. I’m cutting my own hair and it’s not really that bad. We can play games, watch movies and read the books we already have. We can make our own music. I don’t really need new clothes or shoes if I’m not going anywhere. My old leggings and sweaters will do just fine.
My personal needs have always been quite simple. What I miss most is the time with my eldest daughter, whom I haven’t seen in 6 weeks, and the freedom to hang out and explore. My regular routine includes lots of dog walks, hikes and short road trips. I love to explore. But near parks and trails and beaches, my horizons have narrowed considerably.
But beyond personal, current events have affected everyone’s professional life in one way or another.
I think more about what is and is not essential in my work. I’m not a farmer or a doctor or a mail carrier, so the value of what I do is less obvious. I design software. Meetings and procedures and status reports and backlogs and dashboards and burndown and process flow and empathy maps we use only to achieve a goal.
Well designed software.
Can the current crisis help us refocus on issues that are really important to our organization, our clients, and our communities? When discussing the opportunities and features of a software project, I would ask, “How does it make us more money or save us money?” I thought that was a valid way to measure value. I was a bit off base. Is it too idealistic to change the narrative? If we begin to ask, “How does this create a more sustainable, secure, just world?”
Software in general can and does serve well. Educational software that helps teachers teach students anywhere in the world. Communication software that allows us to spend time with friends and family and colleagues. ECommerce software that brings together producers and consumers to meet people’s needs. Healthcare software that tracks patient history so doctors and nurses can make quick, accurate diagnoses and treatment decisions. Government websites allow people to access up-to-date information, apply for benefits, pay taxes or register to vote.
The Association for Computing Machinery provides ethical guidelines for software practitioners, summarizing that “in all cases, the best consideration of the computing professional should be to advance the public good.”
There are many things in this sentence.
How can we bring this ethical framework into our daily professional practice?