career dev

pro v amateur

I’m struggling to find the author of the quote but I remember reading that a professional is a ‘gun for hire’, a mercenary if you like – a tool to get a job done. Whilst an amateur will do something for the true passion of it as they have no ulterior motive.

I like the popular line that ‘a chef should always eat their own cooking ‘. Another interpretation of professional responsibility comes from history. In Roman times, bridge building engineers were made to sleep under the arches with their family for a period afterwards to ensure its quality !!

This can be interpreted many different ways but I think when trying to analyse situations you always have an awareness of peoples bias or real motivations. Are they acting this way to look good in front of their boss, for a potential pay rise, for attention, to avoid responsibility….the list is long! But I would say money and ego are a good place to start when analysing employee behaviour.

Some people will classify ‘amateur ‘ differently, in the underperforming, just beginning or naive sense. This article ( from a very popular blog I’ve followed for a while gives one such overview .

In my background as a professional golf player and teacher the title carries significant meaning and implications. The involvement of money is the yardstick foe true achievement. The pressure of performing with a years wages in the balance on one shot or the pressure of creating a reputation and ability for helping others that is something you can live off, is real commitment and ability.

I wonder what this means in computing? Showing up every day to tackle a large ugly codebase? Meeting deadlines ? Creating motivation amongst colleagues ? Giving a conference talk? Tackling your weaknesses head on?

As regards to becoming a professional in the data science or computing world, what does it entail? For me the lecture could be summed up with two very clear points: responsibility and codified standards.

Your behaviour, attitude and performance all directly and indirectly affect your employer and their clients . Their reputation, finances, customer relationships. This is a weighty set of responsibilities.

A set of codified standards helps professionals carry out the above responsibilities with a clarity of purpose. It allows a newcomer or experienced professional to act accordingly in an unfamiliar situation .

The above could be classed as a long preamble to the main topic of today and the main topic of discussion concerning the digital world, namely ethics.

Having consumed Snowden’s new autobiography in but a handful of sittings last month I must say it’s powerful effect still lingers in my consciousness.

Did he do the right thing? I’m certainly happier knowing the full abilities of the government and having a much better understanding of the inner workings of our communications infrastructure. But then is it really as the government says, that this allows them to catch the bad guys?

This story makes us appreciate that ethics and law are different things. You can be illegal but ethically correct for example, perhaps as Snowden felt. Was it moral? Ethics and morals are not interchangeable terms.My good friend Timo wrote this brilliant summation in our group chat:

“The terms are somewhat confusingly used, but here’s how they’re used in philosophy (might be different in other local communities):
“Ethics” refers to the study of what’s “moral”/”ethical”. “Moral” is interchangeable with “ethical” and refers to a property that actions can have. They are adjectives. If an action is moral/ethical, it is “good” to do it.”

So why do we need ethics in computing? As the world becomes increasingly digitized it could be said they almost everyone in the developed world comes into contact with multiple interfaces every day. The design, messaging and objectives of each interface can greatly affect outcomes. With this in mind, it is the developers of these interfaces (from apps, to websites, to OS design) that wield great power and thus responsibility. It takes teams of developers to produce software at scale. This article caught me in my tracks when I read last year – ( and I also recently mentioned Tristan Harris in his interview with Tim Ferris. This outake from the article should give everyone pause for thought about the platforms power, “An internal Facebook report leaked this year, for example, revealed that the company can identify when teens feel “insecure”, “worthless” and “need a confidence boost”.

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