Ethics For Program Builders

By Tom Worthington

Immediate Past President

Australian Computer Society Inc.

For the ANU Construction of Program Systems course (COMP2031 & ENGN2003)

First presented 19 May 1999

Good morning, this is near the end of your course, so lets see what you have learned. Lets say you are assigned to work at a company to redevelop an application previously provided by another company. How many of you would be confident to take an existing application and use strategies of abstraction, decomposition and reuse to re-construct a large or complex software system?

How many of you would know to first check if the client had the rights to reuse the old software? Would you know the additional legal and ethical obligations placed on you if it is a safety critical system? If you get these questions wrong, you may have a short career and spend many years in jail.

The ACS has a Code of Professional Conduct and Professional Practice, incorporating a code of ethics which requires all members to act with professional responsibility and integrity. The code is only binding on members, however this is an advanced course for use in industry, so judges and others are likely to are likely to use such codes when considering your actions in using the techniques learnt here.

Professional Conduct and Professional Practice

The code goes into detail on points in the ACS Code of Ethics:

These are general points which apply to any IT professional's work. In general they apply to a person working in any profession. However IT is relatively new and is bringing up old ethical problems, in new guises.

Each individual professional must decide the correct ethical course in each case. You may have to act against the directions of your superiors to act legally, or against the law to act ethically. Being a member of a professional body, such as the ACS, can help. But ultimately it is for you to decide.


There are no final or simple answers with ethical issues. If I have left you with an uneasy feeling that you need to do more, but some ideas of possible action this has been worthwhile.


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