Are you really making the world a better place and the pressure you’re under not to

Photo by Ashley Jurius on Unsplash

When building software products it’s easy to lose sight of why you’re doing it, what you’re trying to achieve and whether you’re doing any good. A theme that runs through the industry is “we’re making the world a better place”. But are we really? There’s an amazing Mitchell and Webb sketch where they explore this. I struggled a lot with this in my career. I’ve been asked to build things that I thought weren’t in the user interest (“No I will not build you an engine to spam your customers”). I’ve had to deal with how shady people abuse the Internet to take advantage of other people. I’ve been asked to do things I considered against the law (and then been foribidden from raising it with the legal team). I’ve felt uncomfortable at the ethical decisions my employer has been making (and even been touted as someone who resigned over it).

The act of building products puts us under a lot of competing pressures, each of these comes with a set of pressures can push us into a bad direction:

And this is the problem. We are under pressure either as individuals, as teams or as companies to have an impact. And the impact we’re under pressure to have is making money. Is it any wonder that the lines get blurred? We also, as a species, are willing to obey the instructions of authority figures and absolve ourselves of responsbility. Human beings are not wired to say no.

So how do we combat this? How do we know if we’re building things in the interest of our fellow humans?

All of this is a bit overwhelming. Once you realise just how our society is biased towards rewarding doing the wrong thing for the first time it can be scary. You realise that the default is to think money first and everything else and nice to have. And this is the challenge of building products in the 21st century as human beings run into the limits of the planet they live on. If you’re not asking yourself whether you’re really making the world a better place you’re probably not. My own journey through the tech taught me that. Otherwise how could so many brilliant and well meaning people cause so much harm?

Ex-Google, ex-Netscape, ex-Skyscanner. Interested in solving complex problems without complexity and self sustaining self improving organisations.

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