The Ethics Of Software Development

Short Form
Scheduled: Wednesday, June 24, 2015 from 3:45 – 4:30pm


The software we build has an impact on millions of people, and while it can be empowering for many, it is often disempowering for many others. Many times we as developers don't really think through these issues, and that is really a shame because the work we do has enormous impact on people's lives, and that impact is very often in opposition to a lot of the values that we hold dear. This session will talk through some of these issues, and explain why it is so important that we think about how we affect the world, and try to frame our work in a way that meshes well with our own values.


In 1996 I was working at a startup in Chicago overhauling their horribly designed internal applications – order entry, lead management, customer registration, the works. Early on I got the entire admin team together to talk through how they work and what their day to day pain points were. At some point during this conversation, as I listened to their issues and mentally tabulated how to address them, I realized that the end point of this project would be that half the people in the room got fired.

This began a mental conversation with myself that continues to this day – What are the impacts of the software I build, not just on those who use it but on the community at large? How does my work affect the world? I think this is a critical conversation for all developers to have with themselves if they want to have a positive impact on the world (as I assume most people attending Open Source Bridge do.)

Note that this session will absolutely not be about laying judgment about what is or isn’t right and wrong, but more about taking the time to think through your own values and whether or not the work you do meets them. If not, how do you handle it? Every action has positive and negative impacts, which ones are you willing to live with? How can you find the work that represents the change you want to see in the world?


ethics, Development, change

Speaking experience

I have speaking regularly at conferences for over five years, largely in the Drupal community. I have spoken at six DrupalCons, and countless DrupalCamps, largely around topics involving configuration management. Most recently I gave the keynote presentation at the Pacific Northwest DrupalCamp, Stay For The Community. The talk was not recorded, but I made a blog post version at I presented "Painting The Bikeshed: Lessons From A Drupal 8 Initiative Lead" at Open Source Bridge 2012.


  • Greg Dunlap



    Greg graduated from college in 1991 having majored in photojournalism and fine art photography. With the US in a deep recession and the future of publishing already on the verge of disruption, Greg was first to volunteer when his boss, the owner of a Chicago Real Estate newspaper, asked if anyone wanted to help move the paper’s database from Paradox for Dos to Paradox for Windows. He’s been in the software business ever since.

    Greg is also a passionate pinball player, and has been participating in pinball tournaments for nearly 20 years. He is currently ranked 219th in the world. For some of his career he managed to marry his fascination with the game with his software engineering work, writing C++ code to run various games.

    Greg makes his home in Portland, OR with his lovely girlfriend and their menagerie of animals.