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Guest Editorial: Do DBAs Need a Code of Ethics? Expand / Collapse
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Posted Thursday, February 05, 2009 6:16 AM


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As Brad said "it really is down to SQLServerCentral.Com to take the lead, and create a code of ethics using the input of the largest DBA community on Earth"
Post #650771
Posted Thursday, February 05, 2009 6:53 AM
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Speaking both as a member of the PASS Board of Directors and as a concerned DBA, it's an interesting and tricky subject. I do believe it has value for our profession if it can be done right,and my definition of right is:

- It has to be strictly ethics, not anything tied to any "best practice". If a business wants to use RAID 0 or a consumer grade PC for a server or deploy shoddy code, in general that is their right and shouldn't challenge our ethics
- We have to realize that these are guidelines with no power to enforce other than our own conscious. Are you willing to resign a position if they would ask you to violate one of the ethics rules?
- It can actually be used to support us by pointing to an industry standard definition of ethical behavior, in many cases I think employers might go "hey, there is guidance out there"
- It needs to include some add-on coaching. Let's say you work in banking and are pretty sure there is a sql injection vulnerability and you notify the business - does that complete your obligation, or are you in a position to have be a whistle blower?

Which may or may not be the right definition. I guess I see it having a lot of value for inexperienced DBA's that see something bad happening, just helping them understand how bad and how much responsibility/liability would be a useful thing.


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Post #650799
Posted Thursday, February 05, 2009 6:54 AM
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A written code of ethics is an admission of failure.

Everyone knows what ethical behavior is. Having written guidelines are nothing more than a feel good measure to sooth the conscious of those who feel they must do "something", no matter how ineffectual.

Those who are ethical do not require a written code, those who are not would not adhere to it. So in the end, what is the point?

Put another way, the underlying assumptions behind a written code are:

1. No one knows what the rules (ethics) are.

2. Writing them down will (magically) make everyone follow them.

Both assumptions are false.

I understand this post is very strongly worded, because this is for me a core belief. Those who need a written code of ethics have no business being trusted--at all, in any capacity. You learn ethics in kindergarten. Just because you're in a position of power the rules don't change.

Frankly, it's disturbing that anyone (in any profession) ever felt the need to produce a written guideline for ethical behavior. Maybe for first graders as a remedial course. But not for adults.
Post #650802
Posted Thursday, February 05, 2009 6:58 AM
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Question is this ethics board going to be willing to stand up for a member that has been asked to do something unethical and they are terminated for not compiling?
Post #650806
Posted Thursday, February 05, 2009 7:00 AM
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Well said, Andy Warren.

roger.plowman (2/5/2009)
Everyone knows what ethical behavior is.

If only.

Ethics comes from an individual considering their moral position, and can be assisted but not defined by a "Code". It is about being aware of the wider context and the implications for other people of what you do, in addition to anything that laws, regulations and employers' terms say.

If, to become a member of a professional body, you have to be informed about and to reflect on the ethical dimensions of your work, you can be expected to notice and avoid or query ethically questionable behaviour, and be challenged where you have failed to do so. This is not about enforcing a set of rules, it makes it possible to debate whether you should have acted differently despite rules, or the lack of them.

An employer may set a "code of ethics", but the idea is that the individual see things from a perspective far wider than their current job, and get better at doing the "right" thing. It's all very fuzzy and grey, and yes, we learn it from childhood but get better by continued learning, considering and reflecting.
Post #650812
Posted Thursday, February 05, 2009 7:17 AM
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Ewan Hampson (2/5/2009)
Well said, Andy Warren.

roger.plowman (2/5/2009)
Everyone knows what ethical behavior is.

If only.

Ethics comes from an individual considering their moral position, and can be assisted but not defined by a "Code". It is about being aware of the wider context and the implications for other people of what you do, in addition to anything that laws, regulations and employers' terms say.


Sorry to be blunt, but this is not rocket science. There are only two guiding principles.

1. Do not lie.

2. Do not steal.

Even #1 can be subsumed into #2 (theft of truth). After that, it becomes a matter of determining who owns what. And while that can be tricky, the underlying principle never changes. Ever. For any reason.

You are paid to safeguard the integrity and confidentiality of the data. Translated: If you violate your agreement you are stealing from your employer. Yes, deliberate intent is required, and due diligence covers issues like some bad guy making it past your best efforts.

But anything else? Do not steal.

Did I just create a written code of ethics in spite of myself? :)
Post #650831
Posted Thursday, February 05, 2009 7:20 AM


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FFalcon1961 (2/5/2009)
Question is this ethics board going to be willing to stand up for a member that has been asked to do something unethical and they are terminated for not compiling?


Sounds like developer ethics to me . . . not sure if that was a joke or not, on the one hand it's a very good point (if read as "complying"), on the other hand, it's funny as all get out.


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Post #650834
Posted Thursday, February 05, 2009 7:25 AM


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As has been discussed by a few different posters, there are certain professional groups that require membership in a larger organization (i.e. Medical Personnel) that enforces ethical practices.

I would argue that, in modern society, the only reason to have a written code of ethics is to enforce it. Every individual has a pretty good idea of right and wrong; they're going to make their own choices regardless of what's written. Having a well-defined code of ethics allows an oversight entity to point to it and say "this is why you're disbarred."

Until and unless there is some overarching DBA professional organization that everyone belongs to (and that has power to enforce ethical policy) there is no point in creating a DBA code of ethics.
Post #650840
Posted Thursday, February 05, 2009 7:25 AM
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I agree with you completely. This will be a double edge sword. The problem I see with this a person of ethics will stay ethical. If I become a part of a group that support a code of ethics that I am to follow. What support does the Code of Ethics give me? If my employer interprets it one way and it is ok and my next manager comes back and uses the Code of Ethics set by the DBAs Code of Ethics and terminates me. What good is the Code.
If someone doesn't have this already then a code isn't going to change things.
Post #650841
Posted Thursday, February 05, 2009 7:40 AM
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This sounds more like some narcissistic, self-important, "oh look at me, I'm ethical" monkey business - a complete waste of time serving no purpose and surely not being enforceable. What are we going to do? Send unethical DBAs to a prison on some island like say, Cuba?


I agree with this. The writer of the piece I read sounded like they had disappeared up their own backside and started comparing themselves with a doctor of medicine. Yes a DBA could potentially do a lot of damage but so could a lot of much less qualified people, in much less 'important' jobs.

As DBAs we make technical decisions, not ethical ones. There is actually a right and a wrong solution to each problem we face. Granted, we have to work around things from time to time but it's a case of 'how do I...' not 'should I...'

If your manager asks you to break the law, then they're breaking the law,
If you steal data, look at confidential information for no reason, edit information for your own purposes etc etc then you are breaking your conditions of employment and probably the law.

If you find your self wondering if what you're doing is morally right or wrong then see your manager.


Tom


Just as a point, and I think the term 'ethical' has been taken to mean a number of things now, can anyone give me an example of a moral/ethical/code of conduct related dilema they've faced?
I think all things to do with the management of a database will be covered by law or terms of employment.

Post #650864
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