In Defense of Cal Poly's CSC-300

This post is a bit of an open letter and rant. Recently, one of my old professors asked on Facebook for former student's responses to the canceling of California Polytechnic State University's CSC 300: Professional Responsibilities. This letter is a blog post because I could not fit my response in a Facebook comment...


To whom it may concern,

I am writing in regards to the rumored cancellation of CSC 300.

The majority of my job is writing and talking, convincing people of ideas, and deciding on why we should and shouldn't do things. On occasion, I write code, but after my first few years as a dev, I saw that becoming a smaller part of my day-to-day. 300 taught me how to write well. Especially considering how inapplicable and outdated the "technical writing" class was.

I graduated in 2011, and I am currently the Lead Site Reliability Engineer at First Look Media. Before this, I worked at Adobe, iFixit, Punchd, Google, LittleBits, and Hillary for America.

No other class talks about ethics for people who have the power to shape current society. People writing software are now deeply intertwined with the success of many parts of the world. For example, the early success of Obamacare is often linked with the uptime of healthcare.gov. Another example, both Volkswagen and GM are planning to move large portions of their fleets to be fully electric. Oh not to mention all of the work that goes into building systems around medical tech. See articles on how to hack pacemakers wirelessly.

Lately, I am finding ethics are a constant discussion among my colleagues. Is it ethical to work on something like a "database of Muslims"? Is it ethical to write bots that patch security holes against the will of an operator? What about hacktivism? If someone takes down a vital service with increased network traffic, are they committing a crime?



Traditional philosophical debates cover some of these questions but often falls short. A lot of this stuff is so new the discussion is ongoing, even in our highest courts. Many people in tech have never heard of IEEE or ACM code of ethics. Many don't know about the laws around calling yourself an engineer. Until we have a test that requires us to know these things (such as the PE), classes that teach us the world of application of tech and the societal impact of it is incredibly important.

So please don't remove this class for the required curriculum of CSC.

Nathaniel Welch