Link to podcast by Matt Mckenzie and I… enjoy.
Link to podcast by Matt Mckenzie and I… enjoy.
As the technology revolution continues and machines become increasingly more sophisticated, blue-collar jobs are susceptible to the threat of automation. Coming from a place where many of my family members make a living doing blue-collar work, I find the concept of automation very interesting. I am going to be entering the world of software engineering where I may contribute to the progress of automation, so will I be putting some of my family members out of work? I have always had a family first type of attitude, so I would certainly not be content knowing my occupation served as a threat to my family. After reading more about the consequences of automation, I have been inclined to side with the idea that individuals who are smart enough to replace jobs with machines are also smart enough to create new jobs for the workers they have uprooted.
I believe the creation of new jobs would follow with increased automation because I think human nature lends itself to altruism. I believe the top engineers and businessmen who propel automation forward will also be concerned for the people that will lose their jobs. This intelligent group of people should be able to understand that negative consequences of putting millions of people out of work. Before deploying enhanced automation, I believe this intelligent group of people should at least consider potential solutions for the displaced work force. With respect to the capitalistic market in America, I do not believe there exists an obligation to account for the displaced working class; however, I believe their exists an obvious ethical responsibility to care for fellow human beings. In a sense, I believe the best solution in a potential society where automation eliminates millions of jobs is human nature influencing those in charge to find ways to accomodate the resulting jobless population.
The concept of a society with basic income intrigues me, and I don’t think it suits the nature of human beings. I support the concept that human beings are (usually) driven by ambition to achieve some goal and work provides a path for pursuing those goals. In our society, work is not always just a way to make money – even for people who hate their jobs. Work provides satisfaction and fulfillment when tasks are completed as well as social interactions that are critical for human life. If basic income became a part of society, then I believe there would have to be some other outlet created for the social interactions that take place at work. Ideally, people would be able to creatively pursue their own ambitions and that instinct alone would prevent couch potato apathy. In my opinion, the missing part is a feedback loop. At work, people complete tasks which lead to increased wages, promotions, and the periodic paycheck. In a society where no one is held accountable for completing tasks and the paycheck is received regardless, would people truly be motivated to work?
I am not convinced citizens of a basic income society would be motivated to work. Part of my skepticism results from no incentive to pursue higher education which I believe is often the source of ambition. Without tertiary education, I think people are less likely to be driven to acquire jobs that are often associated with degrees. If blue-collar jobs are being done by machines, then a basic income lifestyle seems like a viable option. However, I may be underestimating the natural desire to work, in which case I could see a Luddite style revolt reoccuring. I can picture modern day Luddites raiding technology offices with power washers destroying all computers in sight, soaking servers and smashing laptops. Pardon my hyperbole, I do believe this is a serious matter that should be considered. I can at least affirm that if my software engineering career were to ever put me in a position where my work would displace humans, then I would place higher priority on the potential threat to working class Americans than the profitability of my work.
To the Editor of the Observer:
Recently, the FBI has requested that Apple develop a backdoor into their encryption software so attempts can be made to unlock terrorist Syed Farook’s iPhone without potential loss of information. Currently, the FBI faces a dilemma because they do not have an adequate strategy to break into Farook’s phone because the version of iOS installed will erase the encrypted data after repeated incorrect guesses. In addition, the FBI finds itself very near the border of human rights and Apple, a progressive technology company, wants no part in helping the FBI cross that border.
This letter will present a defense for Apple’s position and advocate that Observer articles covering this event do the same. While pursuit of justice for Syed Farook’s abominable acts of terrorism should not be obstructed, a fear of terrorism should not influence decisions regarding legislation that violates the right to privacy. We do not believe that Apple’s refusal to create a backdoor is an obstruction of justice. Rather, we support Apple’s decision on the basis that they are protecting our right to privacy by denying the FBI a backdoor to all iPhones.
The implications of a security backdoor for the iPhone should be examined closely when choosing a side of this debate. Once software is created, it exists. As noted by John Oliver on Last Week Tonight, Apple is certainly not writing code on paper they can be burned in the fire once the FBI is done hacking Farook’s phone. If the code Apple creates for the FBI were to get into the wrong hands, then millions of iPhone users around the world would be vulnerable to a loss of privacy. We align our concern with the CEO of Apple, Tim Cook, who suggests that creating one master key that can turn millions of locks around the world is a dangerous proposition. As citizens, who can we trust to hold a key that powerful?
Also, do we truly believe the FBI and other investigative authorities plan on letting Apple destroy code that could potentially uncover evidence in major crimes? No, plenty of authorities such as the Manhattan District Attorney have phones lined up to be unlocked by Apple’s backdoor software. While the idea of uncovering evidence in many cases is attractive, this is only one potential consequence. There are many inevitable consequences that seemed to be ignored – security risks, extending government capabilities, and flooding requests for Apple to decrypt iPhones for less serious cases. I stress “potential consequence” because Syed Farook and his terrorist network could have certainly been utilizing a third party application with its own encryption algorithm that would render the Apple backdoor useless.
Finally, I would like to acknowledge the threat this mandate poses to innovation. One of the most lucrative results of capitalism is the increasingly complex technology companies produce in order to remain competitive in a packed market. Apple targets a high end segment which requires their product to be superior to similar products in multiple areas. A significant strength of the Apple suite of products is reliable security features that ensure consumers their data is protected. When the government begins passing legislation that inhibits companies from maximizing the quality of their products, advances in technology will decelerate; thus, end users and the government will also be on the losing end.
In short, we advocate that the Observer support Apple in its efforts to stand up against government action that reaches too far. Let us not fear terrorism so much that we accept invasive legislation by our own government.
Zachary LeBlanc and Matt McKenzie
Nobody likes too much advertising, but everybody likes a great deal. Consumers often take for granted the ability of companies to target their individual interests and to expose them to relevant ads. At the same time, people tend to despise the idea that tech companies like Facebook and Google are aggregating data about us behind the scenes. I personally don’t care and I defend my position by saying that I choose to participate in online sites that aggregate information and rewards programs that can link together my purchasing activity because it often benefits me. For example, I am a frequent user of Finish Line’s website because they always have great shoes on clearance. I discovered this site because I clicked on a Facebook ad that showed a cheap pair of basketball shoes that piqued my interest.
Why are people against companies aggregating public data? Most the data mentioned in the articles was a result of public activity such as shopping, Facebook likes, and birth records. All the data is public, so why should a company be at fault for using this information to make a profit? I recently read The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver and I have become increasingly interested in data analytics ever since. Statisticians like Andrew Pole of Target have an incredible skill that brings value to large companies. I personally disagree with the argument that this aggregation of personal data is invasive because we make it public by participating in social media and signing up for rewards programs. If you do this because you are attracted to the incentives, then you can’t complain that companies track activity to enhance the effectiveness of their strategy. We often benefit from optimized strategies because random ads that are meaningless to us individually do not show up, and ads that bring value to our lives show up everywhere. If all ads annoy, then use AdBlock!
That brings us to the question – is the use of ad blockers such as AdBlock ethical? I say yes. If companies aggregate data about us constantly, then why does it matter if we choose to use an ad blocker? It’s kind of a win-win, companies still get to gather useful information about our consumer activity and we can choose to block ads if we don’t want to see them. It’s no secret that many people use ad blockers, and some companies identify this on their sites. I have visited websites that require you to turn of ad blockers, and I have also visited sites that respect the use of ad blockers and ask for donations to replace lost revenue. I favor this approach as a consumer because it makes me aware of the effects of using ad blocker while respecting my decision to remove advertising from my browsing experience.
Now what happens when companies sell this data… well, I still don’t care. Like I said earlier, most of it is public! If the companies purchasing this data had the technical ability to gather such information, then they would surely have access to it. In addition, this method of generating profit helps to cancel out the common use of ad blockers. For instance, we can choose to keep them from effectively using the data to expose us to target ads, so they can sell the information to other companies and make money that way.
The point I am trying to make here is that the information is public, so if someone develops an efficient method for aggregating such large amounts of data, then more power to ’em. I am content seeing a few ads every once in awhile especially when they are relevant to me. I am always down for a cheap new pair of basketball shoes.
I am a supporter of Apple’s decision to refuse to comply with the FBI’s request for a backdoor into iOS. If Apple were to cooperate with the FBI, our government would then wield a tool similar to Harry Potter’s Expelliarmus with the power to disarm Americans by filing some paperwork. While the intended purpose may be to protect national security, the legal precedents being employed by the Department of Justice are outdated. I see a major flaw in the government’s use of a law enacted in 1789, the All Writs Act. In 1789, cybersecurity did not even exist, so how can we justify using a legal precedent from centuries ago to discern appropriate actions regarding a modern issue. If the All Writs Act indeed provides enough power to civil magistrates, then should we start applying other 1789 laws to contemporary cases. I certainly don’t think any government officials would agree with that…
Protecting national security can be a powerful phrase when trying to garner support for a controversial decision. While I see the obvious benefits of accessing a terrorist’s means of communication, I would like to push back on the idea that forcing Apple to provide decryption capabilities to the FBI truly protects national security. Earlier this week, I read a blog by Mark Cuban and he made a good point – there is no assurance that a successful hack into Syed Rizwan Farook’s phone would provide any investigative material. If Farook used sophisticated cryptic communication with his terrorist network, the FBI could take years to crack the code. There is also the possibility that Farook used a 3rd party application with its own encryption methods which is not unusual for a terrorist. On the other hand, if Apple develops a decryption method and the software is obtained by any of the talented hackers around the world – national security is certainly at risk. My question for the government would have to be – is the potential for making all iPhone users in the United States vulnerable to the vast criminally minded hacker community worth the possibility of uncovering evidence regarding the San Bernardino shootings?
I consider myself a conservative citizen, but I am not a person who greatly mistrusts the powers of government. However, in this case I do fear the repercussions of a legal precedent that grants government agencies the ability to access any targeted individual’s communication with a search warrant. I don’t use any 3rd party apps with strong encryption and I don’t have anything to hide, but I am not comfortable with the government having the power to access any conversation I take part in, with the exception being a letter I request the recipient to burn after reading. The problem with this power isn’t singularly related to the government obtaining it, but also derived from Bruce Schneier’s argument:
Either everyone gets access or no one does.
Essentially, if the government can hack our phones, then so can anyone smart enough to mimic or illegally obtain the decryption software. Also, the potential for blackmail, spying, and invasion of privacy is too great to justify this action. If you really want to cause a fuss, you could make this a human rights issue. At what point does the government’s reach extend beyond our unalienable rights… if that point is reached we must strip the qualifier unalienable and replace it with conditional.
My last grievance towards the requested compliance of Apple relates to the coercive nature of this decision. Apple dominates the high end market by developing an impressive suite of gadgets and software which includes their robust encryption. In a free market system, the government cannot be allowed to force a company to essentially nullify one of the greatest strengths of their product. In Apple’s case, this strength is security. I made the switch to Mac from PC because I was tired of dealing with viruses slowing down my computer (admittedly, I should have stopped using LimeWire). If Apple is forced to weaken their security, how can they retain pursuit of providing the highest quality product in the market? In the words of Ron Swanson, “capitalism is the only way.”
I can’t speak for everyone else, but I think I have a unique opinion towards interviews. My opinions really began to form when I interview for the global engineering firms at my freshman year at Notre Dame. I pretty much brought nothing to the table, and it was clear to me all of my interviewers know that. There decision to interview me was probably more of a professional courtesy to my connection in the industry who recommended me, but I appreciated it nonetheless. Experience is key to mastering interviews (not that I am a master) and that initial experience helped me moving forward.
The most important part of Matt and I’s interview advice is the notes on preparation. Our comments were very different and I think that is the most important takeaway. There is no interview preparation book that applies to everyone. Some students cracked the coding interview in their high school education, so they are way ahead of the curve and probably need to practice answering behavioral questions. Some students coded a little in high school, but succeeded as social butterflies and developed useful communication skills, so they probably need to practice answering technical questions. Some students have no experience coding at all (besides MATLAB), so they might not be able to crack the coding interview even if they tried. So what’s the answer? If you’re an engineer, use your problem solving skills to develop the best solution for interview preparation. I think that each student’s interview preparation can be viewed as a unique engineering problem. Examine yourself and determine the best guide to help you prepare for an upcoming interview.
My personal guide went roughly like this:
I think the most important part of my guide is number 3, it is completely okay to admit when you don’t know something. The first time I was flown out to a company’s offices, I did three consecutive interviews. During those interviews, I probably came across four or five questions that related to subjects I never studied. I made the interviewer aware, but still asked for a chance to solve it based on the general knowledge I had of programming. Typically, the interviewer and I ended up working through the problem together until the answer made sense to me. Flying back to ND, I assumed there was no chance they would offer me a job, but that ended up being my first internship.
I wish I would have known to be confident in my own technical skills. Naturally, I would compare myself to my peers in computer science. In retrospect, that was a useless practice because we all came from different backgrounds. Fortunately, companies are pretty good at determining a candidate’s ability to learn, not just what they already know. From my experience, what I already knew was actually less important than my strength of being able to pickup new technologies quickly. I hope that future students at Notre Dame who find themselves in my shoes will have confidence in their current skills and faith in their ability to learn.
In my last post, I outlined a code of ethics specifically targeted at Notre Dame students that Matt McKenzie and I developed. We used the ACM Code of Ethics as a model for our own. Matt and I focused our code of ethics on the responsibilities of a Notre Dame computer science and/or engineering student (CSE) after completing the undergraduate program. I believe this is important because we are often guided by our professors and restricted by university policies during our time at Notre Dame. After graduation, we venture out into a professional or graduate role where our skills will further develop and our freedom will increase.
To begin, we established some general morality guidelines that apply to most computer scientists with tweaks to further relate to Notre Dame students. One of my favorite points is “Make every class count” because I often see students take classes for granted. I believe there is always something you can learn from our professors at Notre Dame, no matter how boring or easy the subject may appear. I also genuinely appreciate the rule that one should “take action not to discriminate”. This rule relates to a unique characteristic of the Notre Dame experience, a strong sense of community we all experience during our 4 years.
Next, we covered some of the post graduate responsibilities of a Notre Dame student. Our first point is a crucial part of our code of ethics, Notre Dame professionals should “strive to increase the value of the Notre Dame brand”. At first glance, this may seem superficial and make you wonder if I work for the PR department. However, the purpose of this point is to benefit the future generations of domers. As Notre Dame alumnus working in the computer science industry, we have a profound effect on the ability of the following classes to acquire elite jobs and internships. If we commit ourselves to developing the Notre Dame brand, then we can open doors for future graduates of Notre Dame CSE.
Another unique guideline in our code of ethics stresses that one must “be a teacher”. I strongly connect to this point because I feel like it relates to my vocation. I think all graduates of the University of Notre Dame are capable of sharing the knowledge they have acquired through the process of teaching. When given managerial opportunities, I think it is an obligation for a Notre Dame alumnus to make an effort to develop the individuals working for him or her.
There are weaknesses in our code of ethics. For one, I am a spiritual person and my faith was injected into some of the points I developed. I am not one to impose my faith on others, but I do believe that Notre Dame graduates have an obligation to continue the mission of Our Lady. I believe that Notre Dame students should interview, negotiate, code, architect, and manage with grace. There are students at the University of Notre Dame who do not share in my faith and may object to this opinion, but I would argue that a faith based ethical code reflects the intentions of a Notre Dame education.
Developing a personal code of ethics is both a useful and valuable task. In the process, I was forced to think hard about what it means to be a computer scientist who has obtained the knowledge to create powerful tools with the available technologies. In addition, I developed a greater appreciation for the differences between my responsibilities as a graduate of the University of Notre Dame versus any other school. Love thee Notre Dame.
Every computer science and/or engineering student at the University of Notre Dame is expected to follow this Code of Conduct.
Section one is general moral imperatives. Section two is about professional responsibilities as a Notre Dame student or graduate. Section three is about managerial responsibilities as a Notre Dame student or graduate.
As with most codes of conduct, this document is open to interpretation. This Code of Conduct answers the question of what it means to be a Notre Dame student and how it affects his or her approach to Computer Science. This Code of Conduct is not dated and covers some emerging technologies.
As a student studying computer science and/or engineering at the University of Notre Dame, one should uphold and promote the principles of this code. In the professional world, a Notre Dame computer science graduate is expected to represent the university and the computer science and engineering department in the best possible way. This is done by performing one’s job with technical, ethical, and professional excellence.
I have been fortunate to have a relatively good job-seeking experience during my time as an undergrad at Notre Dame. For that reason, I do not particularly disagree with any of the hiring practices I was subject to, but there are a few things I would like to see altered over time. Most of my interviewing experience, minimal in comparison to some of my peers, was behavioral. I am a fan of behavioral interviews simply because I have less anxiety. That might make you think – is this guy just not technically skilled? At this stage of my education, I consider myself a good programmer with the technical ability necessary to be productive in the tech industry. I prefer less technical interviews because I do experience anxiety in tense situations like that and it affects my ability to focus. I would like to see more tech companies focus more on the person during interviews and allow their work to speak for itself.
My proposed solution would be to make it an industry standard to analyze technical abilities through an individuals past work. There are many ways to do this, most notably asking to view their GitHub profile (or other comparable online repositories). I think this is an effective solution because you can grasp an understanding of their coding style, if they have worked with teams, and how well the contribute to larger team projects. None of this can be done when you make someone write code on a whiteboard or piece of paper in an hour long interview. One example of a trait that could be analyzed by looking at past code is the willingness to document code. Thorough documentation is an important part of large software projects and you can’t determine how well someone documents their code during an interview because most candidates aren’t going to spend time writing comments when they have been put on the spot to complete a task in a limited amount of time.
Like Jeff Atwood says in “Why Can’t Programmers.. Program?”, there will be candidates who sign up for interviews that don’t have much programming experience, so how do you analyze technical ability in these situations? In these situations, I am a firm believer in having candidates write very simple programs to ensure they have basic knowledge of computer science. In my first interview, I was subject to several coding questions including the FizzBuzz problem Atwood mentions. For me, the FizzBuzz problem was helpful because it gave me confidence going forward. One critique I have of my first experience is the questions I was given were not tailored to my experience. I think companies should be more diligent in reading resumes and gearing their interview to affirm that the candidate knows the things he or she says she knows. Why ask a candidate who has never taken data structures a question that requires understanding of a B-tree? My interviewer often skipped questions or explained the solution to me because he knew it would be over my head. I think it would have been more beneficial to the company to have given me questions pertaining to my current level of expertise.
Looking back, I have no grievances with respect to the interviewing process I experienced. I believe behavioral interviews are more effective in assessing the quality of a candidate and making the interview a positive experience. I also think some companies who focus solely on technical interviews are misguided. If we invest so much money in a college education, why should companies feel the need to grill us on our technical abilities? Didn’t we just pay a ton of money to develop our technical skills and provide a transcript to describe how well we developed? If all companies care about are technical skills at the entry level, then I think the tech industry should be more open to interviewing students out of high school who can prove their technical skills without needing to pay for a 4-year degree. Wouldn’t a 22 year old employee who’s been working in the industry for 4 years be much more valuable than a 22 year old employee who just graduated from college and has had a few internships?
After reading about four prominent computing luminaries, Richard Stallman, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Steve Jobs, I have come to the conclusion that Zuckerberg is the most moral individual and Steve Jobs is the least. I do not consider myself a capable judge of human character, so I will describe to you the basis for my judgment. I will focus on three areas of the lives of Zuckerberg and Jobs: commitment to family, their personal mission, and philanthropy. I would like to precede the heart of this post with a bible verse to further clarify that I am not qualified to judge these exceptional technologists.
Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor? – James 4:11-12 (NIV)
I believe a commitment to family outside of work is a moral obligation of luminaries in any field. In the case of Mark Zuckerberg, it is clear in “A Letter to our Daughter” that Mark and his wife, Priscilla Chan, are dedicated to being loving parents. I would like to say that I admire the commitment of Mark to raise Max despite his important role in Facebook. However, I simply expect that a father would always be there for his child, no matter what pressing business he may have. This is one area that I believe Steve Jobs failed to focus on in his life.
In Walter Isaacson’s biography of Jobs, the upbringing of Jobs is depicted as not the ordinary childhood. He resents his biological parents for putting him up for adoption and I believe that may have affected him for the rest of his life. When Chrisann Brennan gave birth to Steve’s daughter, Lisa, he publicly denied being the father. Even after a paternity test resulted in a 94% chance Steve was the father, he argued that someone else could still be the father. Jobs eventually came around and tried to reconcile with his daughter Lisa, but he missed so much of her life that cannot be brought back by a multi-million dollar inheritance. In addition to Steve’s poor relationship with his daughter, he was described by his wife, Laurene Powell, as very focused and standoffish at times. Jobs difficulty with intimate relationships may have stemmed from resentment for his biological parents, but I still believe he is responsible for failing to fulfill his obligation to family during his lifetime.
Zuckerberg clearly outlines his mission for the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative in “A Letter to our Daughter”. Mark and Priscilla have goals to advance human potential and promote equality. These are both admirable, moral goals that led me to my decision that Zuckerberg was the most moral individual. More importantly, I think Zuckerberg is using Facebook to help the world achieve these goals. He has created a platform to connect the world so that an idea in one part of the world can reach a bright mind in another part of the world and people of opposite cultures can connect. I believe Zuckerberg has genuinely committed his talent of connecting people to make a positive change in the world.
Steve Jobs mission, as depicted in his biography, was to create beautiful products with seamlessly integrated hardware and software products. Jobs was portrayed as a perfectionist who cared about the beauty of the motherboard circuitry and design of the boxes for retailing Apple products. He was involved in every aspect of his company – from design to distribution. His goal was to create the most perfect suite of technology products on the market. Indeed he did, as an owner of many Apple products I consider myself a benefactor of the persistent attention to detail of Steve Jobs. However, I do not consider his mission to be one of strong moral fiber. Jobs did not create a product for the masses, for his product is limited to those who can afford higher echelon technology. Although an admirable product was developed, Jobs was not driven by moral concerns.
With regards to philanthropy, Zuckerberg has been in the headlines very recently. Mark and Priscilla have pledged 99% of their Facebook shares (approximately $45 billion) to charity. I believe this act was derived from compassion and humility. Zuckerberg truly believes that his mission for society can be achieved and he is willing to donate 99% of his shares to help make it happen. He acknowledges that his contribution is small compared to the current resources committed to making change, but he also offers his voice and influence as CEO of Facebook to the cause. One thing that is missing from Jobs’s legacy is philanthropy. In searching online, it is hard to find a publicized charitable contribution made by Steve Jobs or Apple. Maybe he made his donations quietly and chose to remain outside of the public eye, maybe he drew up plans to make contributions after his death, or maybe philanthropy was not part of his plan. We will have to wait and see…