How far does your ethical responsibility stretch for the tech your devs create?

DevRelCon London 2019, Caroline Lewko discusses setting values and culture in organisations, and Adelina Chalmers provides practical examples of how developers can influence upstream.


  • Ask questions based on ethics before creating a tool.

    • So, maybe collectively, again, we don’t have all the answers, we’re kind of here to pose some more questions.

  • Personal communication techniques

    • Somebody wants to be that whistleblower, at least feel comfortable.

    • They know that a community has their back.

  • What drives developers?

  • What do we do about it?

    • Take a look at what the root cause is.

  • Causation and root cause

    • What can we do about it?

  • Understanding Culture

  • Psychological safety?

  • How would you report on a violation of ethics?

  • How can DevRel’s solve the problem?


What drives developers?

  • It’s pride.

  • “I made that. Have you seen how cool that is? I made that.”

  • That’s really what drives people to build things and to keep growing.

  • It’s pride being able to say you did something that was really wonderful.

If we’re not thinking thoughtfully about what we’re building, what could possibly go wrong?

  • There’s a ton of fraud that’s in the industry.

  • Issues happen when we’re not being thoughtful or thinking about ethics in what we’re building.

Oh, crap. I made that. I’m part of that responsibility. Or for those of us in dev rel, it’s like, Holy crap, they made that with our tools. How does that make you feel? That’s when it starts to become really personal.

What do we do about it?

  • Take a look at what the root cause is.

  • There’s a number of different root causes for tech not being thoughtful and ethics not being followed.

  • There’s a lot of complex undertakings, a lot of projects are getting more complex.

Causation and root cause

  • Developers as a whole, and even dev rel as a whole, tends to be quite immature, lacking experience.

  • Survey results that came from Stack Overflow

    • One-third learned to code in the last nine years and a lot of them don’t have a lot of business experience either,

    • There’s a lack of context and a lack of just knowing how to interact, especially within a big corporate environment.

How would you report on a violation of ethics?

  • Most don’t know how to report it and they don’t know how to handle it.

“Developers can actually be the last line of defence against unethical code.” Wow

Root cause

  • Inexperience

  • Unreasonable deadlines

  • Shareholder expectations

  • Incomplete information.

  • Culture lacking in psychological safety

    • Feeling very uncomfortable speaking up.

What can we do about it?

  • One of the biggest characteristics of being good in dev rel is empathy.

  • DevRel’s belong to a group that sits in the middle of everything and talks to everybody, so we’re in a good position to be able to bring some of those issues forward.‌


  • Culture is not created from top-down.

  • “Here’s what our culture is. It’s written on the walls and everybody follows it.”

  • Culture is really about what happens every day, day-to-day in business, and culture can change from the bottom-up.

Psychological safety?

  • If you’re in a meeting with your boss and you worry about reprisal for speaking your mind or telling them, “This is not OK. “This is not ethical,” then it means you don’t have psychological safety within your team, or with your boss, or with your peers.

How can you create it in other people?

  • Start doing it yourself, even if leadership isn't doing it yet.

  • Moment someone says something you don’t want to hear, or even if they bring a personal attack, instead of defending or having a fight reaction, try to become curious about what it is.

    • The depth of that feedback.

    • Where do they come from with this?

    • What’s going on there?

  • Key part of psychological safety is being able to listen and understand.

  • Not just listen to respond.

  • Understanding takes a willingness and curiosity to get in the shoes of the other person who’s trying to tell you something.

  • Talk about times when they failed and times when they were wrong.

    • People often feel that they have to show that they’re right.

What can DevRel do about it?

  • DevRel can act as a safe channel to leadership.

Think of it this way, if some engineers of GitHub didn’t feel safe within their departments to speak up, dev rel could have gathered all of those numbers and all of that feedback.

  • It comes down to how we can empower our own teams

  • How we can empower the developers that we work with.

    • With information/training/ guidelines

    • Personal communication techniques

    • A community that has their back

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