Due to the events of the last 12 months, business ethics,
especially in high-tech have been on my mind quite a bit. We have seen
ethical lapses approaching the level of those in 1929, but the effects
of these lapses has gone far beyond those of the notorious stock market
crash. As companies have become larger, the effect that they have on
the economy, both good and bad, grows tremendously. Worse still, small
lapses in ethics can grow exponentially. There is no telling the damage
you might cause if you aren’t constantly vigilant of your ethics,
especially when regarding your high-tech career.
I find that in my line of work as a high-tech consultant, teacher and
computer coach, there are many opportunities for testing my ethics.
Conflict of interest, almost always ignored in today’s business
world, is probably one of my greatest concerns. Despite the fact that
I could easily sell computers to my clients, I avoid it. I find that
there is too great a concern of recommending unneeded upgrades and additions
to a customer’s computer when I am also the provider of those
upgrades. To avoid this I have personally decided not to deal in computers
or peripherals. This is not to say that you cannot be both dealer and
consultant, but I can almost guarantee that there will come a time when
it will test the trust between you and your clients. This has one of
two results; your relationship with the customer will be made stronger,
or it will collapse entirely. It all depends on the depth of your relationship
in the past.
In high-tech careers you also face the issue of customer privacy. As
a high-tech worker you are often privy to a large amount of privileged
information, both personal and business-related. Abusing such information,
in any fashion, is not only ethically wrong, but could lead to immense
legal problems, whether this information relates to business dealings
or a client’s personal life. If you come across private information,
it is important to keep it private. This is one area where one mistake
could mean the end of your career. I make a conscious effort to avoid
all private information whenever I can. If papers are left on the desk,
I cover them with my notebook or toolkit. If I am using personal files
for troubleshooting or testing, I always ask the client before I open
up a particular file. You don’t want to be reading notes about
a messy divorce or company failure. You don’t want to be tempted
to insider trading or any other abuses of the information. Ethical lapses
are easier to avoid, if you avoid private information entirely. There
are simply some things you do not want to know about your clients.
You must always be constantly aware of your ethical decisions. It is
too easy, over time, to become lax or effected by the ethical choices
of others. I find myself saying to my young son, time and time again,
“you cannot misbehave just because someone else does.” We
are all responsible for our own ethics. If someone decides to abandon
their ethics, it does not give you permission to abandon yours. You
need to guard against the erosion of your ethics, both personal and
professional. It is a constant battle, but one of the most important
battles of your career.
In situations such as those above it is up to you to decide your ethical
limits and the effect they will have, not only today, but tomorrow as
well. To me, it isn’t the effect of the individual lapses in ethics
that cause the damage, it is the combination of all those lapses over
time. The cumulative results of conflicts of interest, bad business
practices or ethical erosion will eventually catch up to you and your
business. As we can see in the examples of Enron, Global Crossing and
others, these ethical problems may not harm you immediately, but it
is only a matter of time.
No one is perfect. Far from it, our lives and careers require constant
attention and vigilance. We have to watch our actions, compare them
to our ideal ethics and judge how near or far we are to that ideal.
It is only through this direct action that we can hope to achieve the
best life and best career possible.