Survival Guide for the Ethical Tester

A recent Business Insider article described a “huge” online discussion between programmers about “the unethical and illegal things they’ve been asked to do”. 

Chances are high that you as a tester will also be asked some day to do something in your work that conflicts with your values. Perhaps it has happened to you already.

The power of software over people’s lives is increasing daily. Its sheer pervasiveness makes it easy to take its impacts for granted. Yet we know that some systems can do irreparable and invisible harm when they fail—and sometimes even when they work “correctly”. 

Even seemingly insignificant software can present ethical issues for the people who build and test it. Apps that track locations or collect apparently trivial personal data can be used by corporations or governments to invade privacy, influence elections and shatter human rights. 

In this workshop we will examine the different kinds of ethical quandaries a tester might be faced with. Most of the session will consist of group exercises where participants  explore and develop practical methods of addressing ethical issues, covering such topics as:

  • How to recognise a situation that might present you with an ethical issue
  • The importance of identifying your own ethical bottom line
  • Understanding and managing the real risks presented by an ethical issue, including the risks to you and your career
  • Ways to challenge unethical or illegal management directions
  • Escalating your concerns to a responsible authority without wrecking your career

Testers can’t escape ethical issues in their work. Let’s equip ourselves to recognise and deal with them in advance, rather than when we are faced with the need to make urgent decisions in stressful situations.

  • Speaker


    Fiona Charles - Owner & Principal Consultant, Quality Intelligence, Canada

    I’m an independent consultant, specialising in the human side of software development and projects. I work as an Agile testing coach, consult in testing and test management, and act occasionally as a program-level test manager on difficult projects. I speak at and conduct workshops at international conferences and in-house for clients, and I have published approximately 30 articles in test-related publications.

    I’m also co-founder (with Anne-Marie Charrett) of Speak Easy, a volunteer organisation designed to increase gender diversity at tech conferences and help new speakers find their voice.