When you sign a contract, you are agreeing to its terms; it becomes a legal commitment. Above that level comes morality — actions that are determined by your sense of right and wrong. Since I don’t believe in an absolute right or wrong, this layer doesn’t mean much to me. But the concept of ethics goes beyond even that.

Ethics are principles by which you live because they make life better in one way or another — even if the realization of that better state is deferred. Often, “better” is simply defined as being able to respect yourself. But it also involves being able to be trusted by others because, without trust, you can’t get very far in any endeavor.

TechRepublic recently reposted a link to two codes of ethical conduct for IT consultants. While each of these codes contains some good information, neither quite fit for me. The first one seemed like it was addressed from a large consulting firm to its clients; the second one seemed more like promises from the individual consultant to his/her consulting firm. But what about us independent IT consultants? I decided to try my hand at creating a code of ethics for us — or, at least, one that works for me.

Given that preamble, let me present my code of ethics for independent consultants, as addressed to our clients.

  1. The time for which you are paying me is yours and only yours. I will eliminate other distractions and focus on the set of problems you have entrusted to me.
  2. I will always tell you the truth even when it hurts. It’s better for you to find out sooner than later.
  3. I will try to accurately estimate time requirements when they are requested, but I will also qualify those estimates according to the level of additional research required and with knowledge of my own availability and optimism.
  4. I will keep you regularly updated on my progress. I will break down the elements of my accomplishments to whatever level of detail you require.
  5. I will only perform work for which you have given your approval. However, I will actively look beyond the narrow limits of my project for opportunities and risks that you may have overlooked and bring those to your attention when I find them.
  6. When I don’t know something, I won’t try to hide behind a facade of expertise. Instead, I’ll ask pertinent questions and (with your approval) conduct additional research.
  7. I will do my best to share my knowledge, to document my work, and to make it as understandable as possible. I will never bake in obfuscations to insure job security.
  8. If someone else is better qualified to handle an assignment, I’ll tell you. It’s more important for me to get the job done right than to hold onto a certain number of billable hours for myself. (I expect that attitude to pay its own dividends in the long run.)
  9. My recommendations will be based on what I perceive to be best suited to your needs in the present and future. I will not let myself be unduly swayed by considerations of what technology is currently in fashion or is more interesting to me personally.
  10. In short, I will treat you as I would like to be treated if I were your client.

What would you add to this list? Is there anything here with which you disagree? Do you have your own stated code of ethics? Share your thoughts in the discussion.

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