Software

Are smart developers with automation skills stealing money from your company?

As stories about programmers and QA testers automating their jobs away continue to proliferate, questions of career ethics come into play.

Many employees fear that some form of artificial intelligence (AI) will eventually be able to automate what they do at work and steal their job. However, many savvy developer and programmers have been automating away their own jobs for years, and it's led to some tricky ethical questions about the practice.

Automating tasks is a key part of many developers' jobs—it's a huge value add for these professionals to be able to scale out their workflow processes while maintaining efficiency. But, what happens when a developer or programmer automates their entire job?

The Atlantic recently tackled this question in an article detailing stories of programmers who were automating themselves out of a job. It raised the questions of whether or not it is unethical for these employees to automate their jobs, and whether or not they should tell their employer when they do.

SEE: Research: Automation and the future of IT jobs (Tech Pro Research)

The Atlantic report cited stories of developers who automated their jobs and then spent years playing video games during work hours, before eventually being fired. The article offers additional examples of self-automaters and their stories, ranging from the 1990s until today.

In these examples, the employers and managers responded differently upon learning of the self-automated jobs. Some were excited, and tried to find additional work for the employee, while another employee wrote of being fired for "insubordination" for automating their work, according to the report. But, is there technically a right way to respond to these things?

A July 2017 report from Business Insider sought to answer the same question. The article was a response to a post on Stack Overflow from a developer asking if it was unethical for them to not tell their boss they'd automated their job. In the post, the developer wrote that "it doesn't feel like I'm doing the right thing," but answers to the query were mixed.

While the developer behind the Stack Overflow post was using company-provided tools and turning in good work, some respondents thought he or she was being deceptive by not telling their employer. The poster also noted that they put bugs in their products to make them appear as if they were created by a human and not a machine—another point of contention for responders. However, some saw nothing wrong with what the developer had done.

Many tech jobs require automation, but the examples above bring many ethical questions into consideration. Should a developer be rewarded for automating his or her job? Should a developer be required to disclose their automation? Is it theft by deception if they don't? Are there any benefits to forgoing automation?

Automation has been around for a long time, but companies often plan how it will be used in their organization. As it becomes easier for developers and programmers (and frontline workers for that matter) to automate away daily tasks, businesses will be facing many tough questions about how to respond, and what it will mean for the future of their workforce.

What do you think?

Should developers or programmers be reprimanded for automating their jobs? Should they be rewarded? How should business leaders respond? Tell us in the comment section or on social media.

Also see

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Image: iStockphoto/filistimlyanin

About Conner Forrest

Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.

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