I was still in University, eight years ago, when I read an article by a sysadmin who works in a porn website, which made me think about where I'd be willing to work as a computer techie. I though about the subject again when I saw a reference to it a couple of weeks ago in Jeff Atwood's Coding Horror.
So, I'm listing below some examples of “socially unacceptable” places for computer geeks to work, and my reflection about whether I'd be willing to work there. Take into account that this is my opinion on whether I would do it, not on whether anyone should do it. I'm not passing judgment on anyone who is doing or considering to do any of those jobs.
- Porn site
Strictly technologically speaking, porn sites have lots of interesting challenges: lots of visitors, many of whom are motivated to hack into your site to download information they don't have paid for.
The bad thing is that the business is full of small-time mobsters and other similar elements who exploit the performers, don't pay their providers and employees, deal with drugs, etc. In fact, in the few cases where I could accept the assertion that porn has “victims”, these would be the performers who are exploited, forced to consume drugs, etc.
Fortunately, there are also serious, reputable companies in the business that don't do these kinds of things. If I could be sure that the company is one of them, I would probably consider working for it.
If I could think of what to tell my family, of course :)
- Virtual casino
Virtual casinos also have a heavy security aspect; people are always trying to game the system (if you allow the pun) by using automatic poker players, break into other players' accounts to steal their money, etc. However, I would never gamble as I think it is a complete waste of time and money, and would certainly not want to be responsible for others wasting theirs, so I would probably not work in a virtual casino.
- Ringtone vendor
These companies prey on the young with stupid TV spots to convince them to send SMSes to buy ringtones or enter “chats”, which in reality are expensive subscription “services”. Then they make it as hard as legally possible to unsubscribe from the “service”. I wouldn't be able to look at myself in a mirror if I helped do that.
- Weapons manufacturers
There are many types of weapons: small firearms like pistols and rifles, machine guns, artillery, tanks, fighter planes, frigates, submarines, nuclear weapons... There are also many uses for any kind of weapon. For example, you can use a 9mm pistol for self-defense, or in a war, or for target shooting; you can use a shotgun to hunt pheasants, or to do clay pigeon shooting, or to rob a bank; you can use a nuclear weapon to end a war or to avoid starting one; and so on.
I say all this so you can see why I don't believe that weapons are evil by themselves -- it all lies on the intent of the person who uses them. So I would probably work for a weapons manufacturer, depending on the type of weapons. I'd be enthusiastic to work in a sports firearms manufacturer or in a fighter jet manufacturer (fighter jets are cool!), but would probably be hesitant to work in a manufacturer that sells mainly to third world countries.
I include this because there's a lot of computer geeks who actually hate Microsoft, and if I started working for them I'd have to endure, at the minimum, a lot of teasing from many of my friends ;)
If you asked me five or ten years ago, I would have said “No way! These guys are destroying home computing! They are what I'm fighting against!” and other stuff like that. If you ask me now, I'll still say “no”, but not for that reason. I'm no longer pissed off at them: I have Windows Vista installed in a partition in my computer and I also use Windows XP in my work laptop. However, the only Microsoft product I use is Windows; I'm not excited about any other of their products or services. And it would be a bit strange if I worked at Microsoft and I used Linux and Google all day long and bitched about .NET and the Vista copy protection non-stop :)
So these are some of the types of companies I thought about. What kinds of companies do you think it would be unethical for you to work for?