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Software ethics and why 'Uber developer' stains a professional resume

After all of the playboy antics of the CEO, along with the unethical practices of fingerprinting and geofencing, the term 'Uber developer' is a stain on any professional resume.

I would not include "Uber developer" on a professional resume. And more to the point, if I was screening resumes, I'd deny an interview to any prospect whose work history included a stint at the ride-sharing pioneer.

Tweet: .@cameronmcnz makes the case that the words 'Uber developer' are a stain on a professional #resume. #ethics 
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Companies we love to hate

There are companies in the tech industry people love to hate. Apple has always been a lightning rod for the impassioned. Oracle was certainly a popular punching bag during both the Sun Microsystems takeover and the Android patent lawsuit against Google. Amazon certainly lost face when its recent Simple Storage Service system outage broke the internet. IBM, Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft all have their detractors.

I've shaken an angry fist at every one of the aforementioned companies at some point in the past, but regardless of how galled I may have been about an organization's policies or practices, I have never lost respect for the work performed by their software engineers. Whether I'm in a loving Apple phase or a hating Apple phase, there is never a phase where I don't possess great reverence and admiration for the technical experts who work there. I can't say the same is true for Uber.

Uber above all others

Painting every Uber employee with the same sexist brush that the CEO and the PR department use to brush themselves hardly seems fair.

There are plenty of reasons to revile Uber.

CEO Travis Kalanick bragging about how the company should be called "Boob-er" because his association with it helps him pick up women is one. The company's French promotional campaign promising riders who typed in UBERAVIONS as a discount code would be picked up by an "Avions de chasse," the linguistic equivalent to "hot chick" in English is another. The recorded embarrassment of the CEO berating an Uber driver in an attempt to impress the two women with whom he was riding could count for a definite third.

But having a jackass at the helm of a successful young company isn't that unusual. And it's also not unusual for new companies to make PR mistakes when engaging in aggressive user-acquisition tactics. Painting every Uber employee with the same sexist brush that the CEO and the PR department use to brush themselves hardly seems fair. That's why the testimony of a former Uber engineer comes in handy.

Sexual harassment in the workplace

In a swansong blog that achieved far more notoriety than she could ever possibly have imagined, Keala Lusk chronicled her experience working at Uber. In her post, entitled "Sexism at Uber," Lusk describes a work environment in which institutionalized sexism, tawdry advances and sexual overtures from senior management were routinely dismissed by a complicit HR department.

And while I don't recall from Lusk's post any point where she criticizes her fellow developers, I simply don't buy into this whole "hear no evil, see no evil" type of mentality in which people who are not directly involved in unbecoming workplace antics are absolved from culpability. If rampant sexism exists in the workplace, every worker in that workplace has a responsibility to speak out against it. Simply sticking one's head in the sand while clocking in and out every day isn't good enough. Sexual harassment prospers when fellow employees do nothing, which is why I'd shun anyone who included "Uber developer" as part of the work history on a professional resume I was screening. I don't want people who allow sexual harassment to prosper working alongside me on a project.

Civil disobedience and disruptive technology

Uber has always been shady in the way they advance their interests. If Uber played by the rules, they wouldn't exist, as their business model tends to violate a handful of municipal bylaws in just about every city they enter. Disruptive technologies often have to engage in various forms of civil disobedience in order to further the common good, and many would agree that the traditional taxi service industry was ripe for the ride-sharing overhaul. But documented practices, such as calling and cancelling rides from competitors like Lyft, are simply repugnant. If your billion-dollar business can only prosper by harassing the minimum-wage earning employees of your competitors, it really is time to re-evaluate your business model.

In terms of shifty application development, Uber has repeatedly asked its developers to work on projects that are designed to sidestep legislation and avoid law enforcement, the most famous of which is Greyball. With Greyball, developers created a system that could identify and geofence municipal workers and law enforcement personnel. These undesirables would then be given a version of the app that ghosted active drivers, protecting those Uber assets from falling into a legal snare.

The ethics of software development

There are certainly ethical questions to be asked about an application like Greyball, but it does fall under the guise of civil-disobedience. Furthermore, it's hard not to delight in the schadenfreude of everyone in the city catching Uber rides with the exception of the bylaw enforcement officers who have been tasked to do so. But as rascally as the Greyball project was, there's no grinning at the unethical fingerprinting practice in which Uber engineers engaged.

Although fingerprinting is a practice explicitly disallowed by the Apple store, Uber implemented a mechanism to track the identity of an iPhone owner, maintaining that information long after the user had relinquished possession of the device. If the iPhone in question was reset or erased, Uber could still track that phone and the new user associated with it. With fingerprinting, Uber went beyond the act of civil disobedience and moved into the spectrum of violating the privacy rights of its users.

The human factor

Burning Glass technologies CEO Matt Sigelman discusses the human factor in your professional resume and why you should include soft skills, too

Furthermore, demonstrating the mens rea of their guilty minds, Uber developers geofenced Apple headquarters, hoping to make it impossible for engineers in Cupertino to catch on to their deceptive practices. Their subterfuge didn't work and Apple found out, but Uber faced few consequences.

'Uber developer' and your professional resume

I've given Uber a free pass on a number of issues, but the fingerprinting issue is the camel that breaks my straw back. If I were a hiring manager, I'd reject a professional resume that included the words "Uber developer." If I had worked for Uber in the past, I might include an entry about working for a Silicon Valley startup so as not to leave any gaps in my work history. If asked about it in an interview I wouldn't lie about working for Uber, but I would explain why working with such an ethically baseless corporation was an experience of which I was not proud.

So no, I would not recommend anyone include "Uber developer" on their professional resume. And if you are a developer who is currently employed by Uber, my recommendation is for you to quit. And if you are a job seeker about to go for an interview at Uber, I'd recommend you call and cancel. Or better yet, just schedule an appointment and don't show up, just like one of those Uber operatives scheduling fake calls to Lyft.

You can follow Cameron McKenzie on Twitter: @cameronmckenzie
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Interested in more of Cameron McKenzie's opinion pieces? Check these out:

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This was last published in May 2017

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