Professional Ethics

General Information

This brick is concerned with “Professional Ethics” with focus on software engineering and ICT (Thornley et al., 2018).


Paul Gibson:


The pre-requisites are foundational knowledge of software engineering, programming and testing.

Learning Objective

The computing learning objectives are: to understand testing for certification and accreditation of critical systems.
The ethical learning objectives are: that every line of code has an ethical implication.
The transverse learning objectives are: working in teams, presenting analysis of a technical issue.

Possible Teaching and Assessment Approaches

PBL – Code Analysis, Design, and Testing

In this particular implementation of the brick we plan to provide the students with code that simulates a hidden switch which may be used in unethical ways, such as seen with the Volkswagen car emmission scandal. The students are asked to test the code for certification purposes. After, they are introduced to the emissions scandal case study. There are then asked to reflect on the testing that they carried out.

In a second software engineering task, the students are given a simulation of a critical sensor in a safety-critical sub-system. They are asked to evaluate whether the system is fault tolerant. This should lead to them identifying the need for redundancy. They are asked to redesign the original system to use redundant sensors. After this they will be introduced to the Boeing 737 Max case study, and asked to research the issue. It is hoped that they link this task to the redundant sensor design work they did previously.

To conclude, the students are asked to compare and contrast the Boeing and Volkswagen cases and to try and identify the ethical issues that they have in common. This should help us define “professional ethics” for software engineers.

Academic Load

The planned load is 3-9 hours direct contact time with the students, and 3-9 hours of ‘homework’ for students to prepare in their own time.

There are 4 optional paths:

  1. Test the hidden switch code and analyse the volkswagen emissions case study (3 hours in class, 3 hours outside class)
  2. Design of a fault tolerant sensor system using redundancy, and analyse the Boeing 737 Max case study(3 hours in class, 3 hours outside class)
  3. Do both (1) and (2), and compare and contrast the behaviour of the 2 companies (6 hours in class, 6 hours outside class)
  4. Do (3), and provide a short review of professional ethics for software engineeers making reference to the 2 case studies and others found by the students (9 hours in class, 9 hours outside class)

The delivery mechanism/teaching approach is based upon problem based learning O’Grady, Michael J. (2012) . The evaluation is 75% technical – the coding, design and testing, and 25% ethical – the analysis and/or definition of professional ethics.

Secondary Material

Peer Reviewed Papers

Ethical issues (general)

Ethical issues (Professional Ethics)

Ethical issues (Safety and Security)

Computing issues (Software Engineering)

Problem Domain (Transport)

Popular Press
  • Boeing 787s must be turned off and on every 51 days to prevent ‘misleading data’ being shown to pilots. US air safety bods call it ‘potentially catastrophic’ if reboot directive not implemented.. By Gareth Corfield, The Register, 2 Apr 2020. (Web archive). KEYWORDs: Professionalism, Safety, Transport, Aerospace
  • Ethiopian Report on 737 Max Crash Blames Boeing.. By Simon Marks and Abdi Latif Dahir, New York Times, March 9, 2020. (Web archive). KEYWORDs: Professionalism, Safety, Transport, Aerospace
  • How the Boeing 737 Max Disaster Looks to a Software Developer.. By Gregory Travis, IEEE Spectrum, 18 April 2019. (Web archive). KEYWORDs: Professionalism, Safety, Transport, Aerospace
  • Volkswagen emissions scandal: mass lawsuit opens in Germany. By Jasper Jolly, The Guardian, 30 Sep, 2019. (Web archive). KEYWORDs: Professionalism, Safety, Transport, Vehicular, Automobile
  • Boeing’s problem was not engineering. It was a loss of corporate empathy.. By Gregory Travis, May 2019. (Web archive). KEYWORDs: Professionalism, Safety, Transport, Aerospace
  • Why We Need to Address Ethical Issues In Software Engineering. By Daniel Alcanja, Simple Programmer, October 9, 2019. (Web archive). KEYWORDs: Professionalism, Software Engineering
  • Post Office IT system that ruined lives ‘still faulty’, MPs told.. By Brian Wheeler, BBC News, 10 March 2020. (Web archive). KEYWORDs: Professionalism, Software Engineering, Law
  • Q&A: What led to Boeing’s 737 MAX crisis. By Dominic Gates, Seattle Times, Nov. 18, 2020 (Web archive). KEYWORDs: Professionalism, Safety, Transport, Aerospace
  • Flight in ‘serious incident’ after every ‘Miss’ on board assigned child’s weight. By PA, Irish Times, April 2021. (Web archive). KEYWORDs: Professionalism, Safety, Transport, Aerospace


Educational Classification
Software Engineering
Interdisciplinary Classification
The interdisciplinary is with engineering and law.

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