Programming Promises (or, the Professional Programmer's Hippocratic Oath)

Michael.NET, apparently inspired by my "Check Your Politics At The Door" post, and equally peeved at another post on, hit a note of pure inspiration when he created his list of "Programming Promises", which I repeat below:

  • I promise to get the job done.
  • I promise to use whatever tools I need to, regardless of politics.
  • I promise to listen to the Closed Source and Open Source zealots equally, and then dismiss them.
  • I promise to support, as long as I am able, any closed source applications I may release.
  • I promise to release open source any applications I can not, or will not, support.
  • I promise to learn as many languages and libraries as possible, regardless of politics.
  • I promise to engage with as many other programmers as possible, both in person and online, in order to learn from them; regardless of politics.
  • I promise to not bash Microsoft nor GNU, nor others like them, everyone has a place in our industry.
  • I promise to use both Windows and Linux, both have their uses.
  • I promise to ask questions when I don't know the answer, and answer questions when I do.
  • I promise to learn from my mistakes, and to try to the first time.
  • I promise to listen to any idea, however crazy it may sound.

In many ways, this strikes me as fundamentally similar to the Hippocratic Oath that all doctors must take as part of their acceptance into the ranks of the medical profession. For most, this isn't just a bunch of words they recite as entry criteria, this is something they firmly believe and adhere to, almost religiously. It seems to me that our discipline could use something similar. Thus, do I swear by, and encourage others to similarly adopt, the Oath of the Conscientious Programmer:

I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:

I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those programmers and researchers in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow. That includes respect for both those who prefer to keep their work to themselves, as well as those who seek improvement through the open community.

I will apply, for the benefit of the customer, all measures [that] are required, avoiding those twin traps of gold-plating and computing nihilism.

I will remember that there is humanity to programming as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding will far outweigh the programmer's editor or the vendor's tool.

I will not be ashamed to say "I know not," nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a system's development, nor will I hold in lower estimation those colleagues who ask of my opinions or skills.

I will respect the privacy of my customers, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know. Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death, or of customers' perceptions of the same. If it is given me to save a project or a company, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to kill a project, for the company's greater good; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God, and remain open to others' ideas or opinions.

I will remember that I do not create a report, or a data entry screen, but tools for human beings, whose problems may affect the person's family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems, if I am to care adequately for those who are technologically impaired.

I will actively seek to avoid problems that are time-locked, for I know that software written today will still be running long after I was told it would be replaced.

I will remember that I remain a member of society, both our own and of the one surrounding all of us, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the clueless.

If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of the thanks and praise from those who seek my help.

I, Ted Neward, so solemnly swear.