Last Wednesday we celebrated the third annual Pledge of the Computing Professional at Whitman College, with our first two computer science majors, three computer science minors, and an independent major.
The Pledge is a rite-of-passage ceremony for computer science students and others who intend a career in computing. Inspired by the Order of the Engineer, a pin and a certificate serve to remind alumni of their moral and ethical responsibility as a skilled professional.
The heart of the Pledge ceremony is the Pledge itself, which I led students in reciting aloud. The text of the Pledge is as follows:
I am a Computing Professional.
My work as a Computing Professional affects people’s lives, both now and into the future.
As a result, I bear moral and ethical responsibilities to society.
As a Computing Professional, I pledge to practice my profession with the highest level of integrity and competence.
I shall always use my skills for the public good.
I shall be honest about my limitations, continuously seeking to improve my skills through life-long learning.
I shall engage only in honorable and upstanding endeavors.
By my actions, I pledge to honor my chosen profession.
I first learned of the Pledge at the annual meeting of the ACM Special Interest Group on Computing and Society (SIGCAS) at SIGCSE 2013. Having myself attended a college with an honor code, I appreciated the approach behind the Pledge: Not to institute curriculum, but to create a memorable moment in which students reflect on their responsibilities and commit to acting with honor. I jumped at the opportunity to take the Pledge. (Well, actually, I stood up sedately with everyone else.) The Pledge certificate hangs on my office wall with my diplomas, and I am delighted when anyone asks about it.
With the support of my colleagues, I conducted the first annual Pledge of the Computing professional at Grinnell College that very same spring, in May 2013. We scheduled the Pledge for Commencement weekend. That Commencement, I also hosted Nathaniel Borenstein, Grinnell ’80, as he returned to campus to receive an honorary degree. It was quite fortuitous that these two events coincided. Nathaniel is one of the co-inventors of the MIME standard for email attachments (with Ned Freed, HMC ’82). While Nathaniel originally envisioned MIME being used to send him photos of his grandchildren, he is ruefully aware of the widespread use of MIME attachments as a vector for Trojan horse viruses. Nathaniel joined our ceremony, took the Pledge, and said a few words on professional responsibility and unintended consequences.
After conducting the Pledge twice at Grinnell, where it still takes place each year, I brought the Pledge with me to Whitman. Upon registering our new chapter of the Pledge, I was tickled to learn that Whitman is “State of Washington Node Number One.” I checked—the Pledge organizers count from one, not zero, which makes us the first. Unfortunately, Whitman still is the only Pledge chapter in the state of Washington.
In May 2016, I hosted a banquet for CS students at my rental house across the street from the college. Six students, including our very first CS minor, took the Pledge.
In 2017, Computer Science was invited to join the annual Mathematics picnic. We happily accepted. Four more computer science minors, and my two colleagues, joined the Pledge.
This year, we joined the Mathematics picnic once again. Our first two majors took the Pledge, along with three CS minors and an independent major.
As we reassigned my departmental responsibilities for my maternity leave this spring, my colleagues encouraged me to keep responsibility for administering the Pledge. I have five years of experience doing it, and I planned to be back on campus part time in April. Furthermore, I care deeply that we offer the Pledge and that all interested students are able to participate—so much so that I pay the $10 per inductee fee out of my own pocket. This fee covers the cost of the pin, the certificate, and web site hosting. I look forward to the Pledge as an annual computer science tradition for many years to come.