24 July 2020

Interview Philipp Mayer

It has been more than a year since my last guest interview on ethics in Software Development, and I am very happy that Philipp Mayer found the time to answer my questions. When I asked Philipp about ways to contact him, he said "I do not use any social networks for work related things :)" If you are new to the series, I am talking to people in the area of software development about our social responsibility and ethics in general. I started the series in 2015 as part of my own quest for work with meaning.

Philipp why did you choose to work with software?
I chose to work with software in the third year of junior high school ("Unterstufe"). In maths we used the Texas Instruments Voyage 200 calculator on which one could code in TI Basic. Our teacher showed us a few things and told us we would be allowed to store any formula on there as long as we did it via writing an application for it. This motivated many of us to take a closer look at coding. This then led to choosing the IT department of the high school HTL Krems instead of becoming a chef.

When we met, you said that you rarely eat meat. Why do you do that?
It does for environmental reasons. I am aware of the great impact that meat production has on climate. This has led to not buying meat unless I know it is high quality and from a source that I know. As a (working, but still) student, that means that I do not often buy meat. Nowadays when I eat meat, I see it as something special, even if it is just a pair of sausages. An exception where I do eat meat without taking care of the quality is at other people's home if it were thrown away otherwise.

What do you actually do regarding climate change?
Use of public transport. I am a happy owner of the ÖsterreichCard ticket that allows me to take any train at any time within Austria. I do understand, that public transport just does not make sense for many people's everyday way to work at the moment. So I hope for improvements here. A positive thing I recently found out about is the ÖBB rail and drive service that allows me to book an electric car for less than 2 euros/hour on weekends. This is perfect for weekend trips and motivates me even more to not buy a car anytime soon.

Balance ScaleOutside of climate change, what do you consider the biggest challenges of our times?
The increasing social and financial inequality.

What else could we do to engage in the topic? For example, did you take part in public protests, donate money to NGOs or sign petitions?
  • Protests: no
  • Donate money: little
  • Sign petitions: some
I think I make a bigger impact by living a thrifty lifestyle and trying to convince people around me to do so as well.

Most of these activities are personal choices. This is great but most of our time is spent on regular work. I would like to see more impact on these important topics of my regular work, just working on "the right things". Do you think that is possible?
In general no, as the companies doing "the wrong things" tend to pay more than others. In his book "Die Kunst des guten Lebens, Rolf Dobelli cites the psychologist Paul Dolan saying that a sound consists of two parameters - frequency and amplitude. And that it is the same when it comes to happiness. There's the hedonistic and the eudaimonistic component. So I think that everyone has to find the right mix for oneself.

How do you think about selecting industry, customer and project based on your values and social responsibility?
I would once more go with the statement made in previous answer. I think it never is a pure financial choice but about the people who you work with and to what extent one sees a meaning in the project.

Let's be more specific here: Would you work for an animal factory? Would you work for a sweatshop exploiting kids in Asia?
Unfortunately, I have to be very generic with this one. For me it depends, if in my position I could enhance the situation for the poor ones (animals, children working in factories etc.) in the organization. Otherwise, I do not think I would see value in my work.

Did you ever reject a customer or an actual project, that would bring you money based on your values?
No, as I did not have the chance to do so in my career, yet.

On the other hand, what would be industries, customers and projects that you would love to work on?
Definitely environmental or social - in terms of improving the life of the weakest ones.

Thank you Philipp