The Hippocratic Oath for IT management systems

The first feature of any IT management application should be “primum non nocere”, or in English “first, do no harm”. Your IT management application should not ever:

  • crash the system it manages
  • materially degrade its performance
  • introduce security vulnerabilities to the system

It’s appropriate that the “primum non nocere” expression comes from a medical background, since IT management software acts, to a large extent, like the doctor of the datacenter. In that spirit, I wondered whether the Hippocratic Oath could also provide good guidelines to those designing IT management software.

Turns out, the original oath hasn’t aged so well (though it cannot hurt to remind IT consultants not to have sex with the IT staff of their customers or attempt to remove kidney stones on them).

On the other hand, there is a modern version (written by Louis Lasagna in 1964) that maps quite well to our domain. Here it is, with each paragraph followed (in bold font) by its translation for IT management. Just food for thoughts.

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

I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.

Follow standards, publish configuration best practices in your domain of expertise, contribute to open source projects.

I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures [that] are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism.

Provide useful features that fully address customer needs. Not a superficial product, but not a boatload of useless features and meaningless metrics either.

I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug.

Good technology is important, but so are support, documentation and user interface.

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 patient’s recovery.

Don’t push “consulting engagements” to stretch your application to deliver features it is not designed for. Instead, integrate with products that perform the function well.

I will respect the privacy of my patients, 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. If it is given me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God.

Implement roles, permissions and auditing. Be very careful not to inadvertently crash, slow or compromise the target system. Keep in mind, in your design, that you and your developers are fallible.

I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect the person’s family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems, if I am to care adequately for the sick.

You are not managing just a server, a JVM or a database. Considers the entire IT system and the business value it delivers.

I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure.

Proactively monitor the system, detect problems before they impact the system and, when possible, automate resolution.

I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.

Don’t cheat, or abuse your position. Be honest and decent with customers, partners and competitors.

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 healing those who seek my help.

If you do all this, customers will keep buying from you and may even like you.

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