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GM Names Names, Suspends Two Engineers Over Ignition-Switch Safety 236

Posted by timothy
from the laying-blame dept.
cartechboy (2660665) writes "GM said it has placed two engineers on paid leave in connection with its massive recall probe of 2 million vehicles. Now, GM is asking NASA to advise on whether those cars are safe to drive even with the ignition key alone. Significantly, individual engineers now have their names in print and face a raft of inquiries what they did or didn't know, did or didn't do, and when. A vulnerability for GM: One engineer may have tried to re-engineer the faulty ignition switch without changing the part number—an unheard-of practice in the industry. Is it a good thing that people who engineer for a living can now get their names on national news for parts designed 10 years ago? The next time your mail goes down, should we know the name of the guy whose code flaw may have caused that?"
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GM Names Names, Suspends Two Engineers Over Ignition-Switch Safety

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  • More Impressed (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sycodon (149926) on Friday April 11, 2014 @07:33PM (#46730351)

    I'll be more impressed when they suspend/fire the managers/executives that did not pass along the information or made the decision it would cost less to pay off victims than fix it.

  • by EmagGeek (574360) < minus painter> on Friday April 11, 2014 @07:34PM (#46730361) Journal

    Did they name the director that ordered the two engineers to cover up the change? There's no way the engineers decided to do that on their own volition.

  • Re:Hero ? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gnoshi (314933) on Friday April 11, 2014 @07:39PM (#46730391)

    Changing part without changing part number is something which the engineer shouldn't have done. Sure, management wouldn't let him make the change and that is bad. However, by making a change without following the basic accepted procedures meant that sleuth work needed to be done to even identify that a change had been made. The engineer clearly did something wrong. That in no way reduces the responsibility of management for their decisions and the consequences of those decisions.

    That said, naming names of an engineer is a really bad precedent. What is the goal GM is trying to achieve here. Do they want people to go break the guy's windows? Burn down his house? Call him in the middle of the night or deliver pizza? Apart from potentially removing the guy's livelihood for the remainder of his life because no-one wants to hire 'that guy' ever again, and a lot of abuse being targeted his way, what will this achieve?

    If he did something criminal, then he should be charged. If he did something extremely incompetent then maybe membership of the engineering body should be revoked, but it isn't the place of GM to throw their engineers to the wolves.

  • Re:Hero ? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wiredlogic (135348) on Friday April 11, 2014 @07:43PM (#46730417)

    Somebody in management had to sign off on the change and a whole lot of work had to be done to revise the tooling and approve the expenditures. This wasn't an invisible modification done by a sneaky engineer unbeknownst to higher levels of management. There is always a bottom to every hill and the shit stops rolling once it gets there.

  • Re:Why not? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jaime2 (824950) on Friday April 11, 2014 @07:46PM (#46730439)

    That's why software developers shouldn't insist on using the title Engineer. This kind of accountability is expected of an engineer, it's not an anomaly. When programming matures to the point where bugs are rare, then we will deserve the title.

    I write software for a living and I'm well aware that if we were to compare computer science to medical science, the current era is roughly equivalent to the blood letting and leeches era. I can't wait for our penicillin to come around.

  • Re:Why not? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by thegarbz (1787294) on Friday April 11, 2014 @07:55PM (#46730523)

    The world doesn't need to hear about screw-ups, it does however need to hear about cover-ups.

  • by thegarbz (1787294) on Friday April 11, 2014 @07:58PM (#46730561)

    And following on that I fully expect software engineers to be held to account in a similar way. If the Heartbleed bug was silently fixed and then historical logs messed with to make it look like it never existed in the first place then the person responsible should have their name in lights.

    Professional Engineers have an obligation to act ethically, not an obligation to be right all the time. Software engineers and other professionals in the IT industry should be held to the same account.

  • Re:Hero ? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by countach (534280) on Friday April 11, 2014 @07:58PM (#46730565)

    I disagree. Assuming this hypothesis, it was better he make the change and save lives... management, convention and rules be damned.

    Of course we don't really know if that what really happened.

  • Re:Hero ? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by thegarbz (1787294) on Friday April 11, 2014 @08:01PM (#46730583)

    Not a hero. An engineer has a responsibility to act ethically. It's part of what makes the profession ... err professional. A cover up to save face of management is not something that should have been done under any circumstance.

  • Re:Hero ? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by khallow (566160) on Friday April 11, 2014 @08:11PM (#46730639)

    What is the goal GM is trying to achieve here.

    Create a scapegoat and deep six the visibility of the problem in the media. I don't buy at all that this problem can be narrowed down to two misbehaving engineers especially given what appears to be collusion on the regulatory government side (perhaps over both Obama and G. W. Bush's terms) to ignore the problem.

  • Re:Hero ? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Grishnakh (216268) on Friday April 11, 2014 @08:16PM (#46730667)

    It was either that or just don't do the change at all, so that even more people would die. This is the problem with engineering: grandstanding fools like you sit in armchairs and say that engineers should "act ethically", but they're not allowed to by management, because they have zero power in the company, and are really nothing more than interchangeable cogs that management can replace at a whim. Management makes all the engineering decisions, but when something goes wrong, people want to blame the engineers.

  • by Sheik Yerbouti (96423) on Friday April 11, 2014 @08:28PM (#46730733) Homepage

    GM Cars are designed by a crack team of accountants not engineers that's why they generally suck. Did anyone question the penny pinchers that directed the engineers that they must save 0.20 cents on each ignition switch?

  • Re:Hero ? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 11, 2014 @09:35PM (#46731089)

    And we've all seen how well whistleblowers have been treated lately.

  • Re:Hero ? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Webcommando (755831) on Friday April 11, 2014 @10:06PM (#46731255) Homepage Journal

    Why exactly is it a bad precedent?

    So I'm perfectly happy with a society that aggressively shuns those people, regardless of judicial outcomes.

    IMHO, engineers have a hard job. They constantly need to manage trade-offs, complex concepts, and scope/schedule trade-offs. Sometimes they make mistakes. I've worked in design of automation equipment, enterprise software, and medical devices and in all cases there were the occasional mistakes. People forget to update a requirements document, a change order is approved but not implemented, a drawing rev number isn't updated before sending to vendor, a critical bug is mistakenly set to low, a vendor changes a part and someone uses the old data sheet, etc.. There are recalls all the time on products through honest mistakes people make. Should we call out each of these people individually?

    We would need to have a Google size site just to publish the name of every software engineer who introduced a bug into some software package. Everyone better step-up if we want to do that. I want the world to shun the individual who made a bad trade for my 401K, every person on a road crew who didn't finish a road project on time -- well, there are countless people who make mistakes who are nameless part of a bigger organization.

  • Re:Hero ? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 11, 2014 @10:16PM (#46731307)

    As a Sr. Engineer, I can state that very few certified technical lead Engineers I have known would ever consent to such a modification without changing either the part number or revision number. However, there have been a number of times when hardware managers will not listen, since such a change has ramifications affecting a product's BOM, certifications, and various procurement/logistical processes.

    If there are liability consequences, my company will comply with the overhead. However, that is not the case with all companies.

  • by SeaFox (739806) on Friday April 11, 2014 @10:19PM (#46731325)

    He doesn't believe in rank and file employees having power to enact this level of change at their workplace.

  • Re:Hero ? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by thegarbz (1787294) on Saturday April 12, 2014 @12:24AM (#46731799)

    No it was not either or. It is never either or. See part of this thing called ethics is to not act unethically at the request of others. It's part of the charter of being a professional engineer. If you can't say NO to the people who are paying you then you have absolutely no business being a professional engineer.

  • Re:Hero ? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by drinkypoo (153816) <> on Saturday April 12, 2014 @08:00AM (#46732697) Homepage Journal

    If you can't say NO to the people who are paying you then you have absolutely no business being a professional engineer.

    If you can't feed your children otherwise, you can't say no.

    If you fail economically, our society tells you that you are a failure. Ethics don't pay the bills.

    Maybe this guy is just feeding himself, I don't know. But society punishes the kind of ethics you're talking about. We clearly don't actually hold that value.

Almost anything derogatory you could say about today's software design would be accurate. -- K.E. Iverson