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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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  • Hero ? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 11, 2014 @06:32PM (#46730343)

    What follows is my baseless personal opinion based only on what I see at similar businesses ---
    The engineer that changed the part without changing the part number and without management knowing intentionally did it behind their back because management wouldn't let him make the change. Everyone knew about the problem. Management knew changing the part was akin to admitting the fault. The engineer did it on his own to save lives - company be damned. And he kept the part number the same so that no one would know.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 11, 2014 @06:37PM (#46730381)

    Specifically, OnStar.

    I can remember one of the development groups there "discovering" Agile, and immediately trying to patent the crap out of every process they could. Specifically, they were patenting how they made "new" processes to make Agile work with their awful SDP-21 development process (waterfall)..... by putting multiple sprints inside of the waterfall.

    The place was soul sucking, conformity was desperately sought in all people, and management was desperate to throw underlings under the bus in order to save their own $160,000/year jobs (the talent for which they never really possessed).

    You know... sort of like what is happening to these two engineers.

  • Why not? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by hawguy (1600213) on Friday April 11, 2014 @06:40PM (#46730399)

    The next time your mail goes down, should we know the name of the guy whose code flaw may have caused that?"

    Why not let software engineers take responsibility for their work just like "real" engineers do when they sign off on a project?

    The developer responsible for the Heartbleed [arstechnica.com] bug that put the privacy of millions of users at risk stood up and took responsibility for his mistake.

    If you know that the world is going to hear about it if you screw up, then maybe you'll take a little more time to vet your work before you sign off on it.

  • Re:Whew! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Grishnakh (216268) on Friday April 11, 2014 @07:22PM (#46730695)

    Better yet, these people get to be super rich AND immune from any consequences for their mistakes and misdeeds, however the engineers working for them, who make middle-class salaries at best (and far less than doctors), are somehow expected to have "ethical standards" and are the first to be blamed when something goes wrong that was really because of a management decision.

  • by sigmabody (1099541) on Friday April 11, 2014 @08:05PM (#46730959)

    I could see two potential outcomes, if blaming engineers for product flaws becomes commonplace...

    First, engineers will (or should) demand an indemnity clause as part of their employment contract, where the company agrees not to blame them publicly for any product flaws, and/or take any action which would identify them. Depending on the repercussions for the test cases, this might become a necessity for employees.

    Second, I could see some significant lawsuits for slander, since the company is causing real (and substantial, and more importantly provable) financial loss for the engineers they blame for product deficiencies. Unless they have a pretty solid intentional negligence defense, they could (and absolutely should) find themselves paying out a few million more to each engineer they throw under the metaphorical bus.

    Companies are responsible for their products, not the people they employ to make/provide them. Companies reap the rewards when they work, and bear the responsibility when they don't. Absent malicious negligence, naming/blaming individual employees is irresponsible at best, and should absolutely expose the company to civil liability.

  • Re:Hero ? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by pla (258480) on Friday April 11, 2014 @09:02PM (#46731219) Journal
    Sure, management wouldn't let him make the change and that is bad.

    With this going so high that congress dragged the CEO in to lie to them that this involved anything more than "cheaper to let you die", by naming these two engineers, GM has just given them the power to completely ruin the company.

    "We tried to do the right thing and management thwarted us at every turn". Done in one, the CEO just perjured herself before congress, and the class action liability suits put GM (back) into bankruptcy (where they belong).

    Unfortunately in this case, engineers tend to have too strong of a "boyscout" streak in them, and the ones implicated here will probably just do their best to ignore the fact that GM just threw them under the bus for following orders.

    Or put another way - I don't work in an industry that seriously puts people's lives in danger, and legal would goose-step me out of the goddamned building before they let me do something like GM claims these two engineers did "on their own". So an entire multinational supply and manufacturing chain of command just quietly went along with the whims of two peons that massively violated protocol? Bullshit.
  • Re:Hero ? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 11, 2014 @09:28PM (#46731367)

    Engineers have bosses. Sometimes in a complicated situation where there are no good answers, engineers do what their bosses say.

    If you're in this kind of situation, always secretly record any interaction with a higher-up where you raise a problem, and are ordered to not fix it. Even if your state (or company rules) bans secret recording. Do it anyway.

    [Simple sound-activated voice recorders are available that can record dozens of hours of conversation, so you don't even have to remember to turn it on.]

    Then if the situation escalates where the penalty against you is worse than the penalty for making the recording, reveal the recordings.

  • Re:Hero ? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 12, 2014 @12:04AM (#46731909)

    As a professionally licensed design engineer, we have a responsibility to the public in general. These two engineers, once the problem had been identified and middle management was preventing the fix from being implemented, should have sent an email to the CEO and copied the entire company mailing list highlighting the potential liability and risk of death and great bodily harm. I guarantee it would have been fixed, and a bunch of jackass middle management would have been out on their asses. If the warning was still ignored, the next stop is the press. They may or may not have lost their jobs, or they may have gotten a promotion, but either is far better than where they are now.

    Engineers in general are very conscientious as we have one of very few professions where our work makes us personally liable under the law and that liability cannot be transferred to a corporation (although the corporation may also be liable, and typically have deeper pockets.) This is one reason why, although spectacular (i.e. the Challenger shuttle explosion) it is very rare that middle management succeeds in hushing any serious safety flaws known to the engineers. As an engineer I would much rather be out of a job than on the hook for wrongful death, legally or morally. As for my next employer, if they are worth working for, they know the laws and know that engineers work for them but have a greater responsibility to society.

  • by pipingguy (566974) on Saturday April 12, 2014 @02:07AM (#46732177) Homepage
    I've seen cock-ups like this happen before. Detailed fabrication drawings are auto-generated paper documents (paper, because each one must be signed and stamped by the stress engineer and signed by the checker and because paper is easier to handle by the fabrication shop and remains the copy of record). Sometimes, but rarely, a minor change is made in the 3D model and a new physical drawing is not printed and sent through the document process. In this case, the 3D model is correct but the detailed drawing is not. Or the reverse can happen; the detailed drawing is manually edited (say, under pressure to meet a deadline, with the intent to update the model as soon as the rush is over - then someone forgets) leaving the model incorrect.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 12, 2014 @10:51AM (#46733673)

    The line workers reported this problem as well. The GM managers told the line workers they were going to fix it, that they were working on a fix. My father in law, a line worker, was eventually told to drop it or there would be consequences. This crap happened all the time at GM, they just finally got caught with their pants down.

  • Re:Hero ? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by theshowmecanuck (703852) on Saturday April 12, 2014 @01:31PM (#46734809) Journal
    If you are a professional engineer you sign that you agree to a code of ethics. That includes putting your name on your work and being responsible for it. If you don't like it, don't go into the profession. If you do something wrong like obfuscate the trail of a life threatening defect, you own it. Also, fact the engineers didn't go public with the defect should also be owned by them and they should lose their professional accreditation and face jail time due to their not honouring their code of ethics in outing dangerous conditions. If this were done more often, engineers would do what they're supposed to. A few people in Ontario several years ago were killed in a mall collapse when an engineer didn't do what he was supposed to. He is facing jail time and loss of accreditation.

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