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

timothy posted about 8 months ago | from the laying-blame dept.

Transportation 236

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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Hero ? (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#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.

Re:Hero ? (5, Insightful)

gnoshi (314933) | about 8 months ago | (#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.

changing part without changing number is common (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46730495)

I'm not saying that it's good, and this case is an example of exactly why it can be a bad idea to do this, but changing part numbers has a lot of overhead (inventory management of multiple part numbers, all the manuals that now refer to the wrong number, etc)

If it's expected that the new part is significantly different than the old one, then it's worth all the pain, but if it's not expected to be significantly different (just cheaper to build, or more reliable when nobody expects series reliability problems with the old one, etc) its not completely insane to just change the design and keep the same part number.

If you want to be really paranoid, you track each batch of parts produced as a separate item, because minor things like the temprature that day could theoretically affect something. In medical and aerospace industries, this sort of tracking is done (which is one of the reasons why 'simple' things are so expensive in those industries)

but in the automotive industry that level of tracking is just not done, and it's very common for parts to be substatuted with no notice.

In the computer industry, it's unfortuantly common for some manufacturers to make what many people consider major changes (like changing chipsets) without changing the part number.

David Lang

Re:changing part without changing number is common (0)

Darinbob (1142669) | about 8 months ago | (#46730661)

Computer industry does this in some cases with the idea that all customers are basic home consumers, or a very common assumption from many manufacturers that everyone everywhere runs Windows with no exceptions and that it all works as long as you use the enclosed drivers. I've seen a lot of USB devices that don't even bother changing the serial numbers (the great thing about standards is that there are so many of them to choose to ignore).

Re:changing part without changing number is common (5, Informative)

confused one (671304) | about 8 months ago | (#46730901)

Since I work for an automotive OEM.... When this is done, there is an Engineering Change Order documenting the change and why it was implemented. We don't change anything without first getting the approval of the customer; and, invariably they will want all the relevant DV and PV testing redone. Huge effort and pain. All of this is well documented and nothing ships until we have final approval from the customer.

The part number may not change; but, the part revision level will. PN 123456 RevA will become PN 123456 RevB. We treat it as the "same" part number but will only ship the latest revision once we have customer approval. As for tracking, I don't know how our customers tracks the change internally; but, I can tell you which batch, serial number, and date code the new revision started shipping.

This (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46730939)

Every change has drawings behind it, and a rev number change. Every one. Not doing so is a deliberate act to hide something.

Re:Hero ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46730497)

> Changing part without changing part number is something which the engineer shouldn't have done

You don't get out much, do you? It's SOP in the hardware and software worlds. Unannounced patches and material changes go on *constantly*, even if you pay the extra buttload of money to get "mill-spec" parts which have all the paperwork saying that *no* changes have occurred. Think I'm kidding? Take a good look at all the stuff on Ebay with identical part numbers, but from bad runs of serial numbers with known to fail versions of components.

Re:Hero ? (3, Insightful)

countach (534280) | about 8 months ago | (#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 ? (3, Informative)

TubeSteak (669689) | about 8 months ago | (#46730603)

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?

Why exactly is it a bad precedent?
The names of everyone involved are going to come out anyways, with all the possible consequences you described.
Our judicial system is usually exceedingly unwilling to pierce the corporate veil and directly hold bad actors responsible for their choices.
So I'm perfectly happy with a society that aggressively shuns those people, regardless of judicial outcomes.

I'm *guessing* GM's goal is to scapegoat a few responsible parties as early as possible,
so that when the management failures are unmasked, there won't be as much heat and vitriol.

Re:Hero ? (4, Insightful)

Webcommando (755831) | about 8 months ago | (#46731255)

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 ? (3, Insightful)

khallow (566160) | about 8 months ago | (#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 ? (2)

flaming error (1041742) | about 8 months ago | (#46730669)

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

Re:Hero ? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#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 ? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46730723)

Naming names shifts the blame from a whole culture of complicity and incompetence to a single person, who is much easier to hound and point fingers at than the 'leadership' (I use that term loosely) that is responsible.

Re:Hero ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46730809)

Changing part without changing part number is something which the engineer shouldn't have done.

Then the System needs to be changed to amplify this behavior. Blaming it on the engineer is the System's way out of being responsible for the outcomes it produces. Plenty of sleazy corporations do the same thing, financial companies in particular.

Re:Hero ? (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46730849)

> Changing part without changing part number is something which the engineer shouldn't have done.

What do suggest someone do when someone find fault with something and can not change it?

> Sure, management wouldn't let him make the change and that is bad.
(See above)

> 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.

(see above)

> The engineer clearly did something wrong.

The engineer clearly did not follow procedure. I am less sure it was wrong.

> That in no way reduces the responsibility of management for their decisions and the consequences of those decisions.

Sure does - management is going to say that have clearly defined processes to take care of situations like this and will look in to why they failed. The Engineer is going to be considered a rouge employee. Don't be surprised to see a press conference when they announce they had a history of doing this kind of thing.

> That said, naming names of an engineer is a really bad precedent.

Nope see above.

> What is the goal GM is trying to achieve here.

Reduce legal liability

> 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?

See above

> 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?

Reduced legal liability - a few rogue employees are cheaper from a legal perspective then a company of boobs,

> If he did something criminal, then he should be charged.

Not sure they want the publicity, unless they can show this is the work of a "lone wolf or two"

> If he did something extremely incompetent then maybe membership of the engineering body should be revoked,

Nope - No engineers - no product. They just need to know "their place"; see above if you are still unclear.

> but it isn't the place of GM to throw their engineers to the wolves.

See above

Re:Hero ? (4, Interesting)

pla (258480) | about 8 months ago | (#46731219)

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 ? (1)

Jim Sadler (3430529) | about 8 months ago | (#46731257)

It is vital information in that if there is proof that GM tried to deliberately cover up the issue by not allowing a new part number to be assigned then punitive damages are in order. If it was simply bad practice the simple liability for the consequences is sufficient. Not only could the potential fines and suits run into the billions but a string of executives might be looking at serious prison sentences. Do we even know if the engineer had anything to do with assigning the part number?

Re:Hero ? (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#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.

Re:Hero ? (4, Insightful)

wiredlogic (135348) | about 8 months ago | (#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:Hero ? (4, Insightful)

thegarbz (1787294) | about 8 months ago | (#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 ? (2, Insightful)

Grishnakh (216268) | about 8 months ago | (#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.

Re:Hero ? (1)

CanadianMacFan (1900244) | about 8 months ago | (#46730753)

And if the engineer was stopped from making the changes then he should have gone to the proper regulatory officials with evidence of the cover up.

Re:Hero ? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46731089)

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

Re:Hero ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46731309)

True. And brilliantly ignorant.

Re:Hero ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46730731)

> 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.

+1 (yep)

I guess in case in this case the cost of doing a recall was less then probable rate of failure, B when multiply by the average out-of-court settlement, C; So in this case engineers X & Y did their own.

Re:Hero ? (4, Informative)

quarterbuck (1268694) | about 8 months ago | (#46730775)

As usual the Slashdot summary is incomplete on the verge of being incorrect.
Reuters [reuters.com] has a longer story that explains the background. Digrigio testified in the Senate that he did not know of the issue. Later senate dug up documents implying the opposite.Altman did something similar (but not nearly as bad) in front of a Jury.

More Impressed (4, Insightful)

sycodon (149926) | about 8 months ago | (#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.

Re:More Impressed (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46730861)

I don't know the details on this specific case, but when my father worked at GM back in the jurassic period, management(middle and upper) was always involved and virtually always the cause of shit like this. The engineer was then a potential fall guy if it ever hit the fan, while nothing happened to the boss.

Justice would impress me (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46731051)

I would be even more impressed if the manages who refused to the change were charged with criminal negligence, reckless endangerment and 13 counts of manslaughter.

Make them 3 strike losers and lock the fuckers in prison forever.

Did they name the director? (2, Insightful)

EmagGeek (574360) | about 8 months ago | (#46730361)

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:Did they name the director? (1)

Sarten-X (1102295) | about 8 months ago | (#46730929)

You don't believe in the existence of bad or sloppy engineers?

Re:Did they name the director? (3, Insightful)

SeaFox (739806) | about 8 months ago | (#46731325)

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

Comparison to code bugs a bit flawed (4, Informative)

zooblethorpe (686757) | about 8 months ago | (#46730363)

The fine article submission asks:

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?

One key difference here is that the engineer(s) responsible for redesigning the switch and not changing the part number were not just implementing an everyday change that happened to be buggy. By not changing the part number, their actions are more akin to trying to fix a known bug that has exposed the company to huge potential liabilities, and then hacking the version control system to make it look like the bug was never there, in full intentional pursuit of obfuscation and ass-covering.

Cheers,

Re:Comparison to code bugs a bit flawed (3, Insightful)

thegarbz (1787294) | about 8 months ago | (#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:Comparison to code bugs a bit flawed (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46731183)

You're a one trick pony. All you seem to be able to say is "obligation to act ethically" yet you certainly have no idea what you're talking about. I'm an engineer. I don't remember taking any pledges, signing any contracts, or swearing an oath of ethicality. Furthermore, my job requires me to design, test, and maintain instruments of war. AKA, I kill people for a living (indirectly). How am I supposed to be ethical about that hmmmmmmm?

I used to work at GM. (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#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.

Already happening (1)

mozumder (178398) | about 8 months ago | (#46730383)

The engineer behind the heart bleed bug is named in national news: http://www.latimes.com/busines... [latimes.com]

backwards (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46730389)

Why is it whenever people die, get disenfranchised, etc due to willful actions by individuals, that must never be known, but when an engineer makes an honest mistake in openssl, or does a mediocre job on part at GM, it's pitchforks and torches? What about the coverup? The bad cost analysis? The management decisions? Those are far more to blame than the engineer who didn't follow industry standard practice (and probably was ordered to do so)...

Why not? (3, Interesting)

hawguy (1600213) | about 8 months ago | (#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:Why not? (4, Insightful)

Jaime2 (824950) | about 8 months ago | (#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? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46730491)

Sounds like you're extrapolating your own incompetence on everyone. There are billions of lines of code running just fine for decades. But those were written by actual professionals not the average web monkey and fart app developer like yourself.

Re:Why not? (1)

TubeSteak (669689) | about 8 months ago | (#46730537)

I think the traditional /. response involves something along the lines of:
"But what if you're a doctor in a movie theater and someone dies because you didn't get an e-mail in the seconds after it was sent?"

Re:Why not? (1)

JaredOfEuropa (526365) | about 8 months ago | (#46730817)

Not this "software engineers aren't real engineers" crap again. Those real engineers make plenty of mistakes too,sometimes costly ones, sometimes even deadly. And they too hide behind the "shit happens" excuse from time to time, after signing off on a disaster. I recognize that software engineering is not nearly as mature as other fields of endeavor, but you're doing the profession of software design a disservice comparing it to bloodletting and leeches.

Re:Why not? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46731353)

To be a Software Engineer do you need to maintain membership in a professional organization and maintain any form of acredditation? No? Then you aren't an Engineer. It isn't a semantic question; The requirement that an "Engineer", generally referring to a "Professional Engineer" be accredited means that if they fail to act with due diligence they can lose that accreditation and be forced to find a job doing something else. In most places "Software Engineers" meet no accreditation requirements, have no requirement to belong to any society which regulates ethics, experience or training.

I've worked with real engineers, ethics was more important than their education.

Re:Why not? (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 8 months ago | (#46731333)

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.

When that day comes, the programmer won't be called an engineer: he'll be called a mathematician.

Re:Why not? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46730467)

Yeah, sure I'll take responsibility, if you pay me triple, and if there are criminal repercussions for any attempt to coerce a developer into 'signing off' on something.

Re:Why not? (3, Insightful)

thegarbz (1787294) | about 8 months ago | (#46730523)

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

Re:Why not? (2)

JaredOfEuropa (526365) | about 8 months ago | (#46730761)

It is good to take responsibility if you screw up, and I would like to see more real engineering rigour in software development. However that doesn't mean the guy making the mistake should be the scapegoat. The best of us can make mistakes, but the fact that these mistakes make it into the final product is not only our failing, but a failing of the procedures in place as well. If your process cannot cope with a single human being making a mistake, then it's the team, manager and company failing, not just the solitary engineer. Software engineering processes suck pretty bad in that regard, but "real" engineering practices have their failings too. Thinking of the famous "woodpecker" comparison between architects and software engineers, I'll say the world is damn lucky that real-world construction is way more forgiving when it comes to small errors translating to big issues, even if it's failure modes are a usually a lot mor noisy, dangerous, and costly.

MK Observer (2)

ttucker (2884057) | about 8 months ago | (#46730407)

What a bullshit news story, it is written is broken and bastardized English. Lets discuss a reputable story instead.

Re:MK Observer (1)

ttucker (2884057) | about 8 months ago | (#46730415)

The broken switches can move out of the “run” situation suddenly, executing the motor and closing off force to airbags.

What is this even supposed to mean?!? The "run" situation?

Re:MK Observer (1)

Qzukk (229616) | about 8 months ago | (#46730571)

It reads like it was spewed out by a markov chain generator trained on a tiny subset of language to make sure that its rambling stays on topic, but still makes no guarantees that it comes out in English.

Maybe that's what the MK means? I had a look at the other stories on the site:

The issue is these venues value their transactions off of the distributed costs on the exchanges – in addition, if those costs need uprightness, then “darkpool” evaluating will itself be twisted.

-- http://www.mkobserver.com/high... [mkobserver.com]

Whatsoever it is, the tinkle about the blip demonstrates that individuals are looking at the rover photographs nearly. An imaging master at NASA’s laboratory imparts his hypothesis: An “cosmic beam hit” influenced Curiosity.

-- http://www.mkobserver.com/nasa... [mkobserver.com]

Some of the less gibberish articles have writing/editing citations at the bottom, maybe they are generated by a computer then cleaned up afterwards? Others are quite clearly press releases.

Re:MK Observer (1)

ttucker (2884057) | about 8 months ago | (#46730751)

The stories are almost like markov chain nonsense that is inspired by real news articles. Maybe nonsense article remixing is some kind of new SEO/ad revenue trick.

Re:MK Observer (1)

Arker (91948) | about 8 months ago | (#46730877)

"What is this even supposed to mean?!? The "run" situation?"

He's trying to write 'the run position.'

Re:MK Observer (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46731245)

I wish you'd use a standardized font.

Oh Mr High and Mighty (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46731213)

Well your post is bullshit. You wrote it in broken and bastardized English. A period should go where your comma is thus capitalizing "it" and "Lets" has an apostrophe because it is a contraction. Here is where you can take off your blinders and realize your house is made of glass too so perhaps you shouldn't throw stones.

Next time your (g)mail goes down... (0)

thatkid_2002 (1529917) | about 8 months ago | (#46730411)

...blame yourself for using a service which relies on magic and good will to scale further than is sensible.

The 'New' GM (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46730463)

Meanwhile email evidence emerged that Mary Barra knew about the issues as far back as 2011. Which would mean she lied to Congress in testimony.

2 engineers are let go, while the people who lie under oath still walk free.

My parents met working at GM - and later in life got totally screwed as their pension went bankrupt with the Old GM... while 'New' GM escapes liability for issues they knew about and covered up. I will never buy a GM car in my life.

CAPTCHA: Equality.

Professionals (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46730471)

Professional Engineers get big bucks and are held to professional standards. They either belong to associations that provide insurance or their employer gets insurance for them or they get it themselves. If they screw up, they get called out by the professional associations that they belong to. Sometimes there are legal ramifications for screwing up but always they are responsible for what they do - they are professionals.

Not a flamebait summary (2)

thegarbz (1787294) | about 8 months ago | (#46730509)

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?

Yes. Well nearly. That is a good thing. If these engineers were found to act unethically in this regard they should be punished. Where I live professional engineers are registered and the charter of professional engineers put a great deal of weight on the ethical practice of engineering. Should the same go for software? Absolutely. I have long held the belief that software can be life critical at times and software engineers should be held to the same professionalism as any other form of engineering.

Now I said well nearly because these people didn't get their name in the news for mis-designing a part. They got their name in the news for trying to cover up the fact that they mis-designed a part and potentially put the public in danger in the process. I don't believe they acted alone since it would take more than 2 people to pull off something like this unless GM really has no oversight structure, but if a software engineer made a mistake that was discovered to potentially cause a fatality and then attempted to cover it up by messing with the system so it looks like the bug never existed then by all means they should definitely have their name up in lights.

Re:Not a flamebait summary (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46731285)

See there you go carrying on about that "ethical" bullshit again. That society you refer to is for Professional Engineers (PE), not professional engineers. What's the difference? A business may only have 1 PE but a hundred non-licensed engineers who are still the same kind of engineer the PE is, they just don't get to officially sign off on anything. Not that it matters though, there a few instances where a PE signature is required- mostly civil and architectural engineering. The team designing the ignition switch on a GM is most likely not full of PE's, but their lead/dpt head probably is (so why isn't HIS head rolling?). TFA didn't indicate at all if the 2 scapegoats are indeed Professional Engineers so please stop it with the herpy derpy ethical nonsense.

general motors (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46730519)

its about time GM did something! but alas, it is too late for some families. :(

Low hanging fruit (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46730527)

Is it really likely that two engineers are entirely at fault, or that they were following orders from upper management?

The blame for tragedy always hits the most accessible people, and never those who introduced the corporate culture that enabled shoddy workmanship and bad engineering.

I'm positive there are people above these engineers who are just as responsible but will never be held accountable.

Re:Low hanging fruit (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46731475)

Is it really likely that two engineers are entirely at fault, or that they were following orders from upper management?

The blame for tragedy always hits the most accessible people, and never those who introduced the corporate culture that enabled shoddy workmanship and bad engineering.

I'm positive there are people above these engineers who are just as responsible but will never be held accountable.

I really don't believe it's possible for 2 engineers to just "change a part" in the entire manufacturing chain of GM. It sounds ridiculous, imagine how many people would have to be involved to make a change like this happen.

only if (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46730543)

I get to know the name of the guy responsible when my e-mail is working properly. Already a thankless job filled with unfair blame, are we really going to escalate the war on science further?

Professional responsibility (4, Informative)

Sir_Sri (199544) | about 8 months ago | (#46730567)

Engineers are professionally certified with professional responsibility, if they aren't doing their job it's criminal and names need to be named. Just as a physician working for a hospital is named for accusations of negligence.

It's not obvious if that's relevant here, but if someone tried to pass themselves off as a professional engineer and aren't that's a problem, if someone who is a professional engineering violated the ethical principles that's a problem too.

Re:Professional responsibility (1)

martiniturbide (1203660) | about 8 months ago | (#46731119)

The engineers may have responsibility, but they are not the ones that made QA, build the cars and distribute them massively. I think it is bad to pin-point the engineers, blame them and destroy their careers this way.

I hope that this does not create a precedent that if product is a success the company will win money and get all recognition, if the product fails or if it dangerous the blame is on the engineers and they have to be publicly shamed.

Re:Professional responsibility (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46731163)

You don't need to be a Professional Engineer to work as an engineer in the U.S. Some positions may require it, but most don't.

One problem I've seen is, instead of having a few engineers working on a single problem, you have a single engineer working on multiple problems. A couple of heads looking at a single problem with different perspectives can pick up on a lot of things that may be missed by a single person. But this is the world we live in with massive job cutbacks in the (real) engineering work environment.

Re:Professional responsibility (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46731299)

I'm an engineer but I don't have a PE license so what kind of "professional responsibility" am I supposed to have? The answer is none.

Re:Professional responsibility (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46731305)

>professionally certified

Yeah, 2 exams and 4 years experience and you're a certified Professional Engineer. Really; look it up. That's all it takes.

So impressive.

Say what? (1)

nbritton (823086) | about 8 months ago | (#46730573)

How many people died? They get paid leave?

Re:Say what? (1)

Mishotaki (957104) | about 8 months ago | (#46731235)

they should say: "GM wastes 1.3 billion dollars.. and they still get paid! and they don't even have to work for it!" I still don't get that people get paid leave for stuff like that..

One Question (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46730577)

One engineer may have tried to re-engineer the faulty ignition switch without changing the part number—an unheard-of practice in the industry.

Do engineers usually get to decide the part number of the part they design?

Real Engineers (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46730591)

Real Engineers are held to a higher standard.

Failures to follow established processes lead to real consequences.

This is something most Code Monkeys simply can't grasp. Oops! I hosed 10k systems due to a little bug, but hey, my little easter egg in the software works! hehe!

Sorry your life support system software failed, don't worry, we made a patch! If you hold press up,up,down,down,left, right,a,b then start you get 100% more oxygen.

Now obviously we can't hold everyone to that standard, a regular computer would cost 10-100X more, but be ultra reliable.

Imagine if Microsoft had to recall every version of windows to fix EVERY known critical vulnerability, FREE, forever. I doubt they would be hiring high-school drop-outs who can string together a few bits of code here and there.

Snowden (2)

countach (534280) | about 8 months ago | (#46730601)

I can see parallels here to the Snowden affair. Basically, if you blow the whistle on management acting unethically, you are screwed. Whether it's Snowden blowing the whistle on the Feds or some engineer blowing the whistle on GM management, there is no protection for someone wanting to do the right thing. This is how Nazi Germany got to where they ended up. We don't know if one of these engineers wanted to blow the whistle, but usually engineers want to engineer, they don't care about bean counting, so its a fair bet he wanted it done right, but wasn't allowed to.

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Edmund Burke.

The way society is going, having good men do something gets harder and harder.

Re:Snowden (2)

khallow (566160) | about 8 months ago | (#46730713)

Whether it's Snowden blowing the whistle on the Feds or some engineer blowing the whistle on GM management, there is no protection for someone wanting to do the right thing. This is how Nazi Germany got to where they ended up.

Which is quite relevant actually. During the time of the Wiemar Republic, apparently in the 1920s, several would-be whistle blowers got murdered for knowing too much about violations of the Treaty of Versailles (for example, the secret development of military weapons, tanks, airplanes, naval ships, etc, and the creation of an illegal, shadow general staff for the military).

Those violations in turn were a significant and necessary part of the transformation of Germany into the powerful, totalitarian, military machine that killed so many people. It's not as bad now (else we wouldn't have heard of Snowden), but lack of protection for whistle blowers can have monumentally lethal results.

Re:Snowden (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46730991)

Whether it's Snowden blowing the whistle on the Feds or some engineer blowing the whistle on GM management, there is no protection for someone wanting to do the right thing. This is how Nazi Germany got to where they ended up.

Which is quite relevant actually. During the time of the Wiemar Republic, apparently in the 1920s, several would-be whistle blowers got murdered for knowing too much about violations of the Treaty of Versailles (for example, the secret development of military weapons, tanks, airplanes, naval ships, etc, and the creation of an illegal, shadow general staff for the military).

Those violations in turn were a significant and necessary part of the transformation of Germany into the powerful, totalitarian, military machine that killed so many people. It's not as bad now (else we wouldn't have heard of Snowden), but lack of protection for whistle blowers can have monumentally lethal results.

Your message about whistle blowing is lost on me, all I gather from your comment is we should have done a better job spying on Germany.

Re:Snowden (1)

khallow (566160) | about 8 months ago | (#46731207)

Your message about whistle blowing is lost on me, all I gather from your comment is we should have done a better job spying on Germany.

Who's "we"? A lot of German citizens died as a result of not knowing the secret policies of their own government.

Whew! (2)

rsilvergun (571051) | about 8 months ago | (#46730609)

Had me going there. For a minute I thought there might be some discussion that the people running GM might somehow be at fault. Thankfully they are blameless as always, and have rooted the true culprits in the form those dastardly engineers.

Seriously though, I'm tired of being told that it's OK for these people to be super super rich because of all the value they add and the risks they take, when $#@! like this keeps happening and they never once take a hit. I know it's how ruling classes work and all, but it still sucks...

Re:Whew! (4, Interesting)

Grishnakh (216268) | about 8 months ago | (#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.

GM Report for reeducation! (2)

Ol Olsoc (1175323) | about 8 months ago | (#46730617)

You have failed the corporate overlords GM. This will not do.....

What, exactly just what the fuck are you doing putting Engineers on leave?

Corporate protocol demands that the guilty culprit must be either a Janitor, or a mailroom clerk!

Yeah right (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46730635)

Engineers DESIGN the part. The task to register, assign and record a part number belongs to a different group. In fact, you can't even update a production design document without the software bumping the version number automatically and flagging it as new.

So the claim that engineers cover up the change in design is pure BS.

They just found a few escape goats to blame as a PR stunt trying to cover up the gross negligence of the company's management team.

INACCURATE (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46730677)

GM didn't name names. A government investigator did.
Get your facts before you post. You all look like idiots now:
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/11/business/gm-suspends-2-engineers-in-switch-inquiry.html

Gak (1)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about 8 months ago | (#46730697)

From TFA

Meanwhile, GM has said that it has sought the services of a NASA team, to consult on whether the affected vehicles are safe to drive.

This is asinine CYA. It's safer to drive these cars than to unload your dishwasher and take a chance at stumbling and impaling yourself on a knife in the silverware basket.

Re:Gak (1)

iluvcapra (782887) | about 8 months ago | (#46730989)

Ironically, NASA has almost certainly killed more people with the space shuttle than have died due to ignition switches.

I haven't the slightest idea why they're going to NASA of all places for an engineering audit, whenever there's a shuttle accident it's always transpired that NASA has intractable compliance and engineering culture problems, and lack the capacity to properly validate a tricycle for safety, let alone a mass-produced motor vehicle. Their incompetence has literally cost the US a manned spaceflight program.

They may be taking a page from Jack in the Box, when JITB hired NASA to completely overhaul their procedures after the salmonella deaths. Given NASA's record it's a miracle JITB burgers didn't all subsequently carry Ebola.

Re:Gak (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46731315)

FUCK YOU
signed---- a competent NASA engineer

Re:Gak (1)

iluvcapra (782887) | about 8 months ago | (#46731383)

Why don't you save it for your boss, smartass. Elon Musk is making you guys look like morons.

Managers are to blame (1, Insightful)

Sheik Yerbouti (96423) | about 8 months ago | (#46730733)

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?

Nonsense (1)

russotto (537200) | about 8 months ago | (#46730743)

Making mid-production changes in parts without changing the part number -- at least the customer-visible part number -- is not unheard-of, it's common.

Re:Nonsense (1)

vux984 (928602) | about 8 months ago | (#46731185)

Making mid-production changes in parts without changing the part number -- at least the customer-visible part number -- is not unheard-of, it's common.

Its not merely common its 'frustratingly common'.

I've experienced this time and again ordering replacement parts for a variety of cars. Usually the differences don't matter. The replacement is shaped a bit different, improved in some way, or the material is slightly different, the item has been cost reduced in some way perhaps, or suppliers were changed, and the part still works and still fits fine... but its not identical to the original.

That's generally not a big deal unless its a trip part. Then its maddening.

For example, I ordered a replacement rocker switch for my 911 power window some months ago, by part number. The part that arrived was in a slightly different finish -- the original was a glossy black plastic, the replacement was a slightly textured/matte black plastic. It was different, not merely "new" vs "showing some wear".

It fit and worked fine, but didn't match the switch for the passenger side window (which was right next to it on the drivers armrest) 100%.

Re:Nonsense (1)

vux984 (928602) | about 8 months ago | (#46731191)

That's generally not a big deal unless its a trip part

trim part

Calling in NASA? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46730853)

Looks like someone is too big not to fail.

Absolutely Disgusting (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46730869)

Companies let these things happen.

It's like where you work - you're free to speak of problems, but if you do prepare to face the consequences of being honest. The reason the Engineer probably even attempted to change the part was because if he'd followed the process he would have been flayed alive. It's corporate culture, that's it.

These problems happen, it's an accepted risk of sitting in a large piece of metal that travels over 100 km/h - something might break and you might die.

This is down to GM being a horrible company who force their employees to act in this manner, enforce an obviously horrible corporate culture where CEOs and/or Managers take no responsibility and in the end let people die as part of their ongoing risk factors.

See here for how a real CEO should act: http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/toyota-ceo-akio-toyodas-testimony-congress/story?id=9924855: "The CEO of Toyota, Akio Toyoda, told Congress he took "full responsibility" for the safety defects in the company's cars that have been linked to the deaths of 39 Americans.".

Former Automotive Test Engineer, Saturn Ion owner (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46730903)

I own a 2004 Saturn Ion. I used to work as an automotive test engineer. Sometimes defects can be missed in testing, but the safety net is watching warranty returns. All car companies closely watch which parts are getting unusually high warranty return rates. When warranty rates get above certain level, a recall is suppose to be issued. A high level manager mostly likely thought they could get away with not doing it and save some money.

I remember having to call 5 different locksmiths to find who could get the stuck key out of the ignition. The first four said they would not service an ION ignition keys because it had a design flaw and the guy nice enough to help me told me he could fix it, but it would break again because of a design flaw in the lock. This was 4 years ago.that it was already common knowledge that this was a problem. I have had my ignition system replaced 3 times. It breaks about every 2 years.

I think the ignition switch engineer is likely the scapegoat, someone involved in warranty tracking is at fault.

Risk vs Reward for engineer - Dilbert

Reward - A cheap plastic frame with a certificate.
Risk - Millions of people die.

Seems to me it takes more than one guy... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46730957)

So what if someone changes a part without changing the number? You mean nobody down the line noticed? At some point it needs to be manufactured, so you might as well point the finger at the mold and die maker or whatever machine setup change needed to be made for "part number 123xyz". There has to be a paper trail a mile wide on this...

Re:Seems to me it takes more than one guy... (1)

PPH (736903) | about 8 months ago | (#46731103)

Could be an internal change that people on the line would never notice. A stiffer spring perhaps.

Part numbering is a complex issue. GM might probably has an engineering policy in place for identifying part modifications. Not necessarily the part number, but a revision code. [Part numbers usually denote form, fit and function. If one of these changes, so does the part number. If two parts are interchangeable, they often get the same part number but a unique revision code.] Circumventing company policy usually warrants disciplinary action, including termination, at most companies.

The other side of this is checks put in place to maintain configuration control and data integrity. Either more than just these two individuals were involved or the GM processes have some serious flaws. Checking revised documents into any decent document management system would include listing changes, new part numbers, revisions made, etc. If GM doesn't have adequate controls in place and these people are in a position to talk about that, the embarrassment factor might be enough to earn them comfortable retirement for their silence.

This could start a precedent... or some lawsuits (3, Interesting)

sigmabody (1099541) | about 8 months ago | (#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.

Senior managers - "personal responsibility" too? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46731031)

The US Government just started to try collect "debts" owed by (now dead) parents from their living children. In some cases these debts are over 30 years old, and all the financial information is lost - other than the government simply saying the debt exists.

Let's get the name of the senior government official who created this little scheme as well. If this can (and / or should) happen to Engineers - let's let it happen to individual senior managers as well. If "personal responsibility" is now key to your job - let's let that go across the board.

* Did the Engineers managers approve the designs?

False equivalence. (1)

Raven42rac (448205) | about 8 months ago | (#46731145)

A mail outage isn't the same as a fatal design flaw.

"responsibility" -newspeak-blame little guy (1)

epyT-R (613989) | about 8 months ago | (#46731409)

Then I never want to work in a critical position that demands that I solve intractable problems. I think the real answer here is to quit overdoing the plumbing. Needed complexity is understandable. Needless complexity is stupid. Just because we can put the computer in control of everything doesn't mean we should.

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