Don’t Screw Up, You Will Be Found Guilty
Software Engineer, yours is the right to produce high-quality work at all times, also the liability.
In March 2019, the Boeing 737 Max aircraft was grounded due to software failures, and its production was stopped. The reason was a software failure that killed 346 persons. That was not the first case, nor the last, in which the death of human beings can be directly attributed to the software. In 2010, the United States Department of Transportation determined that a software error in Toyota cars had caused more than 89 deaths and 57 injuries.
All these news have been seen, explained, and shown from the perspective of the victim, the company, and the users. But there is one missing perspective, what about the Software Engineer, the one who built the faulty software?
Put yourself in the shoes of the Software Engineer who built that software: How would you feel? Would you feel remorse for having killed tens or hundreds of people? Would you justify it because the deadlines were tight? Or because the boss forced your hand? The reality is that you wrote the code, line by line. But without knowing how, you got lucky, you were not the focus, but the company. And was the company that assumes the consequences. Not you, not your pocket, not your future career, only your conscience. But that is changing.
In September 2015, the Volkswagen emissions scandal was revealed: the state of California accused Volkswagen of creating software to manipulate the results of emissions tests. This time, the company, instead of taking responsibility, directly accused the software engineers for creating the malicious software responsible for the deception. These are the exact words of the CEO of Volkswagen to the US control commission:
This was not a corporate decision, from my point of view, and to the best of my knowledge today. This was a couple of software engineers who put this in for whatever reasons.