This editorial was originally published on 16 Nov, 2015. It is being republished as Steve is out of the office at a customer today.
Could a group of software developers make changes that fundamentally alter the way a software system should work without management being aware?
That's the question being asked of VW right now. Most people are skeptical, but I ran across a piece that wants to lend credence to the idea that a few software engineers acted with few people being aware. They did this, not because they wanted to defraud everyone, but they wanted a solve a problem that they couldn't do in other ways. They also didn't see the alteration of test results as much of an issue because they thought the tests were too stringent.
I'm not sure I believe that's what happened. Certainly there is some disagreement from various parties, but with my experience in software projects, management always wants to know how things are proceeding, with more and more questions whenever the applications don't work as expected. When problems are solved, natural human curiosity leads more managers to ask for details, even when they don't understand. In this case, I can't imagine lots of VW management weren't aware that software was being used to pass tests. Many people report to many others, and everyone would have wanted to know how VW solved this engineering problem.
The stakes for organizations will continue to rise in a global economy, and software will play increasing roles in many companies. Will we see more and more pressure to manipulate our world with software, even in criminal ways? I suspect so, and I sympathize with those that might face the loss of employment for not complying with the requirements they're given.
Ultimately I think transparency of software is the best way to bring about better software that complies with regulations and rules. Transparency also ensures that copyrights aren't violated (since violators code is available), and we can determine if security is being built into systems. Perhaps best of all, developers can all learn from each other, seeing exactly what works and doesn't in each system.
I doubt we'll get there, but transparency would be a nice place to be.