CEOs take note: “Is there a Code Cheat in your products?”

CEOs take note: “Is there a Code Cheat in your products?”

As featured on LinkedIn.


The recent Volkswagen’s emissions scandal when a “Code Cheat” was placed in the software of diesel cars has resulted in the departure of former CEO Martin Winterkorn, a 30% fall in VW’s share price and a criminal investigation. But it has also created an important precedent:


CEOs are ultimately accountable for the source code of their products.


The boards of major corporates are handsomely paid; they enjoy the perks and trappings of high office and are trusted by employees, shareholders and customers alike to create sustainable returns by providing products and services that meet consumer needs.


Corporate boards deal with strategic issues, shareholder meetings and 3 year plans so the world of bits and bytes in computer code is a long way from the boardroom. Computer code is “deep techie stuff” and has no place on the agenda of corporate board meetings – until now.


Martin Winterkorn denies any knowledge of wrongdoing on his part but ignorance is no excuse as he has found out to his cost. The incident at Volkswagen may have left other CEOs worrying if something similar could happen to them. If not, then they should be.


What could Martin Winterkorn have done differently to have quickly determined who was responsible for the “Code Cheat” within the fleet of diesel cars rolling off the production line? What would he now give to have had complete traceability of the source code – who specified the designs, who wrote the code, who tested it, who implemented it? If the proper processes were in place then this information should have been available to him within minutes so that he could have quickly found those responsible and taken the appropriate action. It is because he didn’t have this information that he had to assume the responsibility for this scandal and resign.


Perhaps if the lines of computer code were given the same scrutiny as the figures on the company ledger then this episode may not have happened? Every financial transaction that organisations conduct can be traced and tracked. Independent auditors scrutinise the books before signing off on company accounts so perhaps we need the same independent diligence for scrutinising a company’s software code?


Organisations often feel that investing in independent Quality Assurance and Testing is a costly overhead or a commodity service for which the lowest tender wins the contract. Given the VW incident many companies may now take a greater interest in the hygiene of their computer code – after all, a 30% fall in the share price and a class action lawsuit due to some errant computer code is going to make the agenda in most boardrooms.


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