As AI continued to bring public concerns about computer systems to the forefront, FTX’s former chief technical officer pleaded guilty earlier this year to his role in misconduct at the now-defunct cryptocurrency exchange. An investigation1 Carried out by Dr. Junade Ali CEng FIET2 has exposed systematic ongoing errors that impact software engineers and therefore computer systems used by the wider society.
53% of software engineers surveyed by polling firm Survation say they suspect workplace misconduct. Of those who speak out, 75% say they experienced retaliation the last time they reported misconduct to their employers. In cases where software engineers remained silent, the top two reasons cited were potential retaliation from management (59%) and potential retaliation from coworkers (44%).
Because engineers feel unsafe to speak up, the research also found that the “industry standard” metric frameworks used to assess software teams are flawed. While Google’s DORA team has continued to use metrics that prioritize speed (and volume) to measure software teams’ delivery performance, a nationally representative survey of British adults ranked “get the latest features as quickly as possible” as the least important to them when using computers. systems (22%). Of the ten different dimensions measured, the public was likely to ‘strongly’ agree that data security (62%), data accuracy (55%) and preventing serious bugs (55%) were important to them. Of the eight dimensions, software engineers were the least likely to “strongly” agree that “delivering work quickly” was most important to their work (33%); instead, being able to provide for their families (52%), providing work that is highly reliable (51%) and ensuring their work kept data safe (47%) were at the top. Additionally, while newer frameworks have focused on using surveys within team settings; The research shows that, in addition to facing the risk of retaliation for speaking out, one in six software engineers are unable to express ideas or concerns, ask questions or admit mistakes without fear of negative consequences. Nearly 1 in 4 software engineers said they couldn’t take calculated risks without fear of negative consequences. Previous research highlighted in the study also found that “those with the lowest programming skills” are likely to be the most overoptimistic in evaluating the performance of software deliveries in large projects. With 44% of those who reported no misconduct attributing fear of retaliation from colleagues as a reason, the study highlights the need to ensure that subjective employee feedback mechanisms are not used as a tool for retaliation. Dr. Junade Ali CEng FIET, the lead researcher on the study, said: “Recent developments demonstrate the fundamental importance of software engineers having the freedom to raise the alarm when they become aware of potential misconduct; Unfortunately, our research has shown that software engineers are not adequately protected when they need to be. From software engineers facing massive retaliation for speaking out and banned gagging clauses still in use, to ‘industry standard’ software development metrics that don’t take into account the public’s appetite for risk; This research has revealed systematic and profound issues impacting society as a whole, given the integrality of computers throughout our lives. Our research has shown that problems are often swept under the carpet until they reach boiling point, rather than being addressed. This is neither compassionate nor fair to those involved.”
Some companies have also tried to circumvent public interest disclosure laws by getting employees to agree to warranty clauses during termination that stipulate that they know no reason to make protected disclosures. Such protected disclosures may include matters relating to crime, failure to comply with legal obligations, miscarriages of justice, dangers to health and safety, or environmental damage.
Despite these temporary clauses being banned by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) in 2016, the investigation found they were still being used at a financial institution – as evidenced by a settlement agreement between Worldpay and current BT CEO Philip Jansen . The agreement lists automatic unfair dismissal for making a protected disclosure as a “specific claim” governed by the agreement and in return for signing the agreement Mr Jansen received £251,282 in severance pay, the first of which was £30,000 was tax free. in addition to a contribution of £20,000 plus VAT towards legal costs, £3,700 plus VAT for outplacement consultancy services and £100 for agreeing to post-termination restrictions.
In response to the settlement agreement between Worldpay and Philip Jansen: Professor Richard Moorhead, professor of law and professional ethics at the University of Exeter, said: “If the clause breaches FCA rules then this is a serious matter which I expect them to investigate, identify the seniors responsible and take appropriate action.” action. Any lawyers on top of their brief involved in drafting such a clause would, I think, be expected to advise their clients that such clauses are inappropriate under FCA rules.
With respect to Worldpay’s settlement agreement, the Lawyers Regulatory Body said: “It is not clear that any lawyers were involved in this case. The FCA, as regulator of Worldpay, will investigate this matter and if they believe that lawyers are involved in drafting agreements that are contrary to our rules, they will refer them to us through the agreed channels.” … “We became aware in 2018 that attorneys might forget their legal obligations when drafting settlement agreements and include non-disclosure agreements that were not in accordance with the law. This led to us issuing a warning in 2018 which we updated in 2020 to ensure the profession does not breach its obligations. After all, lawyers must uphold the rule of law and the proper administration of justice.”
FIS who owns Worldpay, Filip Jansenthe Post office and the Financial Conduct Authority did not respond to requests for comment. BT group declined to comment. Detailed responses from Professor Richard Moorheadthe Lawyers Regulatory Body and the Post office can be found in the report.
1 The dark side of software development – Dr. Junade Ali CEng FIET served as the principal investigator for the study. Opinion poll conducted by Survation. Survation is a member of the British Polling Council and adheres to its rules. Survation is a corporate partner of the Market Research Society (MRS). All adult survey fieldwork in Britain was conducted between ages 29 and 29e and September 8e October (1,989 nationally representative sample, with 95% confidence that the ‘true’ result will fall within 2.20% of the sample result). Fieldwork for software engineering research conducted on the 25e October (n = 280, which gives 95% confidence that the ‘true’ result will fall within 5.85% of the sample result).
2 Dr. Junade Ali MSc PhD CEng FIET is a British software engineer and computer scientist.