Tesla's Tragedy and IT Shop Continuity


By Tony Kontzer

Wednesday provided a harsh reminder of just how important--and fragile--your technology staff is, when a small plane carrying three engineers from electric carmaker Tesla Motors crashed into an East Palo Alto neighborhood, killing all three aboard and leaving a fiery path in its wake.

Clearly, the most important parts of the story are the family and friends each of the three victims--Doug Bourn, Brian Finn and Andrew Ingram--leave behind to figure out why these men were taken so soon. And let's face it: the folks at Tesla make up a big part of the family.

No doubt the coming days will be somber ones at Tesla's Palo Alto headquarters. (In fact, it's my guess one of them is behind the Doug Bourn tribute page that already popped up on Facebook.)

But there's also a business angle to this, as in how can a young company like Tesla--which is preparing for an IPO, mind you--withstand the loss of such a big chunk of its team?

Bourn, in particular, was a lead engineer wrapping up his fifth year at Tesla, where he specialized in the design of digital logic and analog circuitry, according to his LinkedIn page. Finn's LinkedIn page indicates he had been at Tesla since 2008, working on multimodal driver information and infotainment systems, while Ingram had brought his experience working on apps at Dolby Laboratories to Tesla. Not exactly a bunch of skills one can find on the average street corner.

Companies deal with such losses daily. People die. There's no getting around this. But to lose three in one swoop would be particularly devastating even to the largest of IT shops.

There are so many questions facing the company today. How will the company maintain any sense of focus in the coming weeks? How will it stay on track for its IPO? How will it prevent morale from falling off into the abyss? Who will assume the leadership role that an engineer of Bourn's seniority no doubt held?

I suspect these are all issues the Tesla brain trust will struggle with, if not today, then soon. In doing so, they'll certainly be able to use all the help they can get from folks who've dealt with such tragedies. They'll want to figure out how to respectfully pay tribute to their fallen colleagues while also keeping the company from veering off course. They'll want to know how to keep moving forward without seeming like they're callously doing so too quickly.

In other words, if you're a CIO who's had to navigate these waters, here's a chance to share your wisdom and help an ambitious young company continue on its journey, albeit with a heavy heart.

We invite your comments below.


2 Comments for "Tesla's Tragedy and IT Shop Continuity"

  • Carolyn Allen February 24, 2010 3:58 pm

    The Tesla community has my condolences. This is a tragic loss. Life is so fleeting...and fragile. Working together to minimize losses such as this is essential and time consuming in the heat of daily pressures, but redundancy is also a lesson we need to learn from natural systems.

  • Robert Alba February 24, 2010 10:56 am

    Bring in a compassionate Leader / Organizer from outside the company for a temporary tour of duty. This person must manage the compilation organization and categorization of these engineers projects. Today everyone manages their systems and data with a degree of personal style even in well disciplined engineering systems. It is a liability in a growing organization. Get their material (the work of these men) together in a consistent top down hierarchy from substance (completed work) to status of completion of ongoing projects. Locate and confirm every communication and person communicated with in the internal and external world. Put the history of communications in alphabetical and categorical order sequenced by time - old to new and new to old and then by related groups of activity centered on specific projects. Consider hiring tech savvy administrative assistants to work for the compassionate Leader / Organizer instead of using staff to fulfill the orders of the CL (compassionate leader). Ask the staff who were close to these fallen peers to assist the administrative assistance as they are able and clear minded and able to deliver help to CL's assistance. This CL should be able to guide the results of compilation, make the progress known to the broader population of the company through established leadership (CEO and Presidents). In this way the broad community of people in the company will begin to see that the work can be managed - that the work can be assimilated quickly - efficiently - in correct sequence - by new people of comparable minds and heart and life goals (not necessarily experience) without change to the direction of flow that was in motion in the setting prior to the tragedy. Respectfully Submitted Bob Bob Alba - Inventor - philosopher - artist - spent 30 years developing high tech driving control systems for very severely handicapped drivers. His work spans half the globe and his heart in is in the care of humanity. linkedin.com/bobalba

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