Apple’s Losing a High-Profile Executive Over Its Return-to-Office Policies

Getting Dr. Ian Goodfellow on board was quite a coup for Apple. However, now it seems that the company is losing him as a result of its inflexible working policies.
Frustrated Tim Cook Credit: Laura Hutton / Shutterstock
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Apple’s controversial return-to-work policy may have cost the company a key high-profile team member.

There have been some vigorous complaints over the past year about Apple’s insistence that all employees return to working at the office three days per week. However, the general sense is that this is coming from a vocal minority within the company. Although a Blind survey last month reported that over half of Apple’s employees planned to quit over the new policy, that survey comprised only 652 Apple employees. To put that in perspective, Apple employs 12,000 people at Apple Park alone and over 150,000 people worldwide.

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Nevertheless, it appears that this small-but-vocal minority includes one of Apple’s heavy hitters — the Director of Machine Learning.

Dr. Ian Goodfellow, who joined the company’s machine learning team two years ago, is one of the rising stars in the discipline of machine learning (ML). He left his role as a Senior Staff Research Scientist at Google to head up ML projects for Apple. He’s co-authored more than 100 research papers and pioneered revolutionary AI-generated audio and video initiatives.

Needless to say, getting Goodfellow on board was quite a coup for Apple. However, now it seems that the company is losing him as a result of its inflexible working policies.

As reported by The Verge’s Zoë Schiffer, the research scientist has sent out an internal email announcing his departure, noting that he believes that Apple’s new rules will hamper his team’s work.

It’s not clear right now where Goodfellow is headed — his LinkedIn profile still shows him at Apple — or if any of his former team members will be departing too, but it’s certainly shaping up to be a loss for Apple, whose machine learning initiatives are at the heart of everything from Siri and computational photography to the Apple Car.

Apple moved Project Titan into its Machine Learning division in late 2020, suggesting that the focus had shifted to the software algorithms needed to power the autonomous self-driving features. With Apple’s culture of secrecy, we don’t know for sure if that’s what Goodfellow was working on, but his departure could be another setback for the company’s automotive ambitions.

However, even though Goodfellow was likely among the most brilliant minds on Apple’s AI team, the Machine Learning and AI Strategy group is still headed up by John Giannandrea, who came over from Google in 2018, where he headed up the search giant’s entire AI division. A few months after joining Apple, Giannandrea was quickly promoted to Senior VP of Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence.

What’s perhaps ironic is that Goodfellow’s former employer, Google, has a virtually identical policy to Apple’s. Both Apple and Google started requiring at least some teams to return to in-person work starting last month.

For Apple, that applied to all staff who work at Apple Park, with the new hybrid work pilot program phased in from April 11.

  1. Starting April 11, employees were required to report to work one day per week.
  2. On April 25, employees were to move to two days per week. This is presumably the stage that Apple is in now.
  3. On May 23, the complete hybrid pilot program will kick in, with staff expected to be at Apple Park on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays and working from home on Tuesdays and Fridays.

It’s not clear if this specific schedule applies to Apple’s other corporate offices or if it’s exclusive to Apple Park. However, the company has said that its hybrid work program will ultimately apply to all locations worldwide.

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