Apple reportedly loses head of machine learning over return-to-office policy

9 May 2022

Image: © efired/Stock.adobe.com

Apple’s Ian Goodfellow reportedly left a note to staff saying, ‘I believe strongly that more flexibility would have been the best policy for my team’.

Apple’s director of machine learning, Ian Goodfellow, is reportedly leaving the tech giant after more than three years due to its return-to-office policy, according to The Verge tech reporter Zoë Schiffer.

Schiffer said on Twitter that Goodfellow left a note to staff saying, “I believe strongly that more flexibility would have been the best policy for my team”.

Future Human

“He was likely the company’s most cited ML expert,” Schiffer tweeted on Saturday (7 May).

Goodfellow joined Apple in 2019 as director of machine learning in its Special Projects Group, and prior to that he was a senior staff research scientist at Google. For his work with neural networks, he was described by MIT Technology Review as the man who has “given machines the gift of imagination”.

Apple announced plans to reopen its offices in March, when CEO Tim Cook told employees in a memo that they would return to the workplace from 11 April on a staggered basis. This return date was for the company’s corporate employees, many of whom had been working from home for more than two years.

According to Cook’s memo, Apple’s staff were required to work at least one day per week in the office from 11 April, with this increasing three weeks later to two days per week. By 23 May, Apple employees will be expected to be in the office at least three days a week.

Cook acknowledged in the memo that the return might be “an unsettling change” for some, and a “long-awaited milestone” and “positive change” for others. He said the company would continue to offer flexible and hybrid working options and stressed that the reopening would adhere to local guidelines around Covid-19.

Other tech giants have announced similar plans to reopen their offices and introduce a hybrid working model. However, companies are divided on whether their staff should return to the office in a hybrid model, or have the option to be fully flexible.

Google is rolling out a hybrid policy similar to Apple, where staff work three days in the office and two days remotely.

Twitter is looking at a more flexible future, with staff able to work in the office, remotely or in a hybrid arrangement. Jack Dorsey, who stepped down as Twitter CEO last November, said early in the pandemic that staff would be able to work remotely forever if they wanted to.

Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky said in an interview with Time published yesterday (8 May) that offices are going to offer more flexibility in the future and that “the office as we know it is over”.

This follows an announcement from Chesky last month, where he said all Airbnb staff will be able to work from anywhere they choose. From September, the company’s employees will be allowed to live and work in more than 170 countries for up to 90 days a year in each location.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic

editorial@siliconrepublic.com