The shakeups at Google continue.
A week after the tech giant reorganized its top management, Andy Rubin, Google’s head of robotics and former head of Android, has confirmed that he is stepping down from the company to launch a new incubator for hardware startups.
Rubin confirmed the news in The Wall Street Journal Friday, stating that he was leaving Google because he wanted to start something on his own. Rubin, who co-founded Android, joined Google in 2005 after the company acquired the mobile operating system, and he proceeded to run the Android division of the company until last year. That’s when he switched roles to head up Google’s robotics efforts, which included a slew of acquisitions.
Now, Rubin’s sudden departure is raising new questions about why he would leave the company so soon into his tenure as robotics chief. In an email to the Journal, Rubin insisted that his decision to leave Google had nothing to do with the company or its leader, Larry Page. “Larry enabled the robotic effort to run exactly the way I wanted it to, and we made great progress in our first year,” he wrote.
Still, Rubin’s departure does come at particularly coincidental time, as Google is currently going through a major leadership transition. Last week, Page alerted Google staffers that Sundar Pichai, who took over Android operations after Rubin, would now be leading all of Google’s core product operations.
According to Re/Code, which first reported the promotion, that puts Pichai in charge of research, search, maps, Google+, commerce, ad products and infrastructure, in addition to his existing duties as head of Android, Chrome, and Google Apps. In promoting Pichai, Page hopes to focus on Google’s so-called “moonshot” projects, like the self-driving car.
All this reorganization, however, raises some important questions about whether a company of Google’s substantial size and status can stay innovative, even as it grows. Can someone like Rubin, who started as an entrepreneur and had relatively free reign over Android in his early days at Google, really remain happy as the company becomes more hierarchical and regimented? And can Page really replicate the magic he had when Google’s business was narrowly focused on a few product categories, now that the company’s aspirations are so broad and far-reaching? Or will he have to continue to relinquish and let fresher minds take over? And if he does, how will that change Google’s overarching vision?
While the Journal’s sources say that Rubin’s decision to leave the company was partially due to these new constraints, Rubin, himself, said he “didn’t really have any issues with independence.”
With Rubin gone, James Kuffner, a research scientist at Google and former professor at the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, will lead Google’s relatively new robotics team. Over the last year, under Rubin’s leadership, the team has acquired top robotics companies, including Boston Dynamics, Schaft, and Meka Robotics. Now, it’s up to Kuffner to lead Google’s robotics efforts into the future.