A spate of top engineers have left Apple for Tesla and other companies over the last few months. What's going on?
On Tuesday, Tesla announced that it had hired Chris Lattner as its new Vice President of Autopilot Software. Lattner was at Apple for more than 11 years, most recently serving as its senior director of developer tools. Lattner is the creator of the Swift programming language, which Apple launched back in 2014, and which the company has been encouraging its app developers to build Mac and iOS apps in.
As director of developer tools, Lattner was also responsible for Xcode (Apple's integrated development environment, that is, the software you use to build apps for Apple platforms) and the CPU and GPU compilers used within Apple and by third-party developers. In the words of John Gruber, he's a "holy shit" hire by Tesla.
Lattner isn't the only high-profile engineer to leave Apple for Tesla. On Wednesday, 9to5Mac reported that Matt Casebolt, who was a director of product design at Apple, left the company in December to join Tesla. Casebolt's LinkedIn profile has the Mac Pro, the MacBook Pro with Force Touch trackpad, MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, Retina MacBook Pro and the MacBook Air on his resume. He had been at Apple for more than nine years and his name is on a number of patents.
Business Insider suggests Lattner may have been on Jony Ive's close-knit team of designers and engineers, a team that typically has very low turnover. It would be the second high-profile departure from that group in recent months. In April, Danny Coster, a core member of Apple's design team under Ive for over 20 years, left to join GoPro. Coster, amongst other accomplishments, was the lead designer on the first iMac.
Another new Tesla hire from within the last month is Timothy Hatcher, who spent 11 years at Apple on the WebKit team. WebKit is the rendering engine that powers the Safari web browser on iOS and macOS and an important piece of software at Apple. Hatcher is now at Tesla as a UI engineer.
At a company with more than 100,000 employees, turnover is certainly going to happen. Still, losing longtime engineers who by all accounts were not working on automotive software at Apple to a company like Tesla could be cause for concern. It isn't just engineers leaving for car companies, either. As The Verge reported in November, three members of Apple's PR team have left for car companies in the last few months.
Additionally, there are signs that not everything is rosy inside Apple. Apple reportedly cut production of the iPhone — its marquee product — by 10 per cent for the first quarter of 2017. In an annual SEC filing last week, Apple revealed its profit and revenue fell short of its own internal goals — the first time the company has missed since 2009.
Apple also reportedly pivoted Project Titan — the Apple Car project — away from building a car itself and more towards software. As a result, hundreds of hardware and software engineers left the company. Tesla, which has been actively poaching Apple employees for years, could be a natural fit. Elon Musk, Tesla's founder and CEO, has said that Tesla's "design philosophy" is "closely aligned" with that of Apple.
We reached out to Apple for comment on its engineering departures but had not heard back at time of writing.
Here is a list of some of the high level employees who have left Apple since January 2016 and where they have gone, if that information is available:
- Bob Kupbens, VP Apple online store - eBay
- Hiroki Asai, VP global marketing communications
- Yoky Matsuoka, Health at Apple
- Danny Coster, director of product design (member ofJony Ive's industrial design team) - Go Pro
- Sarah O'Brien, PR - Tesla
- Colin Smith, PR - Ford
- Michaela Johndrow, PR - Ford
- Chris Lattner, director of developer tools - Tesla
- Matt Casebolt, director of product design - Tesla
- David Erhart, director of reliability engineering - Tesla
- Chester Chipperfield, special projects - Tesla
- Charles Kuehmann. director of product design - Tesla
- Steve Zadesky, Project Titan (Apple car) boss
- Sal Soghoian, product manager of automation technologies
- Daniel Gross, software director- Y Combinator
- Thomas Zwingman, senior staff reliability engineer - Tesla
- Sankarshan Murthy, product manager, worked on Apple Watch and iPhone 5C - Tesla
- Timothy Hatcher, software engineering manager on WebKit - Tesla
- Teresa Brewer, PR - SurveyMonkey
- Bart Nabbe special projects - Faraday Future
- David Finkelstein, manager of cryptographic security - Google
- Ryan Walsh, senior product for media - Floodgate
- Andrew Graham, motion sensors engineer - Tesla
- Brooke Michael Kain, head of digital marketing for Apple Music and iTunes - AEG Live
Now obviously, we can't say for sure what's going on, or why. Maybe everything is normal and this is all a big coincidence. But it certainly doesn't look good.
Additional reporting by William Turton.