Google’s former Senior Vice President of Search, Amit Singhal, has joined Uber as the Senior Vice President of Engineering. Singhal carried employee number 176 when in early 2016 he announced he was leaving Google by letter, which explained how he was going to spend more time with his family and “see what kind of impact [he could] make philanthropically.” In the last year, Singhal and his wife Shipa worked on the Singhal Foundation, which the couple set up a number of years ago and is designed to bring education to children otherwise unable to attend good quality schools. The foundation has started work in the Indian city of Jodhpur, India, where during the last year, it is sending children to expensive private schools. Singhal likened the work with the Singhal Foundation as similar to “running a startup from another country.” The project has sent fifty children to school but the number is growing to about four hundred this year and is set to reach “thousands” next year. He has also been spending time with his family.
However, during the year, Singhal was also introduced to Travis Kalanick, Uber’s founder. It would appear that the seeds were sown for Singhal to return to work for a technology company. His new job at Uber will see him running Uber’s Maps and Marketplace departments, whilst also providing Uber’s Chief Executive, Travis Kalanick, and other engineering executives with technical advice on their plans to build out the company’s self-driving technology. He is attracted to Uber because he is an engineer at heart and appreciates the extent of Uber’s technical challenges. He explains: “This company is not only doing things that are amazing, this company also has some of the toughest computer science challenges that I have seen in my career of 25 years.” Now that the Singhal Foundation is up and running, he was unable to resist this Uber challenge. When asked to describe the work that he will be doing at Uber, Singhal explains that Uber’s challenge is in keeping the “deep science” hidden behind an easy to use interface: customers push a button and a vehicle turns up. He goes on to explain that Uber’s technical challenge is more complicated as that of the Google search engine, where he was an important part of the team that makes the search engine be context aware and churns out high quality search results. However, Singhal’s work is easily forgotten because the Google search engine “just works.” Singhal expects his work for Uber to also be behind the scenes.
Uber is not afraid of these technical challenges. The company continue to improve the technology under the user interface, for example the UberPOOL software works to predict regular pick ups from users in order to optimize routing, as well as changes drivers or riders if one comes on line that could improve efficiency. Singhal is familiar with the logistics of transportation as most of the Singhal Foundation’s children live in areas with poor transportation systems and the company had to start its own private bus system. Uber’s technologies have the ability to ease traffic congestion and to improve lives, by increasing mobility to people who might not otherwise be able to travel so easily, and avoid the need for a private bus system.
Going forwards, it would seem that Singhal is driven to achieve results and Uber’s technical problems will be his biggest challenge yet. This is a project that could change the world, just as the Google search engine has changed the world. On his new Uber post, he explains: “We will have to do engineering work that has never been done before, combined with science that has not been built yet... The hard problem is what we are here to solve.” Uber face many challenges, from the legal to the technical, but with this quality of engineer on the team, they have the greatest chance of succeeding.