Apple return to work policy leads to ML lead departure

Apple has faced quite a bit of pushback from employees over its recent return to in-person work. A number of reports have indicated some employees have even departed the company over the policies, opting for a workplace that is more accepting of remote work.

Now, The Verge’s Zoë Schiffer reports that Ian Goodfellow, Apple’s director of machine learning, has departed the company over its return to work policy.

Apple’s in-person work policy leads to high-profile departure

Apple poached Goodfellow from Google back in 2019 to join its “Special Projects Group” as the director of machine learning. Goodfellow spent more than six years as Google, starting as a software engineering intern before being a “Senior Staff Research Scientist” at the time of his departure to Apple in March of 2019.

Goodfellow is referred to as “the father of general adversarial networks, or GANs.” This technology can be used to generate fake media content, something that has become increasingly important in recent years.

Just three years after he joined Apple, however, Goodfellow is now departing the company over its return to work policy. In a memo to staff, Goodfellow wrote: “I strongly believe that more flexibility would have been the best policy for my team.”

Apple employees started returning to in-person work on April 11 following a two-year stint of remote work brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Apple is taking a phased approach to its return to work plan. At first, the company required employees to work in person at least one day per week. On May 4, the company ramped that up to two days per week in the office.

Starting on May 23, employees will need to be in the office three days per week. This is the start of Apple’s so-called “hybrid” work plan, which will require employees to work from the office on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday every week.

Goodfellow’s former employer Google mandated that some teams return to in-person work starting last month, but many employees are able to work permanently from home. Apple has reportedly given some flexibility to individual teams, allowing managers to adapt policies as they see fit. This, however, does not appear to have been the case for Goodfellow’s team.

While a number of Apple employees have reportedly departed the company over its insistence on in-person work, Goodfellow’s departure is the most notable case publicly reported thus far. Whether or not we hear of any other higher-profile departures remains to be seen.

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Naveen Kumar

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