Apple executive who quit over return-to-office policy returns to Google – which allows WFH

A senior director at Apple who quit his job in protest at the company demanding staff return to the office three days a week has joined Google, according to a report – where work from home is allowed.

Ian Goodfellow, Apple’s director of machine learning, is believed to be the most senior employee to resign so far as a result of the plan.

His resignation was reported on May 7.

On Wednesday, 11 days later, sources told Bloomberg that he was joining Google, to work on their DeepMind project.

Google asks most employees to be in the office three days a week, but exceptions can be granted. Apple’s policy is more restricted, with no exceptions to the three-day rule.

Apple on Tuesday announced that it was delaying the requirement to be in the office three days per week, and would stick to the current two days a week arrangement – blaming rising COVID cases in California for the change in heart. 

But Goodfellow’s departure made waves in Silicon Valley. Many said it was a reflection of widespread unhappiness at Apple’s enforced return to the office, which was seen as excessive and out of step with other tech firms. 

Ian Goodfellow, Apple’s director of machine learning, quit at the beginning of May in protest at their policies forcing people back to their offices three days a week. Apple on Tuesday announced they were putting the three-day-a-week policy on hold, but will continue to force people back two days a week. Goodfellow was reported on Wednesday to have joined Google

Google has snapped up their former employee Ian Goodfellow, who quit Apple earlier this month after they demanded all staff be at their desks in the office three days a week. On Tuesday Apple caved to pressure and said they would stick with two days a week for now, but Goodfellow had already left

Google has snapped up their former employee Ian Goodfellow, who quit Apple earlier this month after they demanded all staff be at their desks in the office three days a week. On Tuesday Apple caved to pressure and said they would stick with two days a week for now, but Goodfellow had already left


DeepMind was founded in London in 2010 and was acquired by Google in 2014.

It now has additional research centres in Edmonton and Montreal, Canada, and a DeepMind Applied team in Mountain View, California.

DeepMind is on a mission to push the boundaries of AI, developing programs that can learn to solve any complex problem without needing to be taught how.

If successful, the firm believes this will be one of the most important and widely beneficial scientific advances ever made.

The company has hit the headlines for a number of its creations, including software it created a that taught itself how to play and win at 49 completely different Atari titles, with just raw pixels as input.

In a world first, its AlphaGo program took on the world’s best player at G, one of the most complex and intuitive games ever devised, with more positions than there are atoms in the universe – and won.   

Goodfellow’s move to Google was described by Bloomberg as ‘a coup’ for their DeepMind division, which is bringing him on as an individual contributor. 

DeepMind, which was founded in London in 2010 before being acquired by Google in 2014, is known for creating an AI program that beat a human professional Go player Lee Sedol, the world champion, in a five-game match in 2016.

In 2020, the firm announced it had solved a 50-year-old problem in biology, known as the ‘protein folding problem’ – knowing how a protein’s amino acid sequence dictates its 3D structure. 

DeepMind claimed to have solved the problem with 92 per cent accuracy by training a neural network with 170,000 known protein sequences and their different structures. 

Goodfellow is known as one of the foremost machine learning researchers, and he worked as a senior researcher at Google until 2019.

Tech news site The Verge – which broke the news of his quitting Apple – described Goodfellow as the most-cited expert in machine learning, a type of artificial intelligence, which involves the study of computer algorithms that can improve automatically both through experience and by the use of data. As a result, the applications become better at predicting outcomes.

Goodfellow joined Apple in March 2019, and describes himself on LinkedIn as ‘an industry leader in machine learning.’

The tech analyst is referred to as ‘the father of general adversarial networks, or GANs,’ according to the website 9to5Mac – pioneering technology which can be used generate fake media content.

His salary is unclear, but he is likely to earn well in excess of $270,000 a year according to Insider and, given his director status and high profile within the tech world. 

After graduating from Stanford in 2009 with a degree in computer science, Goodfellow studied for a PhD in machine learning at the University of Montreal.

He worked at Google on their ‘Google Brain’ team, then joined OpenAI, a research institute founded in 2015 by Elon Musk and several others.

Goodfellow returned to Google, then joined Apple.

At the time he joined Apple, he was 34 and described by The Verge as ‘young to be an AI researcher with so much clout.’ 

They described his hiring as a coup for Apple. 

On April 11, the company began mandating one day a week in the office – a requirement that rose to two days on May 2. 

By May 23, all staff had to be at their desks three days a week.

A survey of Apple workers from April 13-19 found 67 percent saying they were dissatisfied with the return-to-office policy, Fortune reported.

And Goodfellow, in his resignation note, said he would not do it.

‘I believe strongly that more flexibility would have been the best policy for my team,’ he said, according to The Verge.

Apples's headquarters in Cupertino, California, are pictured

Apples’s headquarters in Cupertino, California, are pictured

Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, is seen at the company's headquarters in Cupertino

Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, is seen at the company’s headquarters in Cupertino

One Apple staffer speculated that Goodfellow’s departure comes ahead of a potential announcement that the company will increase the in-person work requirement up to five days per week.

‘Everyone and their grandma knows Apple is using the pilot as a stepping stone to 5 days back in office,’ the Apple employee wrote on Blind, which verifies employment through corporate email addresses. 

‘Ian probably got inside scoop that this is coming and left.’

Apple’s CEO Tim Cook has been adamant about the return to office of his employees – unlike other Silicon Valley firms.

In early March, he wrote to staff saying they needed to prepare to return.

‘In the coming weeks and months, we have an opportunity to combine the best of what we have learned about working remotely with the irreplaceable benefits of in-person collaboration,’ Cook said in the memo, according to Bloomberg.

‘It is as important as ever that we support each other through this transition, through the challenges we face as a team and around the world.’

Cook acknowledged that not everyone was excited at the prospect.

‘For many of you, I know that returning to the office represents a long-awaited milestone and a positive sign that we can engage more fully with the colleagues who play such an important role in our lives,’ Cook said.

‘For others, it may also be an unsettling change.’

After the announcement, employees in internal forums vowed to quit.

‘I don’t give a single f*** about ever coming back to work here,’ one Apple employee ranted on corporate message board Blind, according to The New York Post.

‘I’m going to go in to say hello and meet everyone since I haven’t since I started and then sending in my resignation when I get home. 

‘I already know I won’t be able to deal with the commute and sitting around for 8 hours.’

Another Apple employee responded with a laughing emoji and wrote: ‘I’m gonna do the same.’

A third replied: ‘Hell YEAH my man let’s do this! F*** RTO.’

Twitter, by contrast, decided to allow staff to work remotely forever, if they choose – although that may change under Musk’s new ownership.

In March, Parag Agrawal, the CEO, told staff that the policy of his predecessor Jack Dorsey, allowing staff to work remotely forever, would remain.

Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal has continued the policy of his predecessor, Jack Dorsey, in allowing staff to work remotely forever

Jack Dorsey was among the first to support permanent remote working

Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal (left) and co-founder Jack Dorsey (right) have both been supportive of remote working

Elon Musk, who has agreed a deal to buy Twitter, has mocked the company's policy of allowing staffers to work remotely forever, and some believe he may reverse it when he takes over

Elon Musk, who has agreed a deal to buy Twitter, has mocked the company’s policy of allowing staffers to work remotely forever, and some believe he may reverse it when he takes over

‘As we open back up, our approach remains the same,’ Agrawal said.

‘Wherever you feel most productive and creative is where you will work and that includes working from home full-time forever.

‘Office every day? That works too. Some days in office, some days from home? Of course.’

Slack has followed suit, allowing remote working permanently.

At Facebook, the parent company Meta announced in the summer of 2020 that all full-time employees could apply to work from home if their jobs allowed it.

Facebook’s executives have been making the most of the arrangement, The Wall Street Journal reported, with Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg spending significant amounts of time away from the Menlo Park headquarters and more time in Hawaii.

Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, is demanding a return to the office of all staff three days a week

Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, is demanding a return to the office of all staff three days a week

Alex Schultz, chief marketing officer, plans to move to the United Kingdom, according to a company spokesperson, while Guy Rosen, the company’s vice president of integrity, will be moving to Israel.

Naomi Gleit, Meta’s head of product and one of its longest-tenured employees, has relocated to New York, while Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, has been working remotely from locations including Hawaii, Los Angeles and Cape Cod, the paper said.

Apple and Google are the outliers, with Google demanding in March that most workers had to come back into the office three days a week from April 4.

Google employees could request remote work, if their job allowed. 

The order from Google includes the caveat that employees could take pay cuts if they leave the San Francisco Bay Area or New York City for less expensive parts of the country.

An open letter signed by more than 1,050 Apple employees past and present urged leaders at the company to rethink their plans.

‘You have characterized the decision for the Hybrid Working Pilot as being about combining the ‘need to commune in-person’ and the value of flexible work,’ the letter states.

‘But in reality, it does not recognize flexible work and is only driven by fear. Fear of the future of work, fear of worker autonomy, fear of losing control.’

They write that working remotely allows them to engage with colleagues in Europe and Asia effortlessly, and argue that allowing remote work encourages diversity in the workforce. They also complain about the commute to the office, and the frustration at the waste of time.

‘We tell all of our customers how great our products are for remote work, yet, we ourselves, cannot use them to work remotely?’ they write.

‘How can we expect our customers to take that seriously? How can we understand what problems of remote work need solving in our products if we don’t live it?’

Christin Hakim

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