Uber's recent hire for the position of senior vice president for engineering has surprised a number of tech watchers. The post has landed on Amit Singhal's lap, who is a prominent Google veteran.
This has prompted renewed speculations of increasing Uber-Google rivalry, at least in the area of automated car development.
Who Is Amit Singhal?
To explain Singhal's importance, there is the fact that he is one of the few people rewarded with the Google Fellow title. That label should be evoking some Frodo-like status and rightly so. Singhal has been with Google for 15 years and the bulk of that period has been spent leading the company's search division, particularly its core search quality department.
Search, of course, remains Google's main bread and butter.
Singhal is a rock star in Silicon Valley and is credited for developing Google search algorithms, those that serve as the foundation for the way Google answers search queries.
Singhal At Uber
At Uber, Singhal will have a direct line to Travis Kalanick, reporting to the chief executive as he endeavors to beef up the company's software and infrastructure. He is also said to be leading the mapping division and will have a say on the way Uber vehicles are dispatched, marketed and priced.
More importantly, however, Singhal's employment is widely seen by observers as a follow-through on Uber's previous declaration that it will be challenging Google's position in the self-driving car segment.
One should note that Uber has already hired a number of Google alums such as Brian McClendon and Anthony Levandowski. Singhal's move coincided with the hiring of Kevin Thompson, who used to be Google's vice president for engineering. Thompson will be heading the team that dispatches vehicles and determines fees for Uber's services.
Overall, the flurry of hirings seems a countermove or even an offensive after Google has been rumored to be developing its own ride-sharing network.
On The Uber Challenge
In the meantime, Singhal seems genuinely pleased with his new work. Writing about it in a blog post, he pointed out that his job at Uber is one of the most exciting and challenging in the world because it meaningfully contributes to transport safety and is transforming urban mobility.
"It's hard enough to connect millions of drivers to millions of riders in real time while creating optimal routes for drivers," Singhal said. "Add to that the twist of predicting real-time traffic, pooling multiple riders and making the system economically attractive for everyone - and now you have one of the most challenging computer science problems I've encountered in my 30-year career."
When Singhal left Google in February 2016, his talking point was focused more on retirement and philanthropic pursuits.
"I was indeed leaving Google to spend more time on things that I wanted to do, giving back, to my family, and with the foundation that my wife and I had set up many years prior, but that we were unable to do many things with that we'd hoped to do," Singhal told TechCrunch.