Google’s Engineering Guru Steps Back From Management

Google employe No. 8, Urs Holzle, is stepping back from his top engineering management role after nearly 25 years with the company.


Urs Holzle

Google’s engineering guru and one of the company’s first employees, Urs Holzle, will start to take on a lesser role at the company he helped build over the past two decades.

Holzle first joined Google in 1999 as the company’s eighth employee and has held top executive engineering roles at Google, as well as its cloud business, Google Cloud, over the years. He currently reports directly to Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian.

“I started as the company’s first search engine mechanic (everything was broken),” said Holzle on his LinkedIn profile. “And later assumed various roles including as the first VP Engineering and later VP of Search, but most of the time I’ve been working on infrastructure and operations.”

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Holzle is currently senior vice president of engineering at Google, but will begin to transition into an advisor role focused on a smaller number of technical projects, according to a report by CNBC. In his new advisor role, he will no longer be managing Google employees.

Google Cloud’s Vice President of Engineering Ben Treynor Sloss will begin reporting directly to Thomas Kurian, Google confirmed. Sloss has been a top executive engineer at Google since 2003.

Google’s AI Focus

Mountain View, Calif.-based Google and its cloud computing business have been focusing its engineering and innovation efforts this year around artificial intelligence (AI), specifically, generative AI.

This year, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said the company is at an “inflection point” in AI and the need to launch new products is more important than ever before.

“We have an opportunity to make AI even more helpful for people, for businesses, for communities, for everyone,” Pichai said during Google’s I/O 2023 event in May. “We’ve been applying AI to make our products radically more helpful for a while. With generative AI, we’re taking the next step.”

Google has injected generative AI capabilities inside flagship products in 2023 while also consistently adding new features to its conversational chatbot Bard. One big launch was the new Generative AI App Builder in 2023, which Google says is now the fastest way for developers to jumpstart the creation of AI apps such as bots, chat apps, digital assistants and custom search engines, with limited technical expertise required.

On the enterprise front, Google Cloud recently launched PaLM API, a developer offering to make it easier and safer to experiment with Google’s large langue models (LLMs).

“We remain deeply committed to responsible generative AI,” said Kurian this year.

After years of generating an operating loss, for the first time in its history, Google Cloud turned a profit during the first quarter of 2023.

Google Cloud generated operating income of $191 million for the quarter by generating total revenue of $7.45 billion, an increase of 28 percent year over year. Comparatively, during the first quarter of 2022, the company reported an operating loss of $931 million.