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The man behind Google Search as we know it, is now joining forces with Uber to change real lives

Binjal Shah
21st Jan 2017
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It was almost a year ago that Google's former search chief and MVP, Amit Singhal, had called it a day. The man who had built the Google that we as consumers know it, was going to focus on giving back through his foundation. However, his philanthropy brought him to India where he saw another fundamental gap play out – in transportation and basic connectivity. Thus, for anybody tracking his story avidly, it wouldn’t come as much of a shock that Amit decided to make a comeback, and in the transportation space with Uber, no less.

Amit will be joining Uber as Senior Vice President of Engineering and will report directly to Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and Anthony Levandowski, the head of Uber's self-driving divisions.

Travis Kalanick and Amit Singhal | Image Source: Amit's Twitter

Travis and Amit had pushed their heads together in the past year when Amit first had his tryst with India’s connectivity issues and had to construct a special bus route to make sure the beneficiaries of his educational foundation got to school. The discussion may have steered into some of Uber’s struggles in a hostile geography, which lured Amit back into action.

In a blog post titled “A Geek’s Candy Store” announcing his brand new stint, he details what got him interested. "As I dug deeper into how Uber works, it became pretty clear that this is one of the hardest — and therefore most fun —computer science and engineering challenges in the world today. It's hard enough to connect millions of drivers to millions of riders in real time while creating optimal routes for drivers. 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," he writes.

In his role as SVP of Engineering, he will oversee Uber's core functions of mapping and marketplaces.

From the mountains to Mountain View, California

According to his website, Amit hails from a small Himalayan hamlet. He came to the United States as an immigrant with “two suitcases and not much else, dreaming of the Star Trek computer.”

He holds a BS degree in Computer Science from the University of Roorkee (now IIT Roorkee), an MS in Computer Science from University of Minnesota, and a PhD in Computer Science from Cornell University – alongside which he had jobs in database programming and information retrieval system hacking. After his PhD in 1996, he had a brief stint with AT&T Labs in 1996, and in 2000, an opportunity to work with Google came knocking, which he was coerced into taking up by a friend. He was thus, employee number 176 at Google,

At Google, he first worked on using IR techniques to improve web search. Before joining Google in 2000, he did some research in sub-areas of information retrieval like speech retrieval, document ranking, question answering, document routing/filtering, and automatic text summarisation.

At Google, he was credited with erecting one of their main arms, Google Search, for 15 long years. He escalated up the ranks from Head of Google's Core Ranking team, to become the Head of Search. According to New York Times, Amit was the "master" of Google's ranking algorithm — the formulas that decide which Web pages best answer each user's question. As a reward for his rewrite of the search engine in 2001, Amit was named a "Google Fellow".

As he entered his 15th year of working at Google, he writes that he’d been asking himself, “what would you want to do for the next 15?” The answer, he says, was ‘give back to others.’ “It has always been a priority for me to give back to people who are less fortunate, and make time for my family amidst competing work constraints – but on both fronts, I simply want to give and do more,” he wrote in an open letter announcing his retirement, on his blog. However, in a surprising turn of events, he was led back to doing what he did best – creating technologies that impact actual human lives.

New Beginnings

 

“I wasn’t sure that I would find an opportunity as exciting or potentially world-changing. But having spent hours with Travis and many others at the company, I can confidently say Uber fits the bill,” he now writes, in his blog.

He says he is a huge fan of Uber’s product, and can’t remember life before you could push a button and have a car show up in minutes.

“All computer scientists study NP-complete problems, the hardest algorithmic problems in the field; and we all have developed greedy or approximate-algorithms to find efficient solutions for these crazy hard problems; the problem Uber engineers are solving takes all this to an unprecedented level. This is just the driver-rider side of the equation which is built on top of world-class maps, and the infrastructure to run all this in real time. And don’t even get me started on how interesting and exciting self-driving is for a computer scientist. I hope by now you have a sense of why the computer scientist in me feels that Uber is a geek’s candy store — and why I can’t wait to get started applying computer science to the real world, for real people, to improve real lives,” he concludes.

Travis is also rather pumped about their latest hire. "I love Amit's excitement for solving complex computer science problems and his passion for helping improve people's lives through technology," Travis said in a statement, as reported by Business Insider. "The team at Uber, myself included, will learn a lot from him, and I can't wait for him to get started."

 

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