Facebook returns a key product leader while Intel loses one

June 12, 2020, 1:18 PM UTC

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We usually relegate the comings and goings of tech executives, even at the highest levels, to a little weekly section in Tuesday’s Data Sheet. Not today. The one big arrival and one big departure in the industry on Thursday have big implications. In the newspaper business, we’d say they belonged on page one, above the fold.

The arrival: Longtime Facebook engineer Chris Cox is returning to the social network after about a year away.

Cox quit last March when his title was chief product officer. After 13 years at Facebook, he was reportedly unenthused about CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s decision to emphasize strong encryption across all of the company’s messaging products. “This will be a big project, and we will need leaders who are excited to see the new direction through,” Cox wrote at the time in a statement that didn’t exactly take a PhD in psychology to unpack.

Later reporting uncovered numerous projects Cox had championed to make Facebook’s platform less politically divisive and polluted with bad information–projects that Zuckerberg watered down or shelved. When Cox left, Facebook tried to fill the void with a handful of promotions, but no one can say the company has done a good job on cleaning up the divisive and misinformative content.

Thus the return, back with the title of chief product officer. And just in time, too, as Zuckerberg seems nearly overwhelmed by the current circumstances and unable to steer the company through the flood of crap floating on top of the 2020 election, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the protests against racism and police brutality. Just on Thursday, the problems hit the headlines again when Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden blasted the company. As former Facebook board member Donald Graham told the Wall Street Journal on Cox’s return: “Chris’s return is the best news I could imagine for the company.”

The sudden departure: Chip giant Intel‘s Jim Keller, senior vice president and head of the silicon engineering group, is leaving for undisclosed “personal reasons.”

In a kind of mirror image of Cox’s career longevity at one shop, Keller left Intel after two years, which followed similarly short stints at Tesla and Advanced Micro Devices. He’s a Baby Boomer, but his resume is all Gen X, with eight stops in the past 20 or so years (Coincidentally, I, a true Gen Xer, also have eight stops over the same period). As one friend of the itinerant chip designer put it to me yesterday, it was always a question of “not if but when Jim is going to leave Intel.”

As you may know if you read my profile of Keller in Fortune a few weeks ago, the guy is a microprocessor design star on the level of Frank Gehry or Zaha Hadid in building design. In just one year at AMD in the late 1990s, he helped produce some of the most innovative CPUs ever seen, co-wrote a standard still in use for data transport, and set up the company to beat Intel in the transition to 64-bit processors. At Apple in the mid 2000s, he helped build the company’s first in-house chips for the iPhone and iPad, then went back to AMD in 2012 to craft the basis of the now killing-it Zen processor.

Intel really really needed some of Keller’s star power. Waylaid by years of delays, missteps, and missed opportunities, Intel is in danger of being surpassed by a hoard of hungry competitors, including former Keller employers AMD and Apple. Apple’s imminent move off of Intel chips for its laptop and desktop computers is not just the latest sign of Intel’s problems, but could make them worse if the decision influences other PC makers to follow.

Intel’s chief engineering officer and group president Murthy Renduchintala, who helped bring Keller aboard, told employees in an email that the company was losing “a champion of our technologists” who had been “fearless in his pursuit of innovation.” Renduchintala added: “I am very sad to see him go and wish him well.”

Intel’s engineers, customers, and shareholders would no doubt agree.

Aaron Pressman




Point of no return. On Thursday, Microsoft joined Amazon and IBM in barring police from using its facial-recognition technology. The company “will not sell facial-recognition technology to police departments in the United States until we have a national law in place, grounded in human rights, that will govern this technology,” president Brad Smith said Thursday during a Washington Post online event.

Return to serenity. Artificial intelligence research lab OpenAI, backed by Tesla CEO Elon Musk and LinkedIn cofounder Reid Hoffman among others, debuted its first commercial product on Thursday. The lab's app, an A.I. text generator which doesn't seem to have generated a name for itself, is already in use by Reddit, legal tech startup Casetext, Middlebury College, and video-game maker Latitude.

Return of the grievous angel. Corporate pledges to spend money to address the racism exposed by the recent protests and the death of George Floyd have grown exponentially from $1 million to $10 million to now $100 million. Both Apple and Google's YouTube on Thursday said they would contribute $100 million to help the causes of racial equity and justice. Apple's initiative will range from backing historically black institutions to partnering with outside groups and spending more with black-owned businesses. YouTube will create a fund to promote and develop videos from black creators.

The hero's return. After a slight delay due to what's happening in the real world, Sony unveiled its next-generation gaming console for taking your mind off of what's happening in the real world. The PlayStation 5 is a black and white box that will support up to 8K graphics and run custom AMD chips (one with the Zen architecture that Jim Keller helped design). Of course, the price is TBD.

Return to sender. The Internet Archive ended its digital book lending program a few weeks early. Major publishers had sued to stop the program, which was also not beloved by Adam.


As we try to make the country more inclusive and less racist, there is plenty to improve in the world of tech. Venture capitalist Reggie James examines some of the assumptions and burdens placed on black people in the industry in an essay titled "The Myth Of Blackness In Venture."

Carve-out vehicles and charity funds, remove us from direct relationship to the performance of fund managers. This is intentional and says—again—that they do not hold our potential as equals, within the overall construction of their portfolio. We cannot continue to celebrate these initiatives, that divorce us from the performance of the primary fund. Where they place a Black person in charge, to deal with the Black half of the investments.

It is for this same reason, that I struggle to support funds who’s primary thesis is that of diversity. Too often it serves as a vehicle for high net-worth LP’s — typically fund managers elsewhere — to point to their contribution as their action towards equality, with little structural change to their own fund.


A few long reads I came across this week:

The Gospel According to Peter Thiel (City Journal)
Wherever there’s a major shift in the American landscape, one can usually find Silicon Valley’s iconoclastic investor.

A Biblical Mystery at Oxford (The Atlantic)
A renowned scholar claimed that he discovered a first-century gospel fragment. Now he’s facing allegations of antiquities theft, cover-up, and fraud.

What Stage IV cancer taught me about navigating Covid-19, systemic racism, and all other pain to come (Medium)
Letting go of the idea of “normal” and other lies I’ve loved*

John Lewis, congressman and civil-rights legend, will never lose hope. (New York Magazine)
John Lewis has seen a lot in his 80 years, from a modest youth as the third of ten children in an Alabama sharecropping family, to a brutal and exhilarating early adulthood in the civil-rights movement, to his storied tenure in Congress, where he’s represented Georgia’s Fifth Congressional District since 1987.


The Wing staffers are doing a ‘digital walkout’ until their demands are met By Emma Hinchliffe

Bendable, with the help of Pete Buttigieg, wants to create an educational marketplace By Nicole Goodkind

Snap wants machine learning experts to make more animated messages By Jonathan Vanian

Zoom’s censorship stumble is a familiar narrative for tech stuck between U.S. and Beijing By Naomi Xu Elegant

How the pandemic has transformed the telehealth industry forever By Sy Mukherjee

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi is an adept dealmaker. But Grubhub has eluded him By Lucinda Shen

Could a Western Union–MoneyGram deal help two giants fend off fintech disrupters? By Rey Mashayekhi

(Some of these stories require a subscription to access. There is a 50% discount for our loyal readers if you use this link to sign up. Thank you for supporting our journalism.)


Comedian Dave Chappelle is often pushing boundaries. This week, he's out with a video of one of the first live shows filmed in this socially distanced era. It's not easy to watch, but it's not meant to be.

Aaron Pressman



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