Opera Shrinks In-House Developer Team As It Prepares Shift To WebKit

Browser-maker Opera has been making a lot of headlines of late — with last week’s announcement of its big strategic shift to WebKit. Followed hard on the heels by the news of its $155 million purchase of Skyfire. But the Norwegian software maker’s decision to abandon its own web-rendering engine in favour of the defacto WebKit standard, has had another, less visible impact: the company has reportedly dismantled a core technology developer team, according to Norwegian publication digi.no, letting some very long serving employees go.

Update: Opera has now confirmed the downsizing to TechCrunch. See below for CEO Lars Boilesen’s comments.

Digi.no reports that a team of around 100 Opera developers in its Core Technology division has shrunk by more than 90 positions, with “a large contingent” taking a severance package before Christmas — “including veterans Yngve Pettersen, André Shultz and Lasse Magnussen” — and a further 50 to 70 taking redundancy in January. (Magnussen’s LinkedIn profile indicates he left Opera last month, after 14 years and eight months with the company — with his last role listed as being in the “core dept.”.)

Asked about his move, Magnussen told TechCrunch: “The process, from Opera’s side, was done, IMO, very professionally and the severance package we were offered was voluntary as well as substantial.” He added that package was “just what [he] needed to take the plunge”, noting that Opera hasn’t “been the same” since founder Jon S von Tetzchner left.

Some of the Core developers have moved on to other departments within Opera, according to Digi.no — although it is not clear exactly how many have stayed on in new roles. The publication notes that Opera’s last quarterly report included a line stating it had reduced staff from 931 to 840 employees, but says the company has refrained from discussing the specifics of the downsizing.

Digi.no quotes Opera HR Director Tove Selnes confirming certain aspects of the downsizing. “This reorganization has been resolved in cooperation with the individual,” she is quoted as saying (via Google Translate). “We’ve come to terms with about 90 people, both in development and not development-related departments.”

She goes on to add that the move to WebKit will create more new “final product” roles within Opera than the company has ever had.

At the time of writing Opera had not responded to requests for comment. We’ll be updating this story with any additional information. Update: Opera CEO, Lars Boilesen, confirmed the cuts are linked to its switch to WebKit. “We will still have a Core team but it will be less people going forward,” he told TechCrunch.

Boilesen was unable to confirm the exact size of the post-switch Core team, as he said developers will work on other activities in addition to Core roles. But he said that overall, the size of the developer team at Opera now numbers “around 600″. Of the around 90 jobs that have gone in the Core team, around half were developer roles — with many other less technical roles such as checking website compatibility something Opera has been freed up from by moving to WebKit.

“Today we are living in a world where there are very few platforms for mobile, very few platforms for Windows, very few platforms on tablets… We think WebKit’s good enough, to switch, and by doing that we free up a lot of resources,” he said.

As Opera reduces its Core team, it is ramping up its product focus, said Boilesen — and that’s what redeployed Core engineers who have not left the company are likely to be focusing on. “We tried to take our best Core people and move them to product lines so we can get really exciting new stuff out… We have now double the amount of people on desktop. We’re coming out with a brand new UI, brand new product in Q3. We’re coming out with a new beta version for smartphones with a new native look and feel. We’re coming out with a new tablet product… so we’re pretty excited about this but the unfortunate thing is we don’t need so many engineers,” he added.

Last week Opera said it now has 300 million users of all its browser products, across mobile, tablets, PCs and TVs.