Swift creator departs Tesla after just six months

Chris Lattner has built a solid reputation after working for 11 years at Apple on low-level software technologies. In particular, he developed Apple’s most recent programming language, Swift. In January, Tesla announced that it had recruited Lattner as VP of Autopilot Software.

Six months later, he announced on Twitter that he was leaving the car company. “Turns out that Tesla isn’t a good fit for me after all,” he said. Lattner doesn’t have a new job in mind just yet.

Apple first unveiled Swift at WWDC in June 2014. It is slowly but surely becoming the default programming language on all Apple platforms, such as iOS, macOS, tvOS and watchOS. Swift is supposed to be more modern, flexible and future-proof than Apple’s previous programming language Objective-C.

Before Swift, Lattner created the Clang compiler and the LLVM compiler optimization infrastructure. He also worked a lot on Xcode, Apple’s software development tool. Let’s just say that millions of developers around the world have been affected by Lattner’s work.

In October 2016, Tesla announced that all Tesla cars now have all the hardware sensors needed to turn them into autonomous vehicles. But the software stack is not there yet. That’s why Tesla proudly announced that it poached Lattner to head the software effort when it comes to self-driving features.

Given Lattner’s impressive resume, he’ll have plenty of offers at other tech companies. And it’s going to be interesting to see which company ends up hiring him.

Update: Tesla provided the following statement.

“Andrej Karpathy, one of the world’s leading experts in computer vision and deep learning, is joining Tesla as Director of AI and Autopilot Vision, reporting directly to Elon Musk. Andrej has worked to give computers vision through his work on ImageNet, as well as imagination through the development of generative models, and the ability to navigate the internet with reinforcement learning. He was most recently a Research Scientist at OpenAI.

Andrej completed his computer vision PhD at Stanford University, where he demonstrated the ability to derive complex descriptions of images using a deep neural net. For example, identifying not simply that there is a cat in a given picture, but that it is an orange, spotted cat, riding on a skateboard with red wheels on brown hardwood flooring (http://cs.stanford.edu/people/karpathy/main.pdf). He also created and taught “Convolutional Neural Networks for Visual Recognition,” the first and still leading deep learning course at Stanford.

Andrej will work closely with Jim Keller, who now has overall responsibility for Autopilot hardware and software.”

And regarding Chris Lattner:

“Chris just wasn’t the right fit for Tesla, and we’ve decided to make a change. We wish him the best.”