A new page has been added to the annals of the bitter rivalry between Microsoft and Google. Blaise Agüera y Arcas, a top engineer at Microsoft, will be leaving after seven years to work on machine learning at Google. Agüera y Arcas first joined Microsoft as a software architect when his company, Seadragon Software, was acquired by them. Since that time, he has been a major player in developing Bing Maps and Microsoft's Photosynth image software.
Agüera y Arcas said in a blog post that his upcoming career change was the "hardest decision of [his] life."
Google is a company of grand ambitions and brilliant people. On the other hand it has been hard— very hard— to detach emotionally from Microsoft. The company’s leadership has been consistently good to me over these past eight years, and it has been a time filled with creativity and growth and good friends. It’s painful to leave behind so many wonderful ongoing projects, and even more so to leave behind such a great team.
Microsoft spokesman, Adam Sohn, offered up a gracious, albeit vanilla, response: "He was a great colleague and we wish him the best in his future endeavors."
Given the track record, one can imagine that Microsoft is pretty steamed about losing Agüera y Arcas to their chief rival. In the past, such defections have brought heated reactions from Redmond, like the case of Kai-Fu Lee, a Microsoft vice president who left to run a Google research facility in China. Microsoft sued Google, only to later settle. Anecdotes from other personnel changes also include expletive-laden tirades, as well as a chair being heaved across a room by CEO Steve Ballmer.
Agüera y Arcas' departure is a big loss for sure. Thankfully for Microsoft, one of his biggest projects, Photosynth, just finished up a major new initiative. That will hopefully make the split sting a little less for Microsoft.