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Uber Hires Google's Former Head of Maps to Oversee Location Technology, Pittsburgh Center

He joins two other top Google staffers who departed for Uber.


Uber is getting serious about maps, and it has poached the former head of Google Maps to lead the charge.

Brian McClendon, a Google engineering VP and 10-year company veteran, will be overseeing Uber’s new Advanced Technologies Center out of Pittsburgh, the one staffed by engineers recruited from Carnegie Mellon’s National Robotics Engineering Center, according to sources familiar with the matter. Uber confirmed the hire.

McClendon, who will be based in Uber’s San Francisco headquarters and will travel to Pittsburgh, will help guide Uber’s mapping, self-driving car and vehicle safety initiatives and will report to Chief Product Officer Jeff Holden.

“We’re thrilled that Brian is joining the Uber team,” Holden told Re/code. “He led the development of Google Earth and Google Maps, truly world-class products, from the early days, and he’s an extraordinarily talented engineer and entrepreneur.”

McClendon was one of the rare Googlers to join the search giant via an acquisition and stay for several years. He arrived in 2004 with the purchase of Keyhole, part of a trio of companies Google swept up before the public birth of Maps. Keyhole’s technology became Google Earth. Its co-founder, John Hanke, also stayed at Google, where, in 2010, he was given oversight of the internal incubator Niantic Labs.

McClendon was given purview over Google’s “Geo” products, which include Maps, Earth and Street View. He was one of the few execs to lead a product portfolio who was not an SVP or part of the inner circle of CEO Larry Page. Amid Google’s sweeping reorganization last October, McClendon was replaced by Jen Fitzpatrick, another engineering VP, who has been with Google since 1999.

Since the fall, McClendon has worked on an undisclosed special project unrelated to mapping. Google declined to comment on his departure.

“There aren’t many places that offer the opportunity to make as big an impact as Google Maps, but I believe that Uber has an incredibly exciting future as it continues to fundamentally change how people live and improve quality of life,” McClendon said in a brief statement to Re/code.

His mapping background made him a prime recruitment target for Uber, which has taken several steps to strengthen its mapping technology. In March it acquired deCarta, a nearly decade-old company that powers the mapping technology behind location-based services like General Motors’ OnStar navigation system. Uber also recently put in a bid for Nokia’s Here mapping technology, going head to head with the likes of a consortium of German automotive companies for the property.

Almost everything Uber does relies on geospatial software, from its estimated car arrival times to directions for drivers to its UberPool system for matching travelers who want to share rides. Understandably, the company doesn’t want to rely solely on Google and Apple, as it currently does, for the technology that underlies its system, particularly in a time when Google’s and Uber’s initiatives are starting to overlap.

In leaving Google for Uber, McClendon joins the likes of Tom Fallows and Rachel Whetstone, who joined Uber from Google to run global expansion products and communications, respectively. As Re/code reported, there has been a significant exodus from Google in recent months as top staffers depart for positions at startup unicorns.

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