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GM’s self-driving division has hired a former top Uber engineer as its first CTO

Susan Fowler, who worked under AG Gangadhar while at Uber, criticized the hire.

A Cruise car on the assembly line.
A Cruise car on the assembly line.

GM’s autonomous car division, Cruise, is preparing to deploy a network of self-driving cars without safety drivers starting in 2019, the company’s executives said on an investor call on Thursday.

To that end, the automaker’s self-driving arm has tapped a former Uber engineer, AG Gangadhar, to be its first ever chief technology officer.

Gangadhar, who previously worked at Google, left Uber in July 2017 after two years. A GM spokesperson said the company began recruiting Gangadhar before he left the company this past summer. He started at Cruise at the end of September.

During his time at the ride-hail company, Gangadhar headed up a department that handled things like storage and data systems as well as developer infrastructure. This was the same department that former Uber engineer, Susan Fowler, wrote about in her damning essay on the sexual harassment and sexism she encountered in her year at the company.

Fowler criticized GM’s appointment. “The hire is troubling, and is proof that Silicon Valley still has a very, very long way to go before it can claim it takes culture problems seriously,” Fowler told Recode when reached for comment.

As we previously reported, Fowler had referenced in her essay a series of managers who had mishandled her complaints about sexism and sexual harassment. Gangadhar was specifically referenced — though not by name — when Fowler wrote about being blocked from transferring out of the team with which she had issues.

Several sources said this part of her blog is referring to Gangadhar, who is the “director” named:

“According to my manager, his manager, and the director, my transfer was being blocked because I had undocumented performance problems. I pointed out that I had a perfect performance score, and that there had never been any complaints about my performance. I had completed all OKRs on schedule, never missed a deadline even in the insane organizational chaos, and that I had managers waiting for me to join their team. I asked what my performance problem was, and they didn't give me an answer.”

Emails that Recode obtained at the time also indicated that engineers within Fowler’s department complained to higher-ups that Gangadhar and a subordinate manager were ignoring Fowler’s issues with another manager who had allegedly sexually harassed her.

At the time of his departure, Uber said it had nothing to do with Fowler’s essay. The company further emphasized all the claims in her essay were thoroughly investigated and that every action that was recommended was taken.

Cruise, for its part, did weeks of due diligence before making the offer to Gangadhar, the company said.

"We complete a due diligence process with every employee we hire and did so with AG Gangadhar,” a Cruise spokesperson said. “His technical skills are extensive and unique, and were corroborated throughout the interview process. Given the current issues at Uber, Gangadhar’s former employer, we extensively vetted him over the ongoing employment-related litigation and have no indication that he is implicated in the matter.”

Before Gangadhar’s hiring, which comes as the company is laser focused on safely launching a network of autonomous vehicles, Cruise CEO Kyle Vogt handled much of the CTO duties.

“Of course, once on board, Cruise employees are expected to maintain unquestioned respect for every individual,” the spokesperson continued. “This is the standard we all agree to and are held accountable for every day."

As Cruise eyes a 2019 self-driving deployment in some parts of the country, the company has generally ramped up its hiring.

Around the same time Gangadhar joined Cruise, the company also hired long-time Netflix executive Tawni Cranz to be its new chief human resources officer and former program manager at Google Maps Ashwin Prabhu to be its head of mapping operations.

During GM’s investor call on Thursday, Vogt said that all of the company’s engineering talent was 100 percent focused on developing a safe ready-to-deploy self-driving car. Consumers can first expect some version of a Cruise network to be available in downtown San Francisco.

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