Why is Apple losing so many engineers right now?

The man who created Apple's new programming language is jumping ship for a car company. And he's not alone. What's going on here?

There was a kerfuffle in the Apple world earlier this week, when Chris Lattner announced he was leaving he company.

I’m happy to announce that Ted Kremenek will be taking over for me as “Project Lead” for the Swift project, managing the administrative and leadership responsibility for Swift.org. This recognizes the incredible effort he has already been putting into the project, and reflects a decision I’ve made to leave Apple later this month to pursue an opportunity in another space. This decision wasn’t made lightly, and I want you all to know that I’m still completely committed to Swift.

He’s not one of Apple’s “star” names – but if you’re on the technical side, you’ll know how important he was to the company. He wrote the compilers used to make software for iOS – and was the originator of Swift, the new programming language Apple has developed (and Open Sourced). He has literally built the foundation of the future of software on Apple devices.

And where is he off to?

Tesla welcomes careful engineers

We would like to welcome Chris Lattner, who will join Tesla as our Vice President of Autopilot Software. Chris’s reputation for engineering excellence is well known.

Yup, Tesla.

And, as Christina Warren points out, Apple is losing a lot of staff to the electric car maker:

At a company with more than 100,000 employees, turnover is certainly going to happen. Still, losing longtime engineers who by all accounts were not working on automotive software at Apple to a company like Tesla could be cause for concern. It’s not just engineers leaving for car companies, either. As The Verge reported in November, three members of Apple’s PR team have left for car companies in the last few months.

The brightest stars seek the biggest projects

There are two things that could be at work here. Te first is a familiar and widespread problem – with the upper management team at Apple changing very little over the years, there’s a ceiling to how high any other employee, and how much influence they can have, unless they’re prepared to wait around for dead man’s shoes. And the most talented aren’t going to be content to waste their most productive years waiting.

However, what we may be seeing is something more fundamental. We’re moving on from the creation of devices – like Macs and phones and tablets – to technology starting to infect everything, from our homes to our offices and our cars.

We’ve been saying for years that smart, electric cars have the potential to utterly reshape the way we live. If Apple isn’t giving some of its brightest stars the opportunity to do that – despite the much-rumoured “Project titan” car initiative – is it really any surprise that they’re going elsewhere?