As Google Attempts to Make Amends with HBCUs, Engineers Quit Over the Company’s Treatment of Timnit Gebru

Google has an ethics issue. Two engineers have quit the company directly citing the firing of Timnit Gebru and April Curley as the cause of their resignations this week. I left because Google’s mistreatment of @timnitGebru and @RealAbril crossed a personal red line I wrote down when I started the job.

I know I gained a lot from Google, but I also gained a lot from both of their work, and they were wronged,  Vinesh Kannan, who resigned after only being with the company for six months, wrote in a tweet. 

Ultimately one issue has extinguished my desire to continue as a Googler: the departure of Timnit Gebru  David Baker, an engineering director who spent over 16 years at Google, wrote in a parting letter to staff in January.

These timely departures come on the heels of HBCU 20X20, an organization that connects HBCU students and graduates to jobs, terminated their relationship with Google after the firing of April Curley, a recruiter who helped Google hire more than 300 HBCU grads to engineering roles. Google has also recently come under fire for busting up employee’s efforts to unionize by firing known organizers. The company was ultimately unsuccessful and, as of January 4, workers celebrated the creation of The Alphabet Workers Union.

Google’s pattern of ethical lapses remains in question, especially in the wake of thousands of employees signing a petition opposing Gebru ‘s firing over research she presented in a paper she co-authored with other researchers, including Emily M. Bender. The paper’s findings reveal the risks of large natural language processing models, a core part of Google’s business. Lead executives at the company say that she resigned. Google, and its parent company Alphabet, which posted quarterly earnings of $56.9 billion Wednesday, has been relatively silent on the matter. 

The latest development in a string of mishaps for the tech juggernaut is Google CEO Sundar Pichai, extending what seems to be an olive branch by meeting with leaders of HBCUs last week. It’s unclear whether the meeting can repair the company’s image or connection to Black talent as the world watches yet another big tech company mistreat Black women.  

Google’s actions have not gone unnoticed by non-Black employees, who are also unhappy. The latest walk-offs signal an unfortunate trend for the company, which has failed to properly handle the fallout of how it has treated two prominent Black women employees. Members of the black tech community may feel skeptical the tech industry will have a reckoning with how it has treated black employees, but increasingly companies will have to answer to their workforce. 

Kannan said the final straw was the retaliation against a teammate who stands up for something I believe in. While the engineer already has his sights on his next role, his departure is significant and telling of what tech workers will and won’t stand for within their companies. Even one of the largest tech companies in the world is not immune to the will of its people.

Monica Melton

Monica Melton is the managing editor of The Plug Insights. She previously covered innovation, technology, and venture capital at Forbes. She has also covered politics at POLITICO, entertainment for Time Out New York, but her most fascinating beat has been covering the intersection of technology, finance, and entrepreneurship. She is an alumna of CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and the University of Washington.