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Top Engineer Leaving Google for Astronomy Job

By David A. Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 24, 2005

One of Google Inc.'s top executives is leaving the company, joining a handful of other high-profile departures following the firm's initial public offering and the sharp rise in its stock price that has made hundreds of employees millionaires.

Wayne Rosing, a Silicon Valley veteran who served as Google's vice president of engineering, is leaving to take an unpaid academic position at the University of California at Davis, where he will focus on his lifelong passion for astronomy. Rosing joined Google in 2001 and oversaw the work of thousands of software engineers, focusing largely on ways to build better search engine technology that would deliver more relevant results to computer users hunting for information on the Internet.

Rosing will remain an adviser to the company. He was one of Google's highest-paid executives, and he has sold more than $30 million of Google stock since the company went public last August, according to public filings. His 2004 salary and bonus, according to the company, totaled $776,556.

Google stock shot up $13.84 yesterday to close at $255.45, as rumors circulated that the company might be added to the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index. That would require many mutual funds to purchase its shares. The company went public last August at $85 a share. S&P has made no announcement about adding the company to the index.

Rosing, who in his late fifties is among Google's oldest employees, had worked with Google chief executive Eric Schmidt at Sun Microsystems Inc. Schmidt said in a statement that Rosing had done an outstanding job of managing creative teams of Google engineers.

"He committed to growing engineering and establishing an innovative culture and a strong management team, and he delivered," Schmidt said. "We expect he will do the same for his new effort building a global observatory."

In the aftermath of becoming a public company, it was inevitable that Google would begin losing executives as they acquired the financial freedom to pursue personal interests, according to Scott Kessler, an analyst with Standard & Poor's Corp. Kessler pointed out that neither Rosing nor other prominent employees who are leaving Google are going to work for other companies, and he noted that Google has been aggressively recruiting fresh talent in recent months.

"A lot of these folks have more money in their bank accounts or other assets or Google stock than they ever imagined they would have in their lifetimes," Kessler said. "That affords them the opportunity to make choices they would otherwise not have been able to. That is Wayne Rosing's decision. He is not leaving for Yahoo."

Rosing said he has been fascinated by astronomy since his youth, when he began building telescopes. Astronomy led him to physics, math, computer programming and some of the most ambitious jobs in technology over the past 25 years at Digital Equipment Corp., Data General Corp., Apple Computer Inc. and elsewhere.

Now, he will turn his full attention to exploring significant questions beyond the planet Earth as a senior fellow in mathematical and physical sciences at UC-Davis. Specifically, he will work on developing a powerful telescope designed to look for light from distant galaxies in an attempt to detect "dark" matter and energy thought to make up most of the universe.

"I'm extremely interested in this project," Rosing said in a statement. "It's the most important question in all of physics. What is this unseen matter and energy?"

The proposed telescope would also be capable of scanning the entire visible sky every three nights, enabling astronomers to better investigate comets, asteroids and other fast-moving celestial objects.

Along with Rosing, other high-profile departures from Google have included Apple Computer veteran Cindy McCaffrey, the 30th person ever hired by Google, who rose to head its marketing and public relations. McCaffrey left in January to spend more time with family and friends.

In recent days, Google lost its vaunted executive chef, Charlie Ayers, known around headquarters as "Chef Charlie." A former chef for the Grateful Dead, Ayers cooked for 5 1/2 years for Google's workers, who eat for free in the company dining room.

Ayers profited from Google stock, as well as the enhanced profile the job gave him. He spoke at Google's recent meeting with Wall Street financial analysts, and plans to open restaurants in Silicon Valley.

In an e-mail to Google employees, Stacy Sullivan, director of human resources, said no one had done more than Ayers to promote Google's culture of gourmet and healthful food. She wrote that Google will conduct an extensive search for his replacement to ensure that his penchant for creative cuisine, which included duck sausage and pumpkin chili, will live on.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company