This year is a tough time for Google employees – the past months have seen the fears of being laid off hang on them like a pall. Their fears were compounded by Google slowing down recruitment in July and CEO Sundar Pichai asking them to work with “greater urgency, sharper focus, and more hunger than we’ve shown on sunnier days.” In a more recent development, he said at the Code Conference last week that the company needed to be 20% more efficient – something that hinted at a decrease in its headcount.
Those layoff bears are now coming in on the company’s R&D staff. Alphabet’s Google is making cuts and reducing the headcount in Area 120, its in-house incubator that Pichai himself had created six years ago. The incubator has been largely productive over the years – it gave birth to over 50 projects.
“Area 120 is an in-house incubator for experimental new products. The group regularly starts and stops projects with an eye toward pursuing the most promising opportunities,” a Google spokesperson said. The division was later reorganized in November 2021 under a new division called Google Labs, which also includes Project Starline and Google’s investments in AR and VR technology.
The successes of Area 120 include names such as Gmail, AdSense, Google News, GameSnacks (an HTML5 gaming platform), AdLingo (an AI-powered conversational marketing platform), and Google Cardboard.
Google confirmed that it was scaling back the Area 120 division, informing that it was “winding down several projects to make way for new work.” This relates directly to the reduction in force of the division, which will result in the decrease of the Area 120 staff by half. If this is not enough, the tech giant has slashed seven out of 14 experimental projects that the division was home to and its employees were working on.
Laid off staff will receive “dedicated support as they explore new projects and opportunities at Google,” the spokesperson for Google said. Employees with shelved projects will need to find a new job within Google by the end of January 2023, or they will be terminated.
This slashing of projects and reduction in headcount comes even as it is shifting its focus to control spending and solely on AI-driven projects – ones that build on the company’s “deep investment in AI and have the potential to solve important user problems.”