As dean of CMU’s School of Computer Science, I don’t take lightly the loss of 40 valued employees. We in academia are in a fight with industry for top computer scientists — and the competition gets more bruising by the year. But ultimately this is great for our school, for academia and for industry: The best scientists in the world have the freedom to pursue their careers as they choose. Let’s face it: There’s no way to hire professors in dynamic fields such as computer science and robotics and expect them to stay put for three or four decades.
In our school, we typically see five to 15 faculty members take leaves of absence each year and disappear into industry for a while. Some never return, but many do. I did. Ten years ago, Google recruited me to establish its Pittsburgh engineering center. Two years ago, I returned to CMU as computer science dean. If we in academia play our cards right, many faculty members will be following that same career path — teach and perform research in academia for five or 10 years, then launch a startup or work for a tech firm for a few years, return to academia for another five or 10 years, and so on.