Ever wonder how much the brains behind the software for self-driving cars are worth? Silicon Valley is willing to pay $10 million for a competitive software engineer. But new court testimony filed in the legal battle between Waymo and Uber has revealed that Google was willing to pay software engineer Anthony Lewandowski a $120 million bonus for his (supposed) contribution to their autonomous vehicle project. We say ‘supposed’ because the same testimony accused Lewandowski of barely doing any work in return for his insane bonus.
Lewandowski is the center of a courtroom tussle between Google (Waymo) and Uber. The software engineer was previously employed at the technology giant before he left the company in 2016 and launched the self-driving truck startup, Otto. Otto acquired Tyto Lidar (formerly known as Odin Wave), a company that had sophisticated laser range-finding technology necessary to develop fast and accurate vehicle sensors. Otto (and Tyto Lidar) was later acquired by Uber. Here’s where it gets interesting. Waymo accused Lewandowski of stealing propriety laser technology, giving it to Odin Wave (Tyto Lidar), starting his own company, buying Odin Wave, and then selling the technology to Uber and cashing in—for a lot more than $120 million, apparently.
After their ambitious software engineer left in 2016, Google launched an internal investigation and concluded that their employee was pilfering information and trade secrets. Allegedly, Lewandowski set up Odin Wave in 2013. The startup incorporated in his building by his attorney and his friend was in charge. That smells funny. Fellow employees at Google say that Lewandowski did little work, delegated his managerial and engineering responsibilities to his subordinates, and still pulled in a huge bonus due to his (still undeniable) advances in a field that could be worth far more. Google has bet big that the first company that can bring a working autonomous car to market will make trillions. Lewandowski obviously felt the same and, it seems, believed that he could make more money as a free agent. He just decided to give himself a leg up before hitting the road.
There’s no doubt that software engineers are worth big bucks. Apparently, hundreds of millions of buck. If they don’t stab you in the back first.