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Chaos at OpenAI adds fuel to the AI talent poaching war

Salesforce among the first to make blanket offers

With most of OpenAI’s employees threatening to leave following Sam Altman’s ousting, company rivals might be missing the biggest opportunity of the year: poaching talent.

As chaos at OpenAI and Microsoft, where Altman is headed now, continues, companies like Anthropic, Mozilla or Patronus AI could be attractive to employees seeking stability. The upshot? OpenAI employees — a pool of highly sought-after AI experts — could scatter to other companies or follow Altman.

“That talent is the crown jewel of the organization,” Tammy Madsen, professor of management in the Leavey School of Business at Santa Clara University told TechCrunch. “This is a space where there is a wide gap in what companies are seeing that they need in terms of AI talent and applied AI, and in what they’re seeing in terms of what’s available.”

Case in point, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, who earlier this afternoon posted on X that “Salesforce will match any OpenAI researcher who has tendered their resignation full cash & equity OTE to immediately join our Salesforce Einstein Trusted AI research team under Silvio Savarese. Send me your cv directly to Einstein is the most successful enterprise AI Platform completing 1 Trillion predictive & generative transactions this week! Join our Trusted AI Enterprise Revolution.”

Cohere co-founder and CEO Aidan Gomez also posted on X a link to his company’s career page and wrote the company was looking to hire “Machine Learning Members of Technical Staff.”

It may be difficult for just any company to court OpenAI employees even if compensation packages are eye-poppingly high. Altman has personally curated some of the company’s best talent, according to various media reports and social media posts.

AI skills are in “critical demand”

As long as AI jobs remain in high demand, expect companies to keep those offers coming.

Madsen pointed to McKinsey tech trend statistics showing from 2021 to 2022, job postings in areas considered tech trends grew 15% amid a decline of 13% in global job postings overall. Within that year, applied AI and next-generation software development together posted nearly 1 million jobs.

All this is to say that “this particular skill base is in critical demand,” Madsen said. Which also makes this a time many of OpenAI’s major competitors “would see as an excellent opportunity to build up their AI talent force,” she added.

Frame AI CEO George Davis told TechCrunch via email that he expected “direct impact in terms of great talent coming on the market” and is also already seeing ongoing recruiting conversations.

“This weekend’s drama made clear that a lot of the talent in AI cares about both ensuring AI is safe,” Davis said.

Pros and cons of joining Microsoft

Some OpenAI employees will likely join Altman at Microsoft, where he and co-founder Greg Brockman will lead a “new advanced AI research team,” according to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.

But even those most loyal to Altman may have to weigh the downside of working at a large publicly traded corporation that while well-funded may have more bureaucracy and regulations to navigate.

“They’ve lost their champions,” she said, referring to employees losing Altman and Brockman. “They don’t trust the board to work in their best interest. They have an interim CEO now who said, ‘we need stability and success,’ but he also plans to make significant changes. So if you’re an employee sitting there, and you’re trying to decide, ‘do I move to Google? Do I move to Microsoft? Or do I stay here and wait it out?’ There’s a lot of unrest initially for them to sort of figure out what they’re going to be comfortable with.”

Madsen notes that as OpenAI employees figure out what they are doing today and will be doing tomorrow, little is known what this interruption means in terms of how much of the pace of development was disrupted or will be disrupted by these events.

Though there could be a silver lining. TechCrunch reporter Tim De Chant wrote that all of this disruption could very well “sow the seeds of the next generation of AI startups.”

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