Sam Altman saga: OpenAI coworkers threaten to walk as Microsoft scoops up former CEO

Microsoft made the most of the Silicon Valley successful's shocking ouster, but nearly 750 former colleagues demand 'bring him back, or else...!'

Former OpenAI CEO Sam Altman (Photo: DW)
Former OpenAI CEO Sam Altman (Photo: DW)

Aditya Anand

Since 38-year-old Sam Altman, co-founder and former CEO of OpenAI, was abruptly fired from the leading artificial intelligence company, parallels have been drawn to the high-profile ousting of Steve Jobs from Apple in 1985.

Altman's departure, characterised by accusations of "not being candid in his communications", has sent shockwaves through Silicon Valley, leaving many questioning the motives behind what some perceive as a boardroom coup.

Lending credibility to the claims that Altman's not the one being less than candid is the recent clamour from his colleagues to bring him back—out of the teeth of Microsoft, which just snapped him up yesterday in what many industry watchers perceive as a major coup!

OpenAI's chief tech officer (CTO) Mira Murati, chief data scientist Ilya Sutskever and chief operating officer (COO) Brad Lightcap are among the vast majority (close to 100 per cent) of Altman's former colleagues who are petitioning to bring him back—or they walk over to his side.

Curiously, Sutskever is himself part of the ousting board. He posted a regretful note on Twitter yesterday, 20 November, by way of 'explanation' for his series of seemingly warring actions:

At OpenAI, per US media reports, investors too have been lobbying for Altman's recovery, even as the tech community buzzes with speculation around the truth behind the board's decision and the future direction of OpenAI.

Replacing Altman at the helm as interim CEO is Emmett Shear, former CEO of Twitch.

However, it's fair to say Altman is effectively hogging Shear's limelight still.

Who IS Sam Altman?

Altman, born in Chicago in 1985, was raised in St. Louis, Missouri, graduated from a prestigious private school, and rose to become a key figure in the tech industry.

His passion for programming, which would shape his future career, was ignited at a mere 8 years of age — when his parents introduced him to his first computer, a Macintosh LC II, a pivotal moment that would mark the before-and-after of Altman's life.

The former OpenAI CEO has been open about his personal life, particularly his journey as a gay individual. Altman, who addressed his high school community about his sexuality at the age of 17, has been a vocal advocate for diversity. He currently lives with his partner Australian programmer Oliver Mulherin. The couple has expressed their desire to start a family together.

Altman's official foray into the tech world began when he dropped out of Stanford University along with two classmates to work full-time on the startup Loopt. Despite its $175 million valuation, the app was sold for $43 million in 2012.

Altman, however, continued to make waves in Silicon Valley, co-founding Hydrazine Capital and then joining Y Combinator as its president in 2014.

His career peaked with the co-founding of OpenAI in 2015, a venture that attracted significant attention and investment, including a $1 billion investment from Microsoft in 2019.

Under Altman's leadership, OpenAI became a leading authority in artificial intelligence, culminating in the groundbreaking launch of ChatGPT in November 2022.

However, his illustrious career hit a surprise snag on 17 November, when he was fired. The decision, taken during an unplanned board meeting, apparently shocked Altman and the tech community alike. Giving the lie to speculation about a possible return under pressure from key investors, the board ultimately appointed Emmett Shear as the interim CEO, closing the door on Altman's return to the company he co-founded.

Altman was not to be down for long, however, even though out. He got snapped up by Microsoft in a swift, smart strategic move by its CEO Satya Nadella, to lead its new advanced AI research team.

The Microsoft CEO announced the addition of Altman and OpenAI co-founder Greg Brockman to the company's growing AI research efforts on X.

In parallel, of OpenAI's 770 employees, a staggering 747 (according to a Financial Times report) appended their signatures to a petition threatening to join them if Altman was not brought back, in a collective letter to the board.

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