Twitter's former head engineer is now helping Larry Page build self-flying cars

Alex RoetterTwitterAlex Roetter

Long-time Twitter engineering exec Alex Roetter, who left the company a year ago as part of Twitter’s never ending talent exodus, has surfaced at a startup building flying cars, Business Insider has confirmed.

He’s working at Kitty Hawk, the secretive startup backed by Google co-founder Larry Page.

Very little is known about Kitty Hawk, except that it’s somehow associated with Page’s more established flying car startup, Zee.Aero. Both Kitty Hawk and Zee.Aero were funded in 2010 and Zee.Aero calls itself “a division of Kitty Hawk” and employs around 100 people, according to its LinkedIn profile.

However, Kitty Hawk is believed to be building a different version of a flying car than Zee.Aero. It is working on some kind of autonomous flying passenger vehicle and it employs about 30 people directly, according to LinkedIn.

Kitty Hawk also claims Sebastian Thrun as its president, th­e father of Google’s self-driving tech and founder of its Google X research division.

Roetter is VP of Software at Kitty Hawk, though his exact role and responsibilities at the secretive startup remain unclear.

The Larry Page connection

Roetter is an interesting hire. He launched his career at Google in 2002, the pre-IPO days, hence the Larry Page connection. But he’s best known as the guy who created Twitter’s ad tools Advertiser, Publisher and Exchange (APEX), growing Twitter from near zero revenue to almost $US2.5 billion a year. He was also involved in other products like Fabric (the developer tool sold to Google earlier this year).

Roetter took over as the head of all of Twitter’s engineering in May, 2014, replacing Chris Fry (who made news back in the day for his $US10 million pay package. Fry just landed at Medium, the media startup by Twitter co-founder Ev Williams.)

At Twitter, Roetter was known as a hands-off kind of leader. But in 2015, he was in the middle of a controversy when Twitter was accused of a diversity problem. In a now-deleted post on Medium, he took responsibility and vowed to do better.

Today Twitter is known as a good place to be a woman engineer, developers have told Business Insider, although its percentage of women in technical roles remains about on par with the overall industry’s sad stat: 15%.

Twitter is still known as having a glass ceiling when it comes to women in engineering leadership roles, one developer told us. On the other hand, we also heard that Roetter tried to change that. Out of the four senior technical leaders that reported to him, two were women, we understand.

If all of this sounds like a strange fit for an autonomous flying car startup, Roetter is also a pilot who spent a couple of years working on aircraft detection systems for wind farms before joining Twitter. So this must be a dream job for him.

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