A Dean's Path: From Carnegie Mellon to Google and Back Again

Carnegie Mellon U.

Andrew Moore talks with Subra Suresh, Carnegie Mellon’s president (left), and Randal Bryant, the past dean (right).
August 11, 2014

Andrew W. Moore’s vision for the Carnegie Mellon University School of Computer Science is as simple as it is audacious. Attract the best students. Hire the best faculty. Oh, and make sure Carnegie Mellon helps lead a technological revolution so sweeping it will alter the course of humanity.

"I think the 2020s and 2030s are going to be incredibly exciting times for the human race," says Mr. Moore, a recent Google vice president who starts as the school’s dean this month.

Mr. Moore, 49, doesn’t waste much time talking about the incremental. Asked why he chose to come back to academe, he rhapsodizes about Carnegie Mellon’s ability to advance machine learning, artificial intelligence, and other fields that "are really going to affect what this century is like for the population of the world."

Mr. Moore credits his big-picture outlook to the time he spent in industry. In 2006, he left a position at Carnegie Mellon to become the founding director of Google’s Pittsburgh office. What began as a two-person operation on Carnegie Mellon’s campus now employs about 500 people whose work includes developing products related to searches and shopping. While expanding the office, Mr. Moore embraced Google’s sense of techno-adventurism.

"My experiences at Google really taught me it’s not embarrassing to think big about what you’re doing," says Mr. Moore. "Google, because of its great success, is really kind of childishly optimistic for the future. But then these bits of childish optimism seem to pan out. And I really like thinking that way."

That Mr. Moore thinks like a Googler was a selling point for Carnegie Mellon. John Lehoczky, the university’s interim executive vice president and a member of the search committee, says Mr. Moore is "the kind of questing mind who will be concerned not just in his own narrow bailiwick, but across the campus." Mr. Moore’s work developing products for Google also figures to enhance Carnegie Mellon’s already-robust reputation for creating real-world applications. "He’s done that many times over at Google," says Mr. Lehoczky. "He has a very good understanding of that particular process."

Mr. Moore grew up on England’s southern coast and earned both his undergraduate degree and Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge. After a postdoc stint at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he arrived at Carnegie Mellon in 1993 as an assistant professor. Over the next 13 years, Mr. Moore became a leading figure in the fields of machine learning and data mining. Mr. Lehoczky called Mr. Moore’s 2006 move to Google "a very significant loss" for the university, and said "there was constant doubt" among committee members that he "would ever be a serious candidate" for dean, given his success at Google. The interim executive vice president credits Subra Suresh, who became president of Carnegie Mellon last year, with luring Mr. Moore back.

For his part, Mr. Moore sees Google and Carnegie Mellon as partner institutions, the kind that will work in tandem to advance society. On the way to that future, he says, you are likely to see more résumés like his. "It is a ­really healthy trend that people are moving between academia and industry and start-ups very fluidly throughout their careers," says Mr. Moore. "It’s not the case that people at 25 choose one path or the other."