After one year of Trump, Google CEO Sundar Pichai sounds a lot different about immigration - and that might be a good thing (GOOGL, GOOG)




 


Almost exactly one year ago, Google CEO Sundar Pichai stood in front of cheering employees vowing to "stand together" and "never compromise" in opposing the Trump administration's travel ban.

On Friday, Pichai spoke out again in defense of immigration and of the benefits that immigrants bring to the US. But the India-born CEO, himself the perfect embodiment of the cause, seemed to have ditched his firebrand approach in favor of a a more diplomatic tone.

"It's really important that we don't make it a tech-versus-the-rest-of-the-country issue," Pichai said on-stage, during a Q&A event in San Francisco organized by MSNBC, when asked about immigration by hosts Kara Swisher and Ari Melber.

Many of the big immigration issues remain unresolved, hot-button topics, including the travel ban, the fate of the so-called Dreamers, and the controversial visa system US corporations use to hire skilled foreign workers. Indeed, the deadlock over immigration policy in Congress helped trigger the federal government shutdown that began on Saturday.

There's a lot at stake for Google, which recruits engineering talent from all over the world and which counts some Dreamers - immigrants who were brought into the US illegally by their parents but now have work visas - among its ranks.

Matthew WeinbergerStill, after a year of the Trump presidency, Pichai appears to have adapted to the political climate his company now operates in. Instead of "never compromise," Pichai stressed the need for Google to play a "constructive" role in the immigration debate.

"We are very open to constructively reforming the H-1B process," Pichai said, referring to the visas that allow US companies like Google to hire foreign workers.

This softening in tone may not be the capitulation it appears to be though.

Sure, as a publicly-owned company Google has a responsibility to its shareholders to get on with business and it would be silly to expect Google to go to the mat on any issue that doesn't directly affect its bottom line.

But Pichai's real message seemed to be that Silicon Valley needs to be smarter to win this battle.

"It's up to us as tech companies to make the case as to why immigration is good for the country, not just for tech companies," he said. "I think we have to do that better."

Silicon Valley's greatest strength has always been its ability to sell the world on its vision of the future.

Steve Jobs and Bill Gates put a computer on every desk.

If Google can convince hundreds of millions of people to visit its website every day, then surely it should be able to convince citizens and politicians about the merits of a diverse society.

Pichai knows he has a good argument on his hand, and, like a good tech product, he just needs to figure out how to sell it.

The full Q&A with Pichai and YouTube CEO Susan Wojciki is set to air on MSNBC on Friday January 26, in a program called "Revolution: Google and YouTube Changing the World."

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