Dropbox’s New AI and ML Lead the Company’s Evolution

Built In spoke to one of Dropbox’s newest leaders, VP of Engineering for New Initiatives Geoff Hulten, about his love for AI and ML, and how he sees it driving the company’s future.

Published on Jun. 30, 2023
Dropbox’s New AI and ML Lead the Company’s Evolution
Dropbox
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Dropbox helps hundreds of millions of users around the world get work done every day — but to continue powering its productivity, the company needs to stay at the vanguard of new technology. 

That’s why, in March 2023, it hired Geoff Hulten as VP of engineering for new initiatives. Hulten is a tech veteran who has dedicated his career to breaking new ground in artificial intelligence and machine learning and applying these innovations to the apps that much of the world uses every day. At Dropbox, his remit is to apply this focus to the cloud storage and file-sharing company’s widely loved products — beginning with the newly launched Dropbox Dash. 

Dash, a universal search bar, simplifies the chaos of countless apps, tabs and files, uniting them all in one easily navigable space. The product integrates machine learning technology to continuously adapt and improve with use, with the aim of making work faster and more efficient as time goes on. 

Built In caught up with Hulten to hear more about his role, the immense potential he sees for Dropbox as it delves further into AI and ML, and how he plans to lead his team as it pushes the boundaries of what’s possible in the space.

 

Why did you choose to work for Dropbox? What makes Dropbox different from previous tech companies you’ve worked for?

Geoff Hultan
VP of Engineering

 

I’ve been a Dropbox customer for over a decade and Dropbox is the first app I install on any new computer I get. I love the way the app took something complex — syncing files across all of my devices — and made it seamless and delightful. I’m very excited to help provide the same level of reliable quality as our users take advantage of all the amazing things modern AI and ML are capable of.

 

What is your background in machine learning and where do you see the future of the field going? 

I got my Ph.D. in machine learning from the University of Washington around 2005. I’ve spent my career at Microsoft and Google shipping AI in some of the largest, most-loved applications in the world, including Xbox, Windows, Microsoft Office, Google Maps and Outlook. I also love teaching and have been honored to return to UW as a lecturer for one of their graduate-level ML classes.

My main interest is what I call machine learning architecture — that is, integrating ML into working systems and running them over time so that they get better day after day. I think recent breakthroughs like large language models are particularly interesting, and connecting them into delightful applications that are reliable, safe, private and transformational will require lots of innovation. It’s a very exciting time.

 

How do you see Dropbox being a part of that innovation?

I chose Dropbox as the best place for me to do AI and ML because it’s small enough to move fast but big enough to have the resources to lean into opportunities. I love the product — it earned my trust over a decade ago. I was impressed by Dropbox’s excellent core engineering, which drove efficiency and user value into the cloud storage space. I loved the people. And I love the potential to be part of doing it again with AI and ML.

 

“I chose Dropbox as the best place for me to do AI and ML because it’s small enough to move fast but big enough to have the resources to lean into opportunities.”

 

Dropbox Dash screen
Dropbox

 

As the VP of new initiatives, can you tell us about the new initiative Dropbox Dash that just launched? 

Dropbox Dash is a single search bar to search all apps and tabs, so customers can instantly find what they need. It’s also powered by machine learning, so it learns and evolves and gets better with more use. 

 

Dash offers a number of features to help make the most of the workday:

  • Stacks leverages AI to deliver a smart, self-organizing layer across your most important content. In the way that we use folders to organize files or playlists to organize songs, Stacks makes it simple to organize your URLs into a single collection the way you want to. 
  • Start Page is a single dashboard that houses everything you need to navigate your workday. It lets you access Universal Search and Stacks, see which meetings are coming up and join them directly. It also surfaces all your open internet tabs, so you can close all of your tabs at the end of the day with the confidence that you’ll be able to get back to them later.

 

Dropbox Dash is currently available in beta (English only). Those interested in testing the new product can join the waitlist on Dropbox’s website.

 

What’s your vision for leading your team?

I strive to make a team that is excellent at what it does. At Dropbox, that means shipping AI- and ML-powered features that delight customers. But I also strive to create an environment where everyone can be the best version of themselves — a team in which everyone belongs, where everyone can do their best work and learn and grow every day.

 

Lastly, for those thinking about joining your company, what impact does working at Dropbox have on someone’s career?

Dropbox is a great place to be on the forefront of the AI revolution. It’s small enough that your work matters but big enough that you’ll be surrounded by amazing people and face challenges with the opportunity to create positive change.
 

“Dropbox is small enough that your work matters but big enough that you’ll be surrounded by amazing people and face challenges with the opportunity to create positive change.”

 

I have much more agency, ownership and energy than at any other time in my career — and I really thrive with the faster pace. I personally feel grateful every day to be part of Dropbox.

 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Images provided by Dropbox.

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