Goodbye, Cortana: Microsoft’s Javier Soltero leaves, putting the digital assistant’s future in doubt

Javier Soltero, who briefly led the development of Microsoft’s Cortana digital assistant, plans to leave the company, Soltero confirmed on Tuesday.

Soltero confirmed his decision via Twitter after ZDNet reported the story earlier on Tuesday. Microsoft representatives had not previously responded to requests for comment, but confirmed his departure after Soltero’s Twitter message.

“I’ve made the decision to leave Microsoft,” Soltero wrote. “The past 4 years have been an incredible experience. I’m humbled to have been a part of building something that 100M+ users depend on every day and grateful to have worked with some amazing people.

“I am deeply optimistic that Microsoft will continue to grow by building great products for people around the world,” Soltero added. “I’m grateful to have learned so much about what it really takes to have massive scale success & look forward to putting these lessons to work on something new.”

Soltero took over work on Cortana, one of the original digital assistants, at a time when rivals Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant arguably pulled way ahead in terms of product sophistication. Soltero’s appointment was part of a major reorganization that saw Cortana shuffled under Rajesh Jha, as part of the Experiences and Devices group. For his part, Soltero characterized Cortana less as a true assistant, and more of a situational tool which might pop up only when truly necessary, he said in an April interview

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javier soltero microsoftMicrosoft

Javier Soltero.

What’s next for Cortana?

It’s not clear who will oversee Cortana when Soltero leaves. (For his part, Soltero didn’t say exactly when he would leave Microsoft; ZDNet reported he would depart by the end of the year.)

It does sound, however, that Cortana—as an assistant—is being demoted to a rank-and-file employee within Microsoft’s AI group. In a statement, Microsoft lumped in Cortana with other language and AI technologies

“We are grateful for Javier’s impact and strategic leadership over the last four years at Microsoft, and wish him well as he returns to his entrepreneurial roots,” a Microsoft spokesperson said in a statement. “Bringing together all of our work in natural language, intelligence and assistance – including Cortana – enables us to innovate faster for developers, partners and customers.” 

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