SAN FRANCISCO — In a rare change to Facebook’s top ranks, Mike Schroepfer, the chief technology officer and a longtime executive, plans to step down from his position next year, the company said on Wednesday.
Mr. Schroepfer, 46, who has worked at Facebook for more than 13 years, plans to transition into a newly created role as a senior fellow, which he said would allow him to focus on activities outside the company. He said he would spend more time with family and on personal philanthropic efforts while continuing to recruit and develop technical talent for Facebook.
“This is a difficult decision because of how much I love Facebook and how excited I am about the future we are building together,” Mr. Schroepfer said in a post on his personal Facebook page.
Apart from the departures of several top executives in 2018, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, has kept a tight circle of lieutenants around him for years. Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer, has held her position since 2008.
Mr. Schroepfer’s departure was announced as Facebook faces intense scrutiny for issues as varied as toxic speech, misinformation and privacy. The chief technology officer, who has overseen the building of artificial intelligence systems to identify and prevent violent and hateful posts from being seen on the social network, has been key to some of its efforts to battle the problems.
“He has played a critical role in almost everything we’ve done,” Mr. Zuckerberg said on Wednesday in a company blog post.
Mr. Schroepfer will be replaced by Andrew Bosworth, another longtime Facebook employee and a close friend of Mr. Zuckerberg’s. Mr. Bosworth, who is better known inside the company by his nickname, Boz, has worked in many different parts of Facebook, including developing its advertising products and building its virtual reality and video devices.
Mr. Schroepfer joined Facebook as a vice president of engineering in 2008, after leaving Mozilla, the free software foundation behind the popular Firefox web browser. He was charged with expanding Facebook’s technical talent and its infrastructure during a period of rapid growth.
In 2013, Mr. Schroepfer was promoted to chief technical officer. He was asked to oversee the development of Facebook’s artificial intelligence and machine learning systems. The company has since developed tools to automatically identify and remove problematic content such as posts offering the sale of drugs or firearms.
That work became increasingly important after the 2016 presidential election, when Facebook was called out for spreading disinformation and harmful content to American voters. Mr. Zuckerberg said artificial intelligence would be key to cleaning up Facebook.
Mr. Schroepfer helped Facebook recruit top machine-learning experts from universities across the world, as well as from competitors like Google and Microsoft. Many of the companies began paying exorbitant sums to land as many A.I. specialists as possible.
Mr. Schroepfer also led the infrastructure atop which Facebook rests, including opening new data centers and connecting programs and services among the company’s so-called family of apps. That foundation was crucial when the coronavirus pandemic pushed people indoors and onto their computers in increasing numbers. Mr. Zuckerberg said last year that Facebook was “just trying to keep the lights on” as people flocked to its platforms to pass the time.
Some former employees said they were concerned about Mr. Schroepfer’s departure because he was widely viewed as one of the better-liked and approachable executives. He was also seen as a voice of reason as Facebook navigated crises. Mr. Schroepfer often held talks with his engineering teams in which he had them vent their frustrations with negative headlines, the former employees said.
“After I left FB earlier this month, many existing employees asked me who could now best be their ally on matters of societal import,” Samidh Chakrabarti, who led efforts to crack down on harmful content on Facebook, wrote on Twitter on Wednesday. “Who was on my short list every single time? Schrep. So this is indeed significant.”
Sheera Frenkel contributed reporting.