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Google CEO Sundar Pichai doesn't regret firing James Damore

After accidentally turning Damore into a conservative hero, Google execs say the former employee violated company rules. Period.

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Google CEO Sundar Pichai and YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki talked about diversity and Silicon Valley in San Francisco on Friday. 

Kim White/MSNBC

Onetime Google engineer James Damore wrote a contentious 3,300-word memo in August that argued the gender gap in Silicon Valley is largely due to women and men being "biologically" different. Days later Google CEO Sundar Pichai fired Damore saying the engineer violated company rules.

firestorm followed.

Damore went on a media tour saying he believed he was fired from Google because his conservative political views didn't align with the rest of the company. And Pichai had to cancel a company all-hands meeting after some employees expressed concern about being harassed online.

The controversy became front and center in a national debate about diversity (or the lack thereof) in Silicon Valley and the idea that the tech industry might be a little too politically correct.

Now with a little distance from memo-gate, would Pichai do anything differently? No, he said.

"I regret that... it played out in a polarized way," Pichai said, speaking at a taping of the upcoming MSNBC and Recode TV series "Revolution" in San Francisco on Friday.

But as far as firing Damore, "I don't regret it," Pichai said.

On the stage with Pichai was YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki. She agreed with Pichai, saying Damore violated Google's code of conduct. "I think it was the right decision," she said, adding that Damore's memo brought up a lot of emotion for her.

"I worked in tech for a long time, and so to hear this fundamental attack in many ways because of your biology … that was a really hard statement to process," Wojcicki said. "I have spent so much of my career trying to encourage women to come into tech... and that seemed to set it back so far."

Damore has since filed a lawsuit against Google, claiming the search giant discriminates against white, conservative men. For its part, Google says it looks forward to defending against the suit in court.

Along with Damore and diversity in Silicon Valley, Pichai and Wojcicki also discussed the importance of artificial intelligence in tech, the need to have immigrants from around the world working at US technology companies, and fighting extremism and fake news on the internet. A full broadcast of MSNBC and Recode's "Revolution: Google and YouTube Changing the World" will air at 7 p.m. PT on Jan. 26 on MSNBC. 

Even though most of the topics discussed during the event centered on controversy, Pichai said he has a positive outlook for the year to come.

"There's no better time to be born than today," he said. "And I'm very, very optimistic."

Solving for XX: The industry seeks to overcome outdated ideas about "women in tech."

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