Google Comms and Policy Head Whetstone takes over that job at Uber

Rachel Whetstone, the longtime head of Google's powerful public policy and communications unit, is taking on a similar job at Uber as SVP of policy and communications.

That position has been held by David Plouffe, the high-profile former adviser to President Barack Obama, who was hired less than a year ago.

According to the company, he will become a chief adviser to the company and to CEO Travis Kalanick as well as joining the board of the ride-sharing startup. Plouffe will have what is described as a more strategic and external focus, rather than a day-to-day one.

Plouffe was hired last August, after an extensive search by Kalanick himself, who was looking for a "campaign manager" to head Uber's policy and communications strategy and fight the intense efforts by the taxi industry to slow its fast expansion. Plouffe certainly fit that bill, best known as running the breakthrough 2008 presidential effort that put Obama in office.

An UBER application is shown as cars drive by in Washington, DC.
Andrew Caballero-Reynolds | AFP | Getty Images
An UBER application is shown as cars drive by in Washington, DC.

Plouffe has been a strong strategist for Uber and, in his time there, the frenetic public kerfuffles it has long been mired in seem to have calmed down somewhat, as the company's public messages have gotten less reactionary. But while Uber has made headway recently in its efforts to change regulations in it favor across cities and states, it still remains a difficult road ahead.

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As to Plouffe's change, it's clear that a tech company is a little different from a political campaign and the reason for the switch seems to center on the need for someone in that job more experienced at assembling and managing a global comms and policy army for a company that is faced with a still daily barrage of controversies from safety of passengers to driver issues to regulatory thickets and more.

That's certainly been Whetstone's portfolio at Google, where she has been moving up its ranks since she arrived in 2005. She began her tenure there in Europe, but came to the U.S. and has been a key exec and adviser to its CEOs, including Eric Schmidt and now co-founder Larry Page. While leading an increasingly massive and powerful outward-facing operation, though, Whetstone has largely stayed behind the scenes and eschews the spotlight.

Recently, she has had her hands full with the European Union's battle with the search giant over limiting the power of its services. Whetstone has also had a number of victories, including fighting back against similar inquiries by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.

Whetstone also has a witty side to her hard-charging efforts, such as when she wrote a blog post titled "Really, Rupert?" to strike back at a Wall Street Journal editorial about Google's power. Referring to its its leader Rupert Murdoch, it included a GIF of a laughing baby, the word "blimey" and yet another GIF from an Eddie Murphy movie. (Aha!)

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She'll definitely have a lot of challenges at Uber, whose public policy record has been mixed and which is facing challenges across the world as it uses the massive amount of money it has raised to expand globally. The startup, which is expected to go public next year, has recently been valued at $50 billion.

Google, by the way, is an investor in Uber, although it is clear that it is also moving aggressively in the driving arena. In the future, Uber and Google may either be each other's most important partners in the area or increasingly bigger rivals.

Both Whetstone, who starts in June, and Plouffe will report directly to Kalanick.

Jessica Powell, one of Whetstone's key staffers at Google, will become the interim global communications head, reporting to chief legal officer David Drummond. The policy staff that Whetstone had under her will now report directly report to Drummond, whom she had reported to.

Drummond, by the way, is on Uber's board. (Welcome to Silicon Valley!)

By Kara Swisher, Re/code.net.

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