One evening in the spring of 1999, Marissa Mayer got a recruiting email from a tiny search company. “I was in a long-distance relationship at the time, so I was pathetically eating a bad bowl of pasta in my dorm room by myself on a Friday night,” she once told me. Mayer was then a computer science graduate student at Stanford, and she’d been getting bombarded with offers from some of the world’s biggest tech firms. “I remember I’d told myself, ‘New emails from recruiters—just hit delete.’ ” But Mayer found Google interesting. She’d heard about the firm from one of her professors, and her graduate work—she’d been building a recommendation algorithm for Web pages—meshed with the company’s technological aims.
On the day Mayer interviewed at Google, the company only had seven employees. Most of them were software engineers, and all of the engineers were men. Google’s founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, saw that Mayer would fit right in to the geeky boys’ club (during the interview, they all chatted about a data-analysis method known as k-means clustering), and they quickly offered her a job. Mayer, though, wasn’t instantly sold.