Before she was CEO of Yahoo, and before she was a VP at Google, Marissa Mayer was a software engineer.
“Yahoo is the most amazing design problem I’ve ever gotten to work on,” Mayer said on stage at Bloomberg’s Technology Conference.
When you first start to work on a company, Mayer says, it’s a design problem — which was the case at Yahoo. When you start growing your products and trying to scale up and up, as Yahoo has been doing, that design problem turns into an engineering problem.
“To me, when I look at [Yahoo’s problems], I see engineering problems,” Mayer says. “Those principles apply to everything from the culture of the company to how we grow our products.”
And she says that her experience as an engineer helps her approach those issues — being bold and trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t.
Mayer says that last year, for example, was a year of “experimentation in terms of Yahoo’s content strategy, trying to figure out what people wanted to watch on Yahoo’s video channels — original content, news, short clips, concerts streamed from Live Nation.
“It really helped us shape our content,” Mayer says. Now, the company can look at its successes and ask “how do we build even more content in that vein?”
In a larger sense, that approach is driven by the fact that “engineers love data,” Mayer says. The risk is “analysis paralysis,” as you learn too much about everything to make good choices, but the reward is a smarter company that can serve its customers better — and attract more ad dollars.
In the past, Mayer says that Yahoo’s “Achilles heel” was that nobody knew if it was a tech-driven media company or a media-driven tech company. Now, Mayer says that it’s a strength, since its love of data has made it really good at both tech and data.
“We may not be the biggest technology company, but we’re the biggest technology company that understands media,” Mayer says. “We may not be the biggest media company, but we’re biggest media company that gets tech.”
As proof positive, Mayer points to what she calls Yahoo’s “historic” deal with the NFL to broadcast the All-Star Game online, exclusively.
Still, while Mayer thinks the engineering mindset has driven the company forward, she jokes that nobody at Yahoo would be very happy if she picked up a keyboard and sat down to code, preferring to leave it to the product teams. But she does like to code at home every now and then for fun.
“Shareholders don’t care about my coding background. They care about results,” Mayer says.
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