February 15, 2012

Marissa Mayer on Creativity on Constraints

Marissa Mayer (VP of Google Local/Maps/Localization) spoke at the MIT Sloan’s Women in Management Conference last Friday. Known for being the first female engineer hired by Google in 1999, she spoke about how challenges at Google has shaped the advice she gives to others.

Passion is a Gender Neutralizing Force

Marissa says at Google she wasn’t treated like a women. She is just a Geek at Google and “Google is a great place to be a Geek.” What passion can bring together your team in a way that overshadows their differences?

Find Your Rhythm

You know you need to work hard to be successful but how do you do that for decades without burning out? Marissa’s philosophy is to find your own rhythm. Figure out what makes you resentful about working long hours and protect yourself from that. For example if you miss Sunday brunch with your family, you’ll resent staying late at work all week. As a supervisor, it’s your job to help protect your staff’s time for the thing they need most to keep working hard.

We’re Not Producing Enough Computer Scientists Period

We know that there aren’t enough female computer scientists but Marissa contends that we need to produce more engineers of any gender. 98% of Google engineers were exposed to computer science in high school or earlier. Personally I think we should teach programming starting in grade school.

Do Things You’re Not Ready To Do

Marissa’s career is filled with taking on projects that were larger than she was prepared for. If you’re only applying for jobs that you are 100% qualified for, how do expect to grow?

Work Somewhere That You Are Comfortable and For People Who Believe In You

Marissa admits that she is painfully shy but at Google she’s outgoing because she is comfortable. This translates into being able to speak up at meetings and make controversial decisions. When considering which job to take, she encourages women to accept opportunities from managers who are going to invest in their professional development. Ask about the training programs and conferences before accepting the position. Marissa suggests that you might want to accept a position from a company you’re less excited about for one that will invest in you.

Hire Good People and Train Them

Google couldn’t hire product managers fast enough. Marissa decided that she could hire inexperienced product managers and train them faster than hiring experienced ones. She went to the best colleges, hired computer science graduates, and put them through a two year trial by fire. The program has been a major successes.

Google also makes sure that there is at least one women on each hiring panel. Even when hiring men, Sergey and Larry want to make sure that they’re hiring men that are comfortable working with women. Women on the hiring panel ensure that candidates are just as comfortable communicating with women as men.

Why Is the Google Home Page So Simple?

Marissa was the keeper of the Google home page for ten years. She finally asked Sergey Brin (Google co-founder) if the simplicity of the Google home page was a statement. His answer was that they didn’t have a web master when they launched and he didn’t know enough HTML to post more than the logo and search box. Out of skill constraints, the most visited web page of the decade was born.

How Do You Innovate On Email?

In 2002, Google started thinking about how to tackle email even though everyone already had an email account. Google applied their strengths, search, and storage, to differentiate themselves. The constraint was a market filled with email providers and the solution created the one of the most popular email providers in the world.

Don’t Let the Urgent Drown Out the Important

Google needed to translate their site into localized versions. They started by sending pages to a translation company but the process took 8-12 weeks for each language. The website was changing weekly and traditional translation couldn’t keep up for just 14 languages. She met the founder of Weather Underground, who was offering his site in 50 languages. He was using fans of the site to translate weather terms for him. Marissa launched the Google in Your Language program to activate volunteer translators. The program now has over a million participants. She warned the audience to not let an urgent need override creating a more sustainable solution.

About the guest blogger and conference participant: Jazmin Hupp is the Director of Awesome at Tekserve, the independent Apple computer store in New York City. She volunteers for Women 2.0 in San Francisco and Founder Labs in New York City. Jazmin holds a Bachelors of Science in Management Information Systems. Follow her on Twitter at @jazminhupp.