SAN FRANCISCO — Like a coder, Yahoo chief executive Marissa Mayer sees her company as a massive design and engineering problem.
That’s not too surprising for someone who studied computer science and spent years working on products at Google earlier in her career.
Mayer took the stage today at Bloomberg’s technology conference to talk about her background as a coder and how that fits into her work as CEO.
Engineers love data, she noted — but the challenge is to avoid falling into “analysis paralysis,” and be able to make decisions.
Her approach, like that of an agile coder, is iterative — and she said that the company did a lot of “experiments” in 2014. Now, however, she’s focused on delivering results.
While she was a coder before, she doesn’t do much coding now. “I don’t think the company would want me coding at this point,” she said with a laugh. “I’m pretty rusty.”
The company uses a lot of data to make decisions, she said — for instance, doing split testing to compare how one user experience might deliver different results for the company than another.
“You can actually get really good at predictions, as to where the business will go if you make this change or that change,” Mayer said.
“I look at a lot of data like that to understand, if we make these changes will they be positive or negative for the user experience, or for the revenue model,” Mayer said.
Mayer talked about the difficulty Yahoo has had in defining itself as a media company or a tech company. “If you work at Yahoo, you get this question all the time.”
But the company’s recent partnership with the NFL to livestream a football game shows a way out of that dilemma, Mayer said. “We’re the biggest tech company that understands media,” she said. “We’re the biggest media company that gets tech.”
The company did a lot of acqui-hires in the early days of Mayer’s leadership because it was the most effective way to get promising people to join a company that had seen a lot of turmoil. Mayer acknowledged that it was kind of “scary” for people to join a company like Yahoo at the time.
“People would say, ‘I’d love to work for you, I’d love to work at Yahoo — but I’m not coming alone,'” Mayer said. They wanted to bring their teams with them as a way of ensuring that the Yahoo experience wouldn’t be too crazy. So acquiring whole companies was one way to bring in talented people, along with their teams.
Now, however, the company is doing fewer acqui-hires and is more focused on big strategic “building blocks,” Mayer said.
Mayer has been CEO of Yahoo since 2012, when she left Google to take the helm at the struggling Internet portal. Her stint as CEO was widely hailed, but she has not yet succeeded in turning Yahoo around. We recently spoke with Nicholas Carlson, the author of a book about Yahoo, to ask if Mayer could save Yahoo. (Spoiler alert: Probably not, in Carlson’s opinion!)