Thoughts about working at Yahoo! after one year

UPDATE (10/17/2007)Things have changed a lot since this was originally written in July 2006. A few have found this post through a search and made the mistake of thinking it’s relevant still, but this snapshot in time looks like historical record to me more and more every day. Many of the problems have been addressed or even resolved, and I really couldn’t be more optimistic about the future of Yahoo! now.

Next week is my one year anniversary at Yahoo!, so I thought I’d do a couple of retrospective lists. Looking back on the year, overall, I have enjoyed going to work, learned a ton, met some incredibly bright people and expanded a lot of my thinking about media. It really is a pleasure to work here, and I feel lucky to be part of the team. But, as with any company, there are things I wish were different, too.

Photo: Dawn Endico

Favorite things about Yahoo!:

  1. Open minds. In most cases, people are open to “not invented here” technology and products. In all cases, people are very open to new ideas. This culture makes it possible for everyone to feel comfortable speaking up in every meeting or blogging both internally and externally.
  2. Smartness. I’ve never been in a meeting where I felt an individual couldn’t contribute intelligently. You witness bursts of phenomenal brainpower both individually and collectively all the time.
  3. Never complacent. The constant stream of advances rolling out across almost all Yahoo! products is the public evidence that nobody inside the company is ever asleep at the wheel. They could be driving into a tree, in some cases, but they’re not asleep.
  4. Passion. Well, maybe not everyone is passionate about their specific job, but people are very motivated and feel like they are doing or contributing to something that matters.
  5. Diversification. Mature companies are able to spread both risk and opportunity across multiple channels. Yahoo! knows this well. That can create distractions, but Yahoo! never takes its eye off the ball, either. The user comes first. Always.
  6. Globalness. My experience at IDG gave me a taste for the benefits of globalizing a vision and then sharing knowledge and experience across cultures. I love seeing that same ethos here. People are always thinking about how ideas apply in different countries.
  7. Great work environment. The espresso bar; the gym; the great speakers who come talk to us; cubes up and down the hierarchy. Nothing will top the little building my team had across the street from the headquarters of The Industry Standard in San Francisco which was somewhat of a madhouse, but Yahoo! does a very good job of making life at work a nice place to be.

Things Yahoo! needs to change:

  1. Control. There are way too many people “owning” things and not enough people contributing their expertise in the places where it’s needed most. The Product Managers’ scripted 1 year roadmaps become the magic wand of power used to reinforce the status quo.
  2. Innovation constipation. Few people are willing to take a loss on one product or strategy on the chance that another one might yield a brighter future. The result is a wait-and-see approach. That’s a shame given the incredible potential here.
  3. Isolation. The campus keeps us all from interacting with the rest of the world. External face-to-face meetings only happen amongst people whose jobs are dependent on interacting with external companies. It has an impact on the types of products the company creates…often oblivious to what’s happening on the Internet outside of
  4. Product duplication. The company’s decentralized approach breeds an environment where different people are solving the same problem in different ways. This is expensive, but it does have the benefit of forcing people to stay on their toes (see #3 above).
  5. Analysis paralysis. There are way too many people involved in very small decisions. You get the benefit of uncovering all the potential pitfalls in any given problem, but people spend way too much time looking for problems and not nearly enough time creating solutions.
  6. Where are all the women at? I’m in a presentation with about 150 people right now, yet I see no more than 30 women in the audience. At a company with so much invested in the social aspects of the Internet, it suprises me that the more socially sophisticated sex doesn’t have better representation.