Yahoo’s culture vs. Google’s culture

Two interesting articles I have read in the past week had to do with Yahoo’s “hacker-centric” culture – or lack of. Two different views, one from Paul Graham’s “What happened to Yahoo” post and the second from Ryan Grove’s “What’s happening at Yahoo!”. Both were excellent reads and provide an interesting look into Yahoo’s culture.

These articles got me interested in comparing both Yahoo! and Google, and see which is more a technology/software firm. I started out with the leadership team of both companies and counted how many engineers, scientists and mathematicians are in both. I could be wrong, but I’m considering a “hacker-centric” culture is composed of a high number of engineers, scientists and mathematicians. So I’ll refer to these as “techies”.

The results were pretty amazing. The higher that number is, the more “hacker-centric” that company is. Feel free to comment about this, if I’m being biased or overlooked something. One thing I did, but not on purpose was I double counted some members if they were in both the board of directors and VP lists, so the ratios are a little skewed, but still the difference is huge.

First insight was the very different leadership structure in both companies. The boards of directors for both are rather similar, nine members in Google’s, ten in Yahoo!’s, roughly the same number of “techies”; four in Google’s vs three in Yahoo. Nothing surprising here.

On to the operating leadership and executives at both. Google is at an outstanding 70 executive positions in their leadership; 42 of which are engineers, scientists, or mathematicians. That is just huge. Yahoo! on the other hand has 15 members in the management team, seven of which are engineers, scientists, or mathematicians. So, Google has a much larger number of “techies” in their leadership than Yahoo!.

I also looked at how the leadership is structured at both. Google has 25 executives in Engineering and Products, 23 of which are “techies”. Yahoo! isn’t structured in this manner, they in fact have one EVP for Engineering, one for Products and one for Research; two of which are “techies”.

Seven out of the 15 members of Yahoo! management team are in business oriented roles such as Sales and Marketing. They’re organized by regions, and operations like, finance, marketing and customer relationship.

Of course Google also has business oriented VPs, also organized by region/operations. They have 17 of them. However, even within these ranks you can see a few “techies”. Out of Yahoo’s business oriented leadership, they had 3 techies; the EVP of Customer Advocacy and EVP of Human Resources and the CEO. I’m not sure about Carol, her past seems full of roles in technical/engineering companies and foundations, so I considered her a techie.

Anyway, Google’s much higher number of techies in their leadership compared to Yahoo!’s drives me to side more with Paul Graham on this.  If you look at Google’s Engineering leadership, you’ll see where their products fall under like Maps, Search, Mobile, AdWords, Android and even the infrastructure and plumbing that power these products. There are about 4 or 5 VPs that have a role in leading Google’s infrastructure division.

Not to say that developers and techies at Yahoo won’t make it to the top of the food chain, but the odds are much lower since it is clear that Yahoo is not as technological oriented as Google. There are great teams and products at Yahoo, such as YUI, and Yahoo! Pipes, but where do these products fall under? I’d bet its under the Research domain, and engineers and developers in that department must feel like Yahoo! is a technology company, but I don’t think it is.

So what is Yahoo? Paul Graham sheds some light on this:

One of the weirdest things about Yahoo when I went to work there was the way they insisted on calling themselves a “media company.” If you walked around their offices, it seemed like a software company. The cubicles were full of programmers writing code, product managers thinking about feature lists and ship dates, support people (yes, there were actually support people) telling users to restart their browsers, and so on, just like a software company. So why did they call themselves a media company?
One reason was the way they made money: by selling ads. In 1995 it was hard to imagine a technology company making money that way. Technology companies made money by selling their software to users. Media companies sold ads. So they must be a media company.

Agreed. Yahoo is an Internet media/content company. Of course they need developers, but not every place developers work are technology firms of course. Still a lot of great things came from Yahoo! I used YUI for years before switching to Dojo. Steve Souders is a god, and his book on “High Performance Websites” is the bible for building high performance web applications. Too bad for Yahoo! Steve is now at Google.

So what do you think? Do you work at either?

Here are my notes on the leadership numbers:

Board of directors: 9, 4 techies.
Operating committee: 16, 9 techies
Executives: 54.
Engineering: 17, 17 techies.
Products: 8, 6 techies
Sales: 17, 5 techies,
Legal: 5 1 techie,
Bus Op: 1 1 techie,
Finance: 4, 1 techie,
People Operations: 1, 1 techie, 1, 1 techie,

Total “techies” in “leadership”, 46/79 = 58% 
Total “techies” in Executives =  60%

Board of Directors: 10. Engineers/Sci 3
Management team: 15, 7

Total techies in “leadership” 10/25 = 40%

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