Book Review: Marissa Mayer And The Fight To Save Yahoo

Marissa Mayer and the Fight to Save Yahoo
by Nicholas Carlson

I’ll be honest, I’m a huge fan of Marissa Mayer, mostly because I think that she’s a bit like me, someone who pushes hard to get ahead in her career.  The difference being that she was lucky to be part of a startup (Google) that became huge.  Me, not so much. So I couldn’t wait to read this book.

I love to learn and be exposed to new opportunities so for me reading this book was a treat.  I’ve never read a biography on people or businesses, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. But having read this book I have to say that the only disappointing bit of it is that there’s no ending.  For those of you who follow Marissa’s career and Yahoo’s on-goings know that the fight isn’t over. And the reason the ending was so disappointing is because the book is so well written.  It’s like reading a day time drama. You really want to get to the part where Marissa succeeds, or doesn’t.  But that’s still a story in development.

This is what I really liked about this book, from a career perspective, I learned about M&A (mergers and acquisitions), well numerous failed attempts anyway.  I learned about shareholder hostilities. I learned some rules on stock ownership.  I learned a lot about what it’s like to be an MNC (multi-national corporation) and the adventures of dealing with shareholders and corporate deals.

The biggest lesson that I learned is that CEOs are humans as well.  It was quite easy to point out the areas where Marissa screwed up, and where she could have done a better job. But then at some point in the book there’s a realization that she has 12,500 people reporting to her. And not everyone that reports to her is a star, especially when she’s running at 100 mph herself.  She put on some big shoes and stepped into one huge pile of poo.

The Yahoo portal is a lot bigger than I ever realized.  I knew about a few of the sections, like videos, email, search, news, but some of the others on women’s fashion, etc.; it’s daunting.  All I can say is that Marissa is brave and a champ for putting up with such a challenge.  Knowing that the battle is really between her and the shareholders I can understand why this book wasn’t written without her or Yahoo’s PR consent.  But as a fan of hers I really wish there was more transparency.

The book provides a very good history of Yahoo, Marissa Mayer and some of the key people involved.  It’s really worth a read.

The Complexities of Software Development

Software development is extremely complicated.  As a business it’s a combination of processes, skill sets, roles, resources and methodologies.  As a developer, the programming piece of the pie alone is outstanding.  If any non-programmer were provided a list of all the skills necessary to become a competent programmer I think most would turn around and look for something simpler as a career option.

I really started my life as a developer in my second job at a start-up where I was the lead developer with only 3 years of experience under my belt.  The business owner, whom was a salesperson, thought any major software undertaking could be completed in as little as a few weeks of development.  Those were the days when development occurred at a 100 mph and the software was truly tested at the hands of the client with no true software testing outside of the developer doing his own.

I started programming when PERL/CGI programming was the thing; I have learnt a lot since then. I used to read anything and everything I could get my hands on which was mostly about programming and architecture.  Thinking about processes and dealing with clients and anything that didn’t involve code was foreign to me.  There was no developer bible that I was aware of that could have helped me carve a smoother path. So that’s when I decided I wanted to write a book for those developers of today.  A reference to help them in every aspect as an individual in a company where they need to wear multiple hats.

While taking notes about what I knew and trying to cover as many aspects of software development that I could, it became quite apparent at the effort that would be involved.  One of the keystones of great software is quality assurance and is a very complex undertaking.  Some of the major steps involved are listed below:

  1. Developer Testing
  2. Unit testing
  3. Code review
  4. Integration testing
  5. QA testing
  6. Continuous testing
Each of the items above is a discipline in its own and requires a significant amount of effort to learn and implement, let alone agreeing on the libraries to use, best practices involved, conventions, etc. All based on a set of requirements having previously been provided by the business analyst in concert with the software architect and client. Of course, this is assuming you have a business analyst, or an architect.
This of course is above and beyond the very basics of choosing and learning a programming language, learning best practices for the language’s paradigm. Learning to use the compiler, interpreter, software packaging and deployment. And then learning to debug effectively, profile code and over time being able to write very optimized code without much effort. 
And even these days that’s not enough as now you’re required to develop through the whole stack of the web from HTML & Javascipt through AJAX & JSON to the Java, C#, PHP, etc. back-end via SOAP web services to another server that communicates to the database…maybe.
And then once you’ve mastered all that, being able to consume business requirements and speak technology and vice versa.
Don’t forget also that as a developer, potentially squeezed between the salesperson/client and other developers, you’re required to provide estimates, be able to think in terms of risk and mitigation, and also to be able to clearly define the true Definition of Done and live by it.

It may not be rocket science, but it’s computer science. So if someone does ask, tell them you’re a scientist.

Done. Done.