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Yahoo’s legacy for me

Yesterday was a very emotional day for me… Yesterday was the last FYI (our weekly Yahoo-wide meeting). Something that Marissa started after she arrived at Yahoo in July 2012.

I have never shed tears at my place of work before. So, I wondered why I was all choked up and could not get words out.

My career consists of just two companies in the United States. Roughly equal in time across both, at the first being 11 years, and now at Yahoo more than 9 years.

I remember the last months of my previous (1st) employment in the US. I could not wait to get out. I had a lot of connections in the company, and they gave me a warm goodbye. However, there was no affinity, no camaraderie, we were just employees. We never built a cult(ure).

Then I joined Yahoo in 2008. I was discouraged by many. I had my own doubts, as I was moving from the East coast across to the West. I was changing companies after a long stint. Yahoo stock was not doing well back then. To add to the fun, the day I joined, Microsoft bid $31/share to buy Yahoo. I thought – “big change, new company, in turmoil, simple website, solved technical problems” – lets give it a year or two and move on.

I have been at Yahoo now for more than 9 years. And, I will continue as part of “Oath”.  How did a year or two become almost ten? Why, not just me, but thousands of employees around the world feel that great affinity to this company, this brand? Why do ex-employees say “I bleed purple” when they refer to Yahoo? Why do alumni groups meet up regularly and share experiences?

It is all about the PEOPLE, CULTURE and OPPORTUNITY. 

For me, the best part has been the opportunity to meet and work with these leaders at Yahoo who impacted my life (professionally and otherwise). You will see a common theme of traits that made them special.

a) Belief in employees
b) Humility and down-to-earth demeanor
c) Strong sense of culture
d) Serve the employees, users and shareholders

1. Chuck Neerdaels

Chuck was my first manager at Yahoo. I had never worked for Chuck before, and when I moved to California, I was pleasantly surprised. He was calm, cool and collected (or seemed to be) all the time. Usually the smartest guy in the room, and would rarely try to prove it.

What did I learn from Chuck and why? He was ready to take a bet on me to run a team and lead execution of a tough project, just after a couple of months of being an architect in his group. He was not fainthearted to make hard decisions. And, even when he gave negative feedback to a team or individual, it came across as being a great coach/partner.

Chuck also was a deeply technical manager. He understood technology and technical details. And never let go of being technically differentiated in what we proposed or built.

2. David Filo

Filo is one of the finest human beings you can find. He is humble. Cares about the employees, users and shareholders of the company. He is the soul of Yahoo. 

What did I learn from Filo? Be humble, be grounded. It is not how much you are worth in terms of money or material wealth. It is more important on how you impact lives. He has created something that has given pleasure to thousands of employees and millions of users for 22 years, and more to come.

Initially Filo seemed very reserved, serious and non-people person to me. I have been accused of the same. But over the years, on many occasions, he would reach out to me (during periods of change), check on me, and even find out what my thinking was on some professional decision I had made. And, as I spoke to people in the company, others gave me examples of the same.

A common moniker that Filo is called by is “Cheap” Yahoo (a take on “Chief Yahoo”). Filo is known for his stinginess about capital expenditures. However, my observation was that he was not being cheap, but rather raising the bar. Every time he would ask us to do more experiments or change the estimate, he was actually pushing us to raise the bar on technology and capabilities in order to increase shareholder value.

If you want to give an example to your kids about how to lead ones life, he would be my example. Humble, Human, Caring, Passionate…

3. Jay Rossiter

I have been in Jay’s chain of management for the longest in my career. Either directly or through a layer. And, so have known Jay as my org leader for many years now.

What struck me about Jay, was that he is always ready to invest in people. He believed in me, and my potential, and invested in growing me and my career.

When he saw the gaps, he was not hesitant to point them out. During one promotion cycle early on, he pulled  my name out from the list (which I still insist was a mistake.)  I was upset, and felt that I was ready and deserved. I could have resigned, changed jobs, moved to a different organization. His conviction in doing the right thing for me, his organization, and the company allowed him to make the hard call.

I stayed on, because I had appreciation of his approach and warmth. I knew he had everyone’s best interests in mind. And, in fact, he went one step further to get an executive coach to help me grow in those gaps. He has been one true mentor for me in my career.

And, I have seen Jay do this investment to many folks in the company throughout his career.

I can go on about how Jay is technical, committed, with high integrity. The list would be too long and will show all the positives of a great organizational leader. Above all, like Chuck, like Filo, Jay is a super humble person.

4. Marissa Mayer

If there is one person that I have seen energize and change the culture of a company. And do it in just a couple of years. It is Marissa Mayer. I remember the first company-wide strategy presentation, and I remember thinking “wow”….  now finally we have a CEO who understands the consumer internet, our users, and how to build great products that can compete for the limited time users are willing to spend online. 


Marissa had bold ambitious goals for the resurgence of Yahoo. And, she brought cultural changes in Yahoo around that mission. Free food, workspace changes, smart phone smart fun, dogwood of our apps, WFH, FYI, PB&J. There are countless changes both small and big. The goal was to unite the company, inspire all the employees, and make us part of that mission.

So the main impact that Marissa had on me is, it’s “all about culture”. She knew and remembered every employee she interacted with. Sometimes spent hours talking to employees who queued up in lines. Even yesterday.

Over the last few years I got many questions from friends and family – “How is Yahoo doing under Marissa”, “How is Marissa as a CEO”, “Do you know Marissa?”. I always skirted and avoided the answer being careful about not revealing internal details that I would be privy to.

I personally loved every minute of the 5 years of her tenure, the faith she had in me and many of my colleagues to execute and deliver on the mission. And, she worked tirelessly for the employees, users and shareholders. So, to me the following words embody what Marissa did:

“Success is the peace of mind which is a direct result of self satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best you are capable” – John Wooden

We all gave it our f**king best!!

As a new journey begins for Yahoo, so does one for me. I am hoping that I can carry forward some of the learning from these leaders, and learn from new ones at Oath.

7

It’s tough to adequately describe how weird it is to be mourning over the death of a CEO for a company, one that you’ve not only never met, but one that was ultimately trying to sell you a product. Even more tough, is trying to adequately describe how said product could make an impact on your life. I started gaming with Sonic on the Dreamcast, Nintendo’s rival, but soon jumped ship to the GameCube as the Dreamcast died. I started Nintendo just as Iwata took over, basically. Unless you want to count Pokemon Silver, which Iwata had a huge hand in, making that title ultimately rise above and beyond what it was going to be before he took part. Without this odd past time of mine, I wouldn’t have the friends that I have, and I wouldn’t have the life experiences I’ve been so privileged to enjoy. I’ve met the people who work on my favorite series. I got to look the man who directed the first ever game I played in the eye, shake his hand, and thank him for that game. In those few seconds where you get to meet someone like that, there’s no possible way to explain to them that their product can unite people. That it’s so much more to you than lines of code, that it’s truly something that brings together families, friends, and complete strangers. That those people the game brought together can motivate and inspire each other. To give them reason to even want to live, at times. But in those few seconds, when your eyes meet, I think those who truly understand theri craft can get that. Certainly, Iwata is an example of a leading man who “got it.” 


After becoming president of Nintendo, Iwata did something atypical of the CEO position by directly jumping onto the development of Super Smash Bros. Melee in its final weeks to help personally ensure that console’s first major release would ship as close to the console’s launch as possible. Under his lead, the atypical was the typical. 


He started as a freelance programmer. His work on Balloon Fight, an under-appreciated NES title, laid the groundwork for under water game play in Super Mario Bros. Thanks to him, an important HAL Laboratories game came into existence, leading Masahiro Sakurai to sketch the puffball that eventually became a Nintendo icon, Kirby. He personally programmed the battle code for Pokemon Stadium in 11 days. He laid further ground work on the first Super Smash Bros. title, and personally got approval for each of the game’s playable characters. As the first non-Yamauchi to lead the company, he stuck true to the visions of Nintendo games. “Make something unique.” The industry scoffed as he introduced the Nintendo Dual Screen, and today it’s hard to imagine portable gaming without that second screen. The press and other companies laughed as the name “Nintendo Wii” was uttered in lieu of the much more promising “Nintendo Revolution”, and once it released, you were hard pressed to find a Nintendo Wii anywhere. Over time, the system with a silly name would be a huge peak in Nintendo’s recent profits at the time.


The DS and Wii successors, Nintendo 3DS, and Nintendo Wii U, made much less of a splash in the market. As the company failed to meet its estimates, Iwata took a personal 50% pay cut and held himself responsible. He did this not only as a show of good will to investors and fans a like, but so that he wouldn’t have to lay off anyone from the company. In his mind, these products could not succeed without every one. This is perhaps the most atypical thing he did in his time running the show, in comparison to others who run their own. He had a family. Kids to feed. But he didn’t blame others. He didn’t punish others. He took it square in the jaw, kept his chin up, and moved forward. 


Despite those financial failures, Iwata was a man who truly understood the gaming market. While things such as the Wii U can certainly call into question how well the market was read, it’s important not to forget a speech he gave years ago giving caution of mobile gaming in smart phones. As he warned that the mobile market would lead to a devaluing of product worth, he was openly met with laughter from his audience. Today, with “free-to-start” smart phone games being available by the dozens, and with paid games fighting their way to the lowest price they can to appeal to an incredibly fleeting and distracted consumer base, it’s easy to see that he correctly read trends.


Moving on from that in recent years, NIntendo has had a much different public image. Once notoriously secretive, Iwata flung the doors wide open. Higher-ups became forward facing to their audience by use of “Nintendo Directs”, and Iwata would personally sit down with people developing games for his console and give them a spotlight on “Iwata’s Ask”. These interviews not only gave insight to development problems and successes that only the most hardcore of game enthusiasts would care about, but they opened up and earnestly displayed the personalities of otherwise unrelatable and inaccessible businessmen and businesswomen. This, perhaps, makes his passing such a difficult pill to swallow.


The last time fans of the company heard Iwata’s voice, was through the company’s 2015 Nintendo Digital Event. Iwata, alongside Reggie Fils-Aime and Shigeru Miyamoto, took literal Muppet forms to present their upcoming software to their audience. While for all involved, it was likely a cute way to entertain their hardcore audience and engage them in their game content, I suspect (and hope that it’s not reaching), that Iwata recognized his time was short, and wanted to leave the fan’s vision as what he had become in recent memory; a symbol. Iwata turned public perception of Nintendo into something that exudes charm, approach-ability, and sincerity, and perhaps the largest part of that was his participation in every region’s Nintendo Direct. The silly things he did, like the bunch of bananas bit, and how he wasn’t afraid to laugh at himself for silly things like the bunch of bananas bit. He wanted to make his viewers, and fans of his company’s product, laugh. To be entertained. His public persona perfectly complimented what he had carefully crafted this company to become. 


That Digital Event was a source of massive disappointment to many of Nintendo’s fans. No “Megaton announcements” to be had, the event mostly focused on software that has been announced for a while now, with announcements of new entries in franchises that deviated from what made people loved those new franchises. It’s certainly fair for an audience to express their disappointment, but with certain segments of hat audience creating petitions calling for games to be outright cancelled, it’s hard not to imagine the stress Iwata must have carried in his final weeks. A man that, increasingly in recent years, catered to the fans of his company, only to be met with massive backlash. 


What can we, an audience separated from this man by the walls of business, take away from his career? Perseverance. To keep going, no matter what detractors say. Even if the people who should be lifting you up are letting you down, to push ahead. Determination. To work hard. To always keep a calm head despite the circumstances. Virtues. To learn how much to cater to others while remembering to stay true to your ideals. The knowledge that even starting from the bottom, you can work your way to the top. Humility. To know that it’s okay to be silly, and it’s definitely okay to laugh at yourself. Going from, and perhaps more than all that, I think the biggest thing we can take from him, is Fun. To always be playful, to be curious.


Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must go Directly to enjoy the fruits of this man’s labor. I hope that you’ll join me. Let’s pour a glass and remember that it’s all about Fun. 

3

Some cute flowers I’ve seen recently.

I didn’t take any of my old antidepressants today and I felt fine without them so I think it’s safe to say, “out with the old and in with the new.”

I’ve been taking the NEW antidepressants for a total of 5 days so far. And I’ve been taking the folic acid for 4 days. Nothing to report as of yet. But I think it’s too soon to notice much. I will keep you updated. 

Since everyone in the house is disabled (my parents have severe chronic pain), it turns out we are eligible for a free smart phone. We’ve never had one of these contraptions before. I’ll admit, it’s a brand I’ve never heard of, it’s a bit slow to respond, the camera is awful, and it runs an older version of android… but for a grand total of freeee, it’s pretty nice! I don’t want to sound ungrateful. It’s something we really needed and couldn’t really afford. So even though it’s not the best, it’s pretty great for us. I have a feeling that like so many, it will be an essential part of our life. 

I’ve been noodling with the phone and then showing my mom how to do stuff. I tried installing tumblr and facebook, but they load so slow they were pretty unusable. Text messaging works great and my mom has been practicing with me and some of my friends. She types with one finger… but so do I… so I don’t think either of us are going to be speedy typers. 

Basic googling works great and we’ve even gotten the hang of voice activated stuff. My mom was yelling “shampoo” into Amazon and my dad was like, “What?” And we were like, “We’re talking to the phone!” And he was like, “You’re talking on the phone?” And we were like, “We’re talking TO the phone.” And he was like, “Ohhhhhh.”

We tried letting Frogdad hold it, but then he accidentally called my brother at midnight. He was blessed with large thumbs and I think they failed him on this occasion. I’m sure he’ll get his phone privileges back soon. 

So that’s our new phone adventures. Exciting stuff. 

Tonight I did something I knew I was going to regret. I watched the newest Ninja Turtle movie. It got a 40% on Rotten Tomatoes and I don’t know how it got that high. It moves so fast that you can hardly keep up. The jokes are bad, the acting is bad, the movie is just… bad. I will say that the CGI is impressive. I don’t like the turtle designs at all, but they look pretty real most of the time. 

As you can probably tell, I’m still not sleeping through the night. It is so damn quiet at 4am! Sometimes I contemplate waking Otis up so he will play with me. I just don’t like to be lonely. 

I think that’s all for now. I figure at least a few weeks before I know if my medicine will work. I’ve got all my fingers and toes crossed. 

That’s not true. 

My toes don’t have that kind of dexterity. 

My apologies for the fib.