Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/11/24/dziuba_on_yang/
Jerry Yang - Slugworth to Google's Willy Wonka
How did it come to this?
You Yahoo! Ever since Wonka's Chocolate Factory in Mountain View started serving queries, it has been a living monument to the failure of Sunnyvale's Slugworth - and just about everything that has gone wrong can be blamed on Jerry Yang.
From the days of Jerry and David's Guide to the World Wide Web, Yang has been a constant pain in the ass to anyone with a financial interest in the company. Not heeding the investors' advice to take your money and shut the fuck up like David Filo did, Jerry Yang systematically destroyed shareholder value, employee morale, and just the general sense in the industry that anybody at Yahoo! has their shit together.
Yahoo! is now on its deathbed as Microsoft is watching through the window, hoping that it doesn't get stuck with the funeral arrangements. Google, in its characteristically understated sense of superiority, has no words, but the enlightened-San-Franciscan-I-told-you-so smirk on its face says it all. As with the degenerate drug user who took a taste of tina at a party and years later ended up a full blown crystal meth addict living in a park in the Mission, you have to ask: How did it come to this?
Failing to Enslave the Oompah Loompahs
From its beginning, Yahoo! attracted mediocrity in engineering. Larry Page and Sergey Brin, on the other hand, realized that not only do you need to hire the best engineers to have a successful software company, you also need to make them love you unconditionally. To cultivate that kind of blind faith, a quality Loompah needs an interesting project. It may not always make immediate business sense, but it's the only way, if you want the servitude just right. Once you've convinced a Loompah that you really have his best interest at heart, you can put him on a boring, money-making project for a while. It's this machinery that has kept Wonka rolling in cash, but made every product beyond Gmail a dud.
An alpha nerd applying for a job at Yahoo! will likely be turned off by the selection of PHP as a first order programming language. In the programming world, PHP is considered an “aw, how cute” language. Google uses C++, which is sure to attract a top-notch engineer whose only way to express his masculinity is the speed with which he can ace an academic recursive programming problem and the condescending modesty he has while explaining the solution. A good Loompah will be much more stimulated by Google's interview process than Yahoo!'s. It is a little known fact that when interviewing for a position in engineering, candidates at Google are not only graded on the efficiency and correctness of their solutions, but also their ability to deliver the answer in the form of a short song and dance routine. No such evaluation is made at Yahoo!.
Google Loompahs are completely protected from the outside world. They don't have to deal with scary things like commuting to work or paying for lunch. Wonka provides all, and in return, he expects your devotion. Yahoo! doesn't run a massive transit system to shuttle employees back and forth to work, and they charge for lunch in the cafeteria. In Silicon Valley, that kind of abusive treatment is just tacky. This creates the difference between Google-Loompahs and Yahoo! employees: at Yahoo!, the managers try to forcibly shackle the employees, while at Google, the Loompahs demand their shackles and will raise hell if they don't get them.
While hiring issues and entertainment of engineers aren't directly Jerry Yang's fault, they are still within his general blast radius of failure and set the tone for disasters to come. As Chief Yahoo!, nobody was quite sure what Yang was responsible for, but as CEO, it became abundantly obvious what he shouldn't be responsible for.
I Need an Adult
When Yang took over the CEO position from Terry Semel in June of 2007, Yahoo! had already become the stagnation nation. Nobody ever expected Yang to have to handle a grownup situation like the Microsoft buyout offer that came nine months later. His failure to take his money and shut the fuck up sent Yahoo! on its death spiral. Microsoft's bid was $31 per share, which at the time was a 62 per cent premium to shareholders. With Yahoo!'s stock hovering triumphantly around $9 per share right now, you have to wonder: Are Jerry Yang's decisions worse than decisions made at random? I mean, even on the SAT, if you guess at every answer, statistically, you're going to be right 25 per cent of the time.
The real fuck-up wasn't Yang's playing footsie with Microsoft's offer, it was his refusal to admit that he was in way over his head. After broadcasting his incompetence to Microsoft, Yahoo!'s shareholders and his employees, he stayed on as CEO. We can't stop here. This is bat country.
Still unsure as to whether Yang's leadership was a comedy or a tragedy, Steve Ballmer gave up. Like a girlfriend with too much emotional baggage, Microsoft figured that putting up with Yahoo!'s bullshit would really just make things worse. One of the classic characteristics of crazy girlfriends is that they don't know that they're crazy, and Yang is no exception. In a recent interview with The Wall Street Journal's adorably terse Kara Swisher, when asked if he had any fucking clue what he was doing, Yang replied:
...in this uncertain environment, I think I am absolutely the right person. Times like this require a leader who really understands this company and its customers, and I think I do. The world is a different place today than even a month ago and I think I am the best person to guide Yahoo through this volatile time.
Roughly translated, that means “No.”
Don't Forget To Take Your Massive Truck of Fail With You
Finally, ten months after he should have quit, Yang is throwing in the towel. Of course, before he packs his shit, he will lay off 10 per cent of the workforce and run an informal competition with himself to see just how low he can send the stock price of the company before the other 90 per cent up and quits. Microsoft isn't interested in a buyout anymore - rightfully so. The top talent fled months ago, earnings are in the shitter, and morale among employees is just shy of fueling a mutiny.
Yang is still going to keep the once playful but now annoying title of Chief Yahoo!. Whatever his role in the future, for the sake of everyone still associated with the company, let's all hope that he just takes his money and shuts the fuck up. ®
Ted Dziuba is a co-founder at Milo.com You can read his regular Reg column, Fail and You, every other Monday.