Marissa Mayer, Google’s first female engineer and current CEO of Yahoo!, sat down with Cleveland Clinic CEO Toby Cosgrove on Sept.16 as part of Cleveland Clinic’s “Ideas for Tomorrow” speaker series.
In his introduction to Mayer’s talk about her life’s unexpected trajectory, Cosgrove said that she defies false stereotypes and tends to take a path not many people would take.
After getting accepted into Harvard University and Yale University, Mayer decided to attend Stanford University for its broad undergraduate education experiences. Fascinated with the workings of the brain, she intended to become a pediatric neurosurgeon.
During a school break, Mayer visited friends from high school in her home state of Wisconsin and found that her pre-medicine friends were learning the exact same material as her.
“I wanted to do something unique to Stanford and later discovered I was not so much interested in the physiology of the brain but rather its processes,” said Mayer.
She eventually decided to major in “Symbolic Systems,” a major at Stanford that focuses on the relationships between computers and the mind. That major ultimately led her to complete a Masters in Computer Science.
After completing her masters, Mayer had 12 job offers, including one from McKinsey and Company as well as one from Google. Mayer revealed that picking the job was stressful but taught her a major life lesson.
“Oftentimes I think we think of choices as good or bad, but in reality I think there are many good choices,” said Mayer. “It’s up to you to pick a [good] choice and make it great.”
Mayer ultimately decided to work at Google because she wanted to be surrounded by the smartest people and be a part of an idea that could change the world.
Out of her bosses there, Mayer respects Larry Page the most, loves Sergey Brin the most and learned the most from Eric Schmidt.
Throughout her tenure at Google, Mayer was primarily in charge of “search” and is noted for giving the Google homepage its clean aesthetic. Before leaving for Yahoo!, Mayer was Vice-President of Local, Maps and Location Services.
Mayer actually left Google in 2012 to become the CEO of Yahoo! to the technology community’s shock.
Mayer noted that her bosses at Google wished her well and there were no hard feelings.
“As I was leaving Google and my hand was on the door, Sergey said, ‘Wait’ and told me ‘Don’t forget to be bold,’” said Mayer. “And I always have that phrase in the back of my mind when I am making decisions.”
At Yahoo!, Mayer’s first priority was revamping the company culture and hiring more great people.
“What makes all technology products work are [the] people,” said Mayer.
Going forward Mayer said that Yahoo! will focus on mobile and making it an immersive experience for its users.
Cosgrove ended the session by asking Mayer what life advice she would give to young adults.
“Do things you’re not ready to do and feel really unprepared. Push yourself through that fear and learn about yourself,” said Mayer. “That being said, look for an environment that makes you comfortable. While those two ideas seem conflicting, I like to make the comparison to physical exercise. When you’re exercising you want to push yourself to go past your own barriers, but you want to wear comfortable clothes while doing it.”