CLOSE-UP: MARISSA MAYER
CURRENT JOB: Vice president of location and local services, Google
DATE OF BIRTH: 30 May 1975
BIRTHPLACE: Wausau, Wis.
HEIGHT: 173 centimeters (5 feet 8 inches)
FAMILY: Married to Zachary Bogue
EDUCATION: B.S. symbolic systems, 1997, and M.S. computer science, 1999, both at Stanford University
FIRST JOB: Checkout girl at Crossroads County Market, Wausau, Wis.
FIRST TECHNOLOGY JOB:
Sales clerk at Software Etc., selling CompuServe and AOL access packages, database software, and popular computer games
ODDEST JOB: Usher at Roger’s Cinema, Wausau, charged with, among other things, telling people to keep their feet off the seats
BIGGEST SURPRISE IN CAREER:
The scale of it all. She says, “When I started at Google it had 400 000 searches a day. We’re now at more than 2 billion. There’s probably only a handful of people in the world who’ve had the opportunity to scale something 5000 times over.”
PATENTS: Four or five issued, several dozen pending
NONPROFIT BOARD MEMBERSHIPS:
San Francisco Ballet; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum; New York City Ballet
MOST RECENT BOOK READ:
Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh, founder of Zappos; Churchill by Paul Johnson
FAVORITE BOOK: The Design of Everyday Things by Donald A. Norman
COMPUTER: MacBook Pro
PHONES: Verizon iPhone 4, Verizon Droid Incredible, T-Mobile Nexus S, AT&T iPhone; Verizon 4G data card
FAVORITE TELEVISION SHOWS:
“Brothers and Sisters,” “Gossip Girl,” “Beverly Hills 90210,” “Grey’s Anatomy”
FAVORITE FOOD: Grilled cheese sandwiches
FAVORITE RESTAURANTS: Jean-Georges and La Bonne Soupe, in New York
FAVORITE MOVIES: It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), Say Anything (1989), Willie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971), Moulin Rouge (2001), Legally Blonde (2001)
LEISURE ACTIVITIES: Skiing (snow and water), boating, running, travel
LANGUAGES SPOKEN: English, some Spanish, some German/Swiss German
MAJOR AWARDS: Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum; Glamour’s Woman of the Year for 2009; Juliette Gordon Low Award from the Girl Scouts in 2008; honorary Ph.D. from the Illinois Institute of Technology, 2009
The ranks of bona fide international celebrities in technology is rather small, if by “bona fide” you mean people whose fame has something to do with actual technological acumen and achievement. But now let’s draw up a list of all the female bona fide international tech celebrities:
1. Marissa Mayer.
End of list.
Mayer was the first female engineer and among the first 20 people hired at Google. She was a major force behind its user interface. For 10 years, she ran its core search business while the company demolished such competitors as AltaVista, Lycos, and Excite. Now, at age 37, she’s in charge of one of Google’s hottest bunch of technologies: location and local services. She oversees more than 1000 engineers and product managers who are refining Google Maps, Google Places, and Google Earth and also developing the technology behind applications that may revolutionize the mobile Web as much as the search engine transformed the original one.
Mayer is also one of the world’s more unusual pop stars, a brainy blond paparazzi magnet that gossip site Gawker once referred to as “Google’s star-dappled moon queen.” She’s been on the cover of Newsweek. For her wedding two years ago, covered in Vogue, superchef Jean-Georges Vongerichten personally prepared the food. Her brassy laugh, a low-pitched machine-gun staccato, is downloadable as a ringtone. Her speech, too, comes at you in a rapid-fire volley, as she pulls precise dates and statistics from the encyclopedia of her brain without a perceptible pause.
Tech caught Mayer’s attention when she was a cherubic 7-year-old in Wausau, Wis. A playmate’s brother, a stunningly precocious 4-year-old, had taken a talking toy calculator that normally spouted profundities like “Two plus two equals four” and rewired it to greet him by name. “I thought that was amazing,” Mayer recalls. In third grade she wrote little programs that drew simple patterns using a Commodore 64 computer. Programming came easily for her, but it was in medicine, not engineering, that little Miss Mayer decided her future lay. “I made the decision that I was going to be a pediatric neurosurgeon who taught at a medical school while taking exceptional cases,” she recalls. She was 12 years old.
So it was that six years later Mayer entered Stanford University on a premed track. She bought her first computer in 1993 during her freshman year—a Macintosh Centris 610. “I couldn’t find the on/off switch,” she says.
At Stanford, during the last quarter of her freshman year, she took CS 105A—Computer Science for Non-Majors—simply to fulfill a graduation requirement. They did a little simple programming, she recalls, and the professor, Stephen Clausing, also introduced them to Mosaic, the first popular Web browser, then brand new, by asking them to find out the price of country-fried steak at a nearby restaurant.
Mayer got an A in the course, and more important, she really liked it. What she hadn’t realized at the time was that she had taken her first steps off her planned path to premed.
But it was less Mayer’s innate talent than simple frugality that pushed her toward computer science. Talking with friends back home in Wisconsin between her freshman and sophomore years, she discovered that she was getting basically the same premed education she would have gotten at the University of Wisconsin, but at a vastly greater cost.
On the plane back to California at the end of that summer, perusing Stanford’s course catalog, she discovered a major called symbolic systems. An amalgam of computer science, psychology, linguistics, and philosophy, it was designed to look at how people think and how a computer might emulate that process. Here, surely, was an education worth Stanford’s sky-high tuition.
She took her first linguistics course in the fall, along with one last biology course, just to be sure. But she didn’t venture back into computer science until the winter of her sophomore year, waiting until the popular professor Eric Roberts would be teaching the introductory programming course.