Susan Wojcicki, Marissa Mayer & Sheryl Sandberg: the Google Trailblazers

Natasha Mulla
Aug 30, 2019 · 7 min read

Something I really love doing is recognising powerful women breaking up the tech industry’s optics.

Like many other tech companies, the gender diversity in higher ranks was severely lacking at Google. I’ll be diving into the lives of three influential women in Google’s early days and beyond.

The origin of Google

The grand empire of Google started in 1995 when Sergey Brin met Larry Page. The pair developed a search engine called BackRub in 1996 — a weirdly named concept centered around analysing “back links” and developing algorithms that ranked the importance of web pages.

BackRub originally ran on Stanford University’s servers (where Larry was a student), but it eventually used up too much bandwidth. The search was offically on for a web domain.

The pair wanted to (thankfully) change the name from BackRub, and Google.com was registered in 1997. “Google” was a play on the word “googol”, which is the mathematical term for the number 1 followed by 100 zeroes, as the founders’ mission was to organise the infinite amount of information on the web. It was suggested by a Stanford student named Sean Anderson, and it’s actually said that Anderson accidentally searched for google.com instead of googol.com (a domain which now returns a 400 bad request).

Google’s first office was, as classic as it may be, in a garage in California. We’ll look into the life of this garage-owner, and the first of our three inspirational Googlers.

Susan Wojcicki

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Susan rented out her garage to Larry and Sergey for $1,700 a month and went on to help carry the company through its baby steps and beyond.

Susan Wojcicki is arguably one of the most influential players in the web as we know it. If you hadn’t heard her name before, you won’t forget it.

Susan studied history and literature at Harvard University, moving on to also study an introductory computer science course (CS50) in her senior year. This course changed Susan’s life, and she moved out to work in Silicon Valley where she had a stint at Intel Corporation.

Whilst renting out her garage, she saw real potential in Larry and Sergey’s idea. The company was tiny at the time, with no more than 15 employees, and she proudly became their 16th employee in 1999 as Google’s first Marketing Manager — and their first employee to be pregnant. She was 4 months pregnant at the time of joining, something Larry and Sergey did not deter from; they even offered to build her a Google day care!

Along with a baby Googler, Susan brought a new mindset to the company. She brought to life the famous Google Doodles that we see on our Google homepage every day, as well as Google Images and Google Books.

Along with these landmark achievements, Susan brought in what could be the idea that changed the internet as we know it. Ads.

Susan was the pioneer behind Google’s AdWords and AdSense programs. She saw great potential in working with advertisers, and her hunch was right.

AdWords is now Google’s main source of revenue, contributing to Google’s total advertising revenues of $95.4 billion US dollars in 2017. The online advertising business today is as lucrative as it is thanks to Susan and her team.

Susan has been known to manage her work-life balance extremely well. She would always try her best to make it home by 6pm for her children, ensuring she didn’t waste any time during her working hours. She’s openly said how being a mother has helped her at work — by being so busy and needing to make the most of her working day, she would bat away the ideas that were growing too slowly and focus on the fast-paced ideas with high potential.

Susan is still a Google employee, and has been YouTube’s CEO since 2014 after advocating for its $1.6 billion dollar acquisition in 2006. She has a net worth of $500 million US dollars, and was #44 on Forbes’ America’s Richest Self-Made Women in 2019.

Marissa Mayer

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Marissa Mayer also joined Google in 1999, and was Google’s first female software engineer and their 20th employee.

Marissa graduated in Computer Science from Stanford with a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree. After learning the basics of computing in her undergrad, she went on to write her own compilers and operating systems in her Master’s to market herself as an established software engineer.

She joined Google as a Product Manager for the Google homepage (accidentally becoming Google’s first Product Manager) and went on to help design the minimalist look that helped Google stand apart from its competition.

She was also a key part of the team behind Google’s AdWords and AdSense alongside Susan Wojcicki thanks to her foundations in AI whilst studying her undergrad degree.

Marissa built the Associate Program Manager (APM) program to train Google’s best and brightest new recruits. The “APM” title is one of Google’s most coveted titles, with many of the APM program’s alumni becoming key leaders in Google’s success as well as outside of the company.

The program covered marketing, engineering, finance and managing people in general; it is still to this day an extremely desired program for graduates across the world, taking in-house training to the next level.

Marissa left Google and went on to become Yahoo’s CEO in 2012. She led the way for Yahoo to acquire Tumblr for $1.1 billion dollars in 2013.

She has received a lot of criticism for how she managed Yahoo, but times were tough for her during her tenure. Growth was slow and there were some unfortunate security breaches, which led Marissa to sell Yahoo to Verizon in a $4.48 billion dollar deal.

She is now a co-founder of Lumi Labs, an early-stage start-up focused on using AI to build consumer applications. Marissa was ranked #35 on Forbes’ America’s Richest Self-Made Women in 2019.

Sheryl Sandberg

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Sheryl Sandberg joined Google in 2001, originally as a general manager, and soon became Vice President of global sales and operations. Within this, she played a key role in leading the sales and operations for Susan Wojcicki’s brilliant advertising projects, AdWords and AdSense.

In her earlier career, Sheryl studied economics from Harvard and started working at World Bank in 1991. She received her Master’s in business administration from Harvard in 1995 and moved on to work at McKinsey & Company until 1996. She then worked at the Treasury Department in 1996 up until leaving for Google in 2001.

After seeing through quick success with building AdWords and AdSense, Sheryl oversaw the annual $150 million dollar arrangement that Google agreed to pay AOL for using its services — a risky move when Google had only $10 million dollars in the bank.

Marissa Mayer was quoted saying, “She [Sheryl Sandberg] got the AOL deal running. She was tough and fearless.” Along with Google’s search engine capabilities, the AOL deal also included the use of AdWords and AdSense; a move that pulled new advertisers in to Google that had previously resisted.

Alongside Sheryl’s sales and operations role, she was also the leader of Google’s philanthropic efforts. One of Sheryl’s most notable contributions was her involvement in the launch of Google.org.

This initiative looks to build products that address global challenges such as climate change, pandemic disease and poverty. Within the Google.org initiative, Sundar Pichai (Google’s CEO) recently announced a 5-year goal to award $1 billion US dollars in grants and contribute 1 million volunteer hours to non-profits; a great effort off the back of Sheryl’s efforts.

Sheryl moved on to join Facebook in 2008 as their Chief Operating Officer, and thanks to her previous knowledge and efforts in sales and operations, she transformed Facebook into a highly profitable company.

She then became the first woman on Facebook’s board of directors in 2012, and was known to have helped break up the ‘Brotopia’ culture within the company. She brought a sense of maturity and fairness, and has to this day encouraged professional women across the world to reach for their goals.

Sheryl was ranked #12 on Forbes’ America’s Richest Self-Made Women in 2019, and is continuing her efforts with her non-profit organisation, Lean In.

Recognising their efforts

It’s difficult to cover the entirety of these three women’s lives, and there’s so much more I would love to delve into. But I think what stands out to me the most is that these women broke through the “Silicon Ceiling”, with little care for sometimes being the only woman in the room, each of them at certain points also becoming mothers.

Whilst some may have mixed opinions on Susan, Marissa or Sheryl’s careers and choices, there can be no doubt that they should all be seen as role models for reaching such heights in their careers in an increasingly difficult environment.

The efforts and achievements they have made to develop Google into the rocket ship that it is, and moving further in their careers to make an impact elsewhere, we should be recognising their drive and determination in so many important landmarks in the history of tech and beyond.

Originally published at http://tashtalkstech.com on August 30, 2019.

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