POSTED: Tuesday, July 17, 2012 - 5:00am
UPDATED: Tuesday, July 17, 2012 - 5:04am
TECH NEWS (CNN) — Google's first female engineer, Marissa Mayer, has made a career out of bucking expectations -- and she did so once again on Monday by announcing she will leave Google to be the new CEO of Yahoo, the struggling company that once was Google's main competitor.
The tech world reacted with shock to the news. But it's perhaps time everyone got used to the idea that Mayer, who was Google's 20th employee and who is credited with the success of many of its most famous products, isn't the kind of person who does only what people expect her to do.
"There is such a stereotype of the hacker -- the pasty-skinned guy with the thick glasses, the pocket protector, the blue glow coming off of the monitor ... people think if they're going to be good at this, that's what they need to be," Mayer told CNN in an interview earlier this year.
"You can be good at technology and like fashion and art. You can be good at technology and be a jock. You can be good at technology and be a mom. You can do it your way, on your terms."
Mayer, sometimes referred to as the "Googirl," certainly has charted her own course, often weaving seemingly disparate worlds and interests together.
Raised in Wausau, Wisconsin, the 37-year-old joined Google in 1999 when it was a fledgling start-up, not an Internet titan. She danced in "The Nutcracker" ballet at Stanford and earned a degree in computer science. She espouses a love for cupcakes -- but, according to interviews with other news organizations, once created a spreadsheet to determine the perfect recipe.
At Google, Mayer was responsible for overseeing the launch of some of the company's most iconic products, including Gmail, Google Maps and iGoogle.
But it was her keen design aesthetic that in part led to her success at Google, which she helped grow into one of the biggest tech and Internet companies on the planet. Mayer's most enduring legacy at Google may prove to be the company's search engine homepage, with its minimalist feel, ample white space and bright blue, red, yellow and green colors. She is credited with pushing for that clean, approachable look -- which seems to be a reflection of her style outside the office, too.
"An engineer at heart, she also had something that many of her peers did not during Google's early days: a keen sense of style and design," the New York Times wrote in a 2009 profile. "She adored bold blocks of color against a white background, much like the Marimekko prints that once hung in her childhood home. ... Her San Francisco penthouse has a similar, but more expensive, aesthetic. It is painted in neutral shades and decorated with fanciful, multihued glass artwork by Dale Chihuly."
Mayer told the paper that people who come to her penthouse sometimes are confused, saying: "Does your apartment look like Google or does Google look like your apartment?'"
Along with executive chairman Eric Schmidt, Mayer has been one of Google's most visible public faces for the past decade. A frequent speaker at tech conferences, she has lent a dash of glamour to the jeans-and-hoodie world of many young tech engineers.
As one of a relatively small number of women in high-ranking positions in tech -- Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman are two others -- Mayer often is asked about what she thinks about the role of women in her field.
"I actually think it's the wrong question," she told Newsweek/The Daily Beast in an interview in May. "It's a question that hangs us up and causes the progress to be slower. The truth is we're not producing enough computer scientists, period."
Passion, she says, is what really matters. Not gender.
"I'm not a woman at Google, I'm a geek at Google," she told CNN in April. "If you can find something that you're really passionate about, whether you're a man or a woman comes a lot less into play. Passion is a gender-neutralizing force."
Mayer will need plenty of passion if she is to help right the ship at Yahoo, a struggling company that has seen its recent CEOs pass through the company in quick succession.
Many think she is the right person for that job.
"Marissa Mayer is one of a few people who has enough gravitas to ignore public markets for a while and do what's long-term best for Yahoo," Chris Dixon, a prominent Silicon Valley investor, wrote on Twitter shortly after the news was announced.
Marc Andreessen, another prominent venture capitalist, reportedly praised the move, saying Mayer will be a product-minded CEO.
Forbes said the Yahoo job puts Mayer "in the running for the title of the most powerful woman in tech."
And the blog ReadWriteWeb said she is "just what Yahoo needs."
"This is a great move for Yahoo, which has stewed in mediocrity for years," wrote ReadWriteWeb's Dan Frommer. "Mayer, a big shot in Silicon Valley and a perfectionist product-type executive, could legitimately make Yahoo respectable again. At the very least, she will command attention."