It’s the closest thing Silicon Valley has to Professor X’s School for Gifted Youngsters.
For a decade at Google, Marissa Mayer ran the Associate Product Manager program, an elite training regimen for recruiting fresh talent into its ranks. Google chairman Eric Schmidt has said he expects one of its alumni to be CEO of the company one day.
And now that she’s running Yahoo, Mayer may make her own use of the connections she forged. Wired called the APM program, which takes in about 40 people at a time, Mayer’s “secret weapon” for recruiting talent.
Mayer started the program in 2002 because Google was struggling to find recruits who could work in the company’s consensual power structure. Experienced product managers from companies like Microsoft, used to top-down command, weren’t fitting in well. So Google instead puts raw recruits, often fresh out of college, through a two-year training program, including an international trip personally led by Mayer.
Google doesn’t expect its APMs to be lifers—after all, it’s looking for entrepreneurial talent. And many of them have gone on to start their own companies.
“We get two to four good years, and if 20 percent stay with the company, that’s a good rate,” Mayer told Newsweek in 2007. “Even if they leave it’s still good for us. I’m sure that someone in this group is going to start a company that I will buy some day.”
Now that she’s running Yahoo, that’s more true than ever.
Brian Rakowski is now Google’s vice president for Chrome.
Rakowski was the very first associate product manager. We saw him in action at the Google I/O 2012 conference: He’s an impressive and passionate presenter Wired writer Steven Levy reports that Rakowski will now be running the APM program.
Bret Taylor cofounded FriendFeed.
After selling FriendFeed to Facebook, Taylor became CTO and a close confidant of CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Taylor quit Facebook last month, and now everyone’s watching his next move.
Salahuddin Choudhary runs Etch Technologies.
Choudhary is keeping an eye on his fellow alumni—he provided a list of former APMs on Quora, the question-and-answer site.
It’s known that Google constantly updates the algorithm, with 550 improvements this year—to deliver smarter results and weed out the crap—but there are a few major updates in its history that have significantly altered Google’s search, distilled in a helpful chart in the Wired piece. For instance, in 2001, they completely rewrote the algorithm; in 2003, they added local connectivity analysis; in 2005, results got personal; and most recently, they’ve added in real-time search for Twitter and blog posts.
The sum of everything Google’s worked on—the quest to understand what you mean, not what you say—can be boiled down to this:
This is the hard-won realization from inside the Google search engine, culled from the data generated by billions of searches: a rock is a rock. It’s also a stone, and it could be a boulder. Spell it “rokc” and it’s still a rock. But put “little” in front of it and it’s the capital of Arkansas. Which is not an ark. Unless Noah is around. “The holy grail of search is to understand what the user wants,” Singhal says. “Then you are not matching words; you are actually trying to match meaning.”
Oh, and by the way, you’re a guinea pig every time you search for something, if you hadn’t guessed as much already. Google engineer Patrick Riley tells Levy, “On most Google queries, you’re actually in multiple control or experimental groups simultaneously.” It lets them constantly experiment on a smaller scale—even if they’re only conducting a particular experiment on .001 percent of queries, that’s a lot of data.
Be sure to check out the whole piece, it’s ridiculously fascinating, and borders on self-knowledge, given how much we all use Google (sorry, Bing). [Wired, Sweet graphic by Wired's Mauricio Alejo]
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Dr. Augustine Fou is Digital Consigliere to marketing executives, advising them on digital strategy and Unified Marketing(tm). Dr Fou has over 17 years of in-the-trenches, hands-on experience, which enables him to provide objective, in-depth assessments of their current marketing programs and recommendations for improving business impact and ROI using digital insights.
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