I’ve been mulling this one for a while, but finally had to pull the trigger. I’ll be leaving Yahoo! Search at the end of the month, and going to a small startup.
The decision was hard, because there is absolutely nothing wrong with my Yahoo! job. The people in Engineering, Research and Applied Research (the last of those being where I currently work) are both top-flight and really nice. The company has been good to me, and kept giving me more scope and new interesting problems to work on. And I am proud of the team that I’ve put together over the last couple of years.
I’m also optimistic about Yahoo! Search itself. The search-ad quality and monetization problems are real, and have been well-publicized, but seem to be getting fixed (although I hasten to say that I don’t have inside info on that part of the org, and get my news about it once a quarter just like everyone else). And I think anyone who makes a serious study of organic web search quality (you know, those listings down below the ads ) knows that that the top two players (Y and G) are neck-and-neck. Who is going to have the highest-quality general web search a year from now? I think it’s still going to be a brutal battle between the current top three (including MSN), and the winner will be whoever can innovate and execute the fastest. I’m sorry I’m going to watch that particular game from the sidelines, because it’s definitely not even halftime yet.
As to the broader company …. it’s honestly hard for me to come away with a single opinion. Companies as large as Yahoo! are inevitably mosaics of technologies and subcultures, and even more so when (as with Y!) much of their growth has been by acquisition. Some of Y!’s strategic planning has been brilliant IMHO (including locking up Overture, Inktomi, and Altavista a few years ago); some plays haven’t been well thought through; some have been perfectly well thought through, but just didn’t happen to work. Yahoo! to its credit, is willing to experiment, and seems to be heading in a direction that will let it experiment even more aggressively. The efforts to kickstart a culture of experimentation (through Hack Days, Developer APIs) have been more successful than anyone could have predicted.
But anyway, blogs are supposed to be an exercise in narcissism, so enough about Yahoo! – back to me! Why am I leaving? Well, it’s mostly just that I’ve never worked for a startup before (well, except for a couple of very unfunded and _very_ small ones :)), and have always wanted to mix it up a little betwen startups and bigcorps. I’ll blog more about the particular startup later, but suffice it to say that there’s an odd convergence of both people and subject matter from a couple of different phases of my life (i.e. both AI grad school and the web search era). And I have tasted the secret sauce, and I have drunk some of the kool-aid, and found them to be tasty and refreshing. All of which left me thinking: “OK, so you want to work at a startup at some point – if not this one, then what? and when?” I couldn’t come up with an answer.
It’s particularly hard to leave friends that you have worked with for so long. I joined Inktomi in April 2002, so in some sense I’ve been at the same job for close to five years, which as we know is an eon in internet time units. I’ve had to remind myself that my friends will remain my friends, regardless of where I’m working, and that I can’t make career decisions based on my desire to continue playing foosball and billiards in the same place.