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June 18, 2008

YAHOO! Engineers Resign and Are Microsoft engineers thinking the same?

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It's like a major love hate triangle between YAHOO!, Google and Microsoft these days. You could make a movie on all this drama going on with these giants. YAHOO! may have forged an alliance with Google, but this week brought bad news for it as well.

News broke this week that a number of senior Yahoo engineers are leaving. Despite the fact that all of them stressed that their walkouts have nothing to do with the now-failed Microsoft merger, there’s a good chance that that’s probably what it is. Let’s take a quick look at why the departures of Jeremy Zawodny, Jeff Weiner, and others are related to the fallout of a failed Microsoft buyout and the problems Google poses to some of Yahoo’s best engineers.
Yahoo is well known as a popular web property. While many people in the United States and Europe have Google set as their homepage, Yahoo is a hot landing spot for many non-western nations such as China. Yahoo also knows how to maintain the communities formed by the Web 2.0 startups they pick up. One good example is Flickr; it’s is still popular with many photographers despite being owned by a monolithic and arguably uncool parent company. Del.icio.us is also roughly as popular as a social bookmarking service as it was when it was purchased by Yahoo. The engineers which Yahoo picked up with these acquisitions have also been put towards a number of other projects, which may have been part of the reason for the acquisitions in the first place besides expanding the Yahoo brand name. A number of analysts and commentators have also speculated that the buyout offer may have been put forward as a means of pushing the company towards disarray and, subsequently, towards a mismanaged doomsday. Microsoft has used buyout proposals for this purpose before, and Yahoo’s board might have kept this (and ego) in mind when trying to negotiate a higher per-share price.

How does this relate to the engineers? Microsoft has a number of interesting research programs. While Yahoo’s engineers might loathe the idea of working for a “mundane” product such as Windows or Office, Microsoft’s research programs offer new opportunities for developers to branch out into brand new fields and markets, something which Yahoo currently doesn’t have in place. On the other hand, Google has let a number of their acquisitions stagnate (blogger, now nothing more than a spampool, is the largest example.) without any significant overhauls, and their research programs remain mostly on the web as opposed to spreading into new fields.
Creativity isn’t often a word associated with Microsoft, but Microsoft is much more well established in a multitude of fields than both Google and Yahoo. This may be the primary reason behind the departures of some of Yahoo’s best minds. Jeremy Zawodny, after all, is one of the most well-respected R&D engineers Yahoo ever had, and and his attraction towards a small up-and-coming firm is representative of the new environments many of Yahoo’s engineers are interested in.

So the very possible question that arises from this discussion is

Are Microsoft engineers thinking the same?
Drop in your thoughts in the comments.

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