May 4th, 2009

Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz Drops F-Bomb. Tamara Wonders if Bartz is Long-Lost Soul Sister.

You know how I feel about bad words at work. Well, clearly, I am having a significant influence on the corporate world at large.

Carol Bartz is the new CEO of Yahoo and she held her first earnings call recently. And, bless her heart, she dropped the F-bomb…while talking about things near and dear to my heart. Here’s the quote from the Techcrunch article by Erick Shonfeld:

…. Later on she did manage to drop the F-word, though (but quickly apologized for the slip). The exact quote, said at the end of the Q&A in frustration over all the layers of extra management at Yahoo, was:

‘There were engineers in almost every country, and way too many product people. We had one product management person for every three engineers. We had a lot of people telling engineers what to do but nobody fucking doing anything. Excuse me. I knew that would slip out one of these times.’

And that was just her second conference call as Yahoo CEO.

Carol Bartz, CEO of Yahoo. And curser.

Carol Bartz, CEO of Yahoo. Bless her *#*$%! heart.

I love this quote. And I love how much this situation irks her, given that it is a totally irksome situation. Being an engineer must suck so often: they get all these people telling them to do different things, changing their minds, playing politics, being bossy…it must be like being an electrician hired to update the wiring at the Brady house and being supervised by all six kids. And the dog. And Alice.

And then they get to build stuff they know isn’t as good as it could be. And then they get blamed.

Now here’s where I take issue with Mz. Bartz. This snippet is from a CNET article entitled Bartz lights fire under Yahoo engineers:

We have good engineers but have to hire more and get them focused on the right stuff. It’s probably the most important thing Yahoo’s going to do to really become a big strong growing international company,” Bartz said during a conference call to discuss the company’s lackluster first-quarter results.

Ummm…hold on a sec. That’s like solving the problem at the Brady residence by sending in more electricians. If I had 10 seconds with Carol in an elevator, I’d say “Love ya mean it. BUT you best figure out the ‘get them focused’ part before you hire a bunch more engineers. Don’t do the Brady electrician thing.”

At which point she would be likely to call security, but I betcha she’d wake up in the middle of the night thinking I was totally right.

You know, it seems to me that engineers should be the closest allies to user-centered design people. Oh, and executives should keep one of us around at all times. Basically, we’re trying to help everyone get out from under the whims of Peter and Cindy and help them find the time, clarity, and focus to build kick-ass software.

They key is to find the common language between UX people and engineers (and execs). And help them see that the ‘soft’ stuff we do is actually really truly helpful when it comes to untangling confusion — and that we can be the translators between engineer-ese and executive-ese. But guess what…it’s our job to help them understand that we can help. Not theirs to just ‘get it.’

I think this is one of the reasons I was so psyched to see the MSDN article! By engineers, for engineers…and about the value of basic UX methods. Gotta love ‘em.

And gotta love Bartz. I’d rather be led any day of the week by someone who gets frustrated enough at stupidness in a corporation to drop the F-bomb than a haircut in a suit. We’ll see what she does with Yahoo. I don’t envy her the job of untangling a company that gigantic.

Well, actually I kinda do. How fun would it be to try something like that? If being an exec didn’t require so many spreadsheets I might actually be interested enough to try it.