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Being a Google engineer in Silicon Valley is like being the star quarterback in high school. Girls swoon when they see your comfy “Google Engineering” fleece, guys want to be your friend – the future is yours.
Being a Yahoo engineer, on the other hand, may more closely resemble being a flag girl in the high school band: no one notices you, and if they do, they wonder why on earth you’d possibly want to spend your spare time practicing how to accurately throw a flag in the air.
Or at least, that’s the way it was. Lately, however, Yahoo has been quietly generating some pretty impressive nerd-cred. I define “nerd-cred” as anything that makes tech-nerds sit up and notice. I also define nerd-cred as a product or tool that sounds cool to me but is totally over my non-technical head.
I can site four examples in the last six months in which Yahoo’s nerd-cred has risen dramatically.
First, in February, Yahoo launched Pipes, which is described on the Yahoo Pipes page as “an interactive data aggregator and manipulator that lets you mashup your favorite online data sources.” That means nothing to me, but I do know that when the tool was launched there was so much interest from tech-nerds that they crashed the Yahoo Pipes site. That’s great viral nerd-cred.
Second, a few months ago Terry Semel resigned as CEO and was replaced by the original search nerd and Yahoo founder, Jerry Yang. Though I am skeptical of this move by Yahoo from a business perspective, from a tech perspective, it definitely lends some nerd-cred to Yahoo. As I noted at the time, “If nothing else, I’m sure his presence at the top will encourage many smart geeks in the Valley who might have otherwise gone to Google to give Yahoo a second look.”
Third, a few weeks ago I went to a conference on online customer acquisition. The presenter on SEO specifically singled out Yahoo’s Site Explorer as the absolute best tool to use to track which sites are linking to your site. A good SEO is a nerd, so this adds further nerd-cred.
Finally, I recently discovered another Yahoo nerd release called “YSlow.” Again, as I’m not a tech-nerd myself, I can’t completely explain all the features of this tool to you, but I can tell you that it is a Firefox plug-in that enables you to monitor your Web page download speed, identify problems, and even roll-over page elements and see the source code associated with the element. For a programmer, I suspect all of this stuff is pretty useful.
Combine cool UNIX-based mashups, a tech-legend as CEO, tools to attract SEO nerds, and Firefox plug-ins for Webmasters and suddenly Yahoo is not so lame after all.
And note that this is not just a popularity contest for the sake of popularity. Nerd-cred enables you to retain and recruit top engineers. Top engineers enable you to build better applications and Web sites. Better Web sites enable you to attract more consumers. More consumers enables you to make more money.
When I was in high school, I was a star soccer player my sophomore and junior years. As a senior though, some of the younger players beat me out for the starting position and I spent most of the season on the bench. For the time being, Google’s still the clear nerd-cred leader, but give Yahoo credit – they’re putting in a lot of off-season effort, and it’s starting to pay off.