Born in the small town of Wausau, Wisconsin, Marissa was raised in a family that believed in giving their children every experience possible. Marissa’s father, an environmental engineer for a water-treatment plant, built an ice rink in their backyard for Marissa’s hockey-loving brother. Her mother, an art teacher, nurtured every one of Marissa’s interests over the years, including ice skating, ballet, piano, cake decorating, swimming, skiing, and golf. Her mother felt that the best approach was supporting her children trying everything, and letting them decide for themselves what they liked best.
In high school, Marissa continued to explore a variety of things. She was on the school dance team, debate club, math club, Spanish club, and participated in Junior Achievement. In her senior year, her debate team won the state championship, a testament to Marissa’s ability to identify problems and solutions quickly. She also got a job as a grocery checker, and quickly learned to make herself faster and more efficient by memorizing the price codes of the most commonly purchased items.
Marissa didn’t grow up immersed in technology, but decided to attend Stanford University, a school known for its computer science program. She had a natural interest in the workings of the human brain, and initially wanted to be a pediatric neurosurgeon. However, despite never even learning to use a mouse until starting college, a computer science class hooked her instantly, and she decided to pursue a major in symbolic systems.
At Stanford, Marissa volunteered at children’s hospitals, and began teaching undergraduates in her junior year. She went on to earn her Master’s degree there as well, focusing on her interest in artificial intelligence. She was known to pull all-nighters regularly, often showing up for tests in the same clothes she’d worn the day before.
With her graduate studies nearing their end, Marissa found herself with 14 job offers, including an opportunity with data giant Oracle, and an invitation to teach at the prestigious Carnegie Mellon University. So, when a recruiting email from a tiny search engine company arrived on a Friday night, Marissa didn’t immediately put down her bowl of pasta to respond. In fact, she nearly deleted the email without even reading it.
After considering what she’d heard about the company’s promise from one of her professors, though, she took into account how the areas they were exploring were similar in focus to her own graduate studies. Marissa decided to interview with them. At the time, the small company had only seven employees. All of their software engineers were male, and realizing that a more balanced gender ratio would strengthen the company, they were very eager to add Marissa to their team. But she didn’t accept right away.
Marissa talked to friends and family, and analyzed the most successful choices she’d made in her life. The common factors she found were, first, that she’d always chosen to work with the smartest people she could find. And second, she always did something she was a little bit unprepared for or overwhelmed by, because it challenged her to learn. She went to sleep with those thoughts in her mind, and the next morning, she woke up and had her answer.
Marissa accepted the offer to become one of the earliest employees at Google, leading their user interface and Web server team. She was their first female engineer. Her understanding of functionality and efficiency, along with her preference for simple designs, had a major impact on the company. Marissa worked on the most recognizable and successful products, including Google Maps, Google Earth, Street View, Google News, and Gmail, and is acknowledged as the architect of the unique look and feel that characterize the Google experience.
In 2012, the technology world was stunned when Marissa left Google to take on the role of President and CEO of Yahoo, in an effort to turn the company around following years of being completely eclipsed…by Google. The new role made Marissa Mayer, age 37, the youngest CEO ever of a Fortune 500 company.
Marissa is living her dreams by embracing the Everything is Possible mindset. Here’s her advice on how you can too. “There are always moments when you’re not sure you can do something. That’s when most people give up. Try and push through. Eventually you will experience breakthroughs that lead to new levels of success. Just remember that on the other side of fear is everything you dream about.”
Until next week...