Yahoo! Vice President Shares Silicon Valley Insights

two men sitting in chairs
Kyrsten Bean

On March 13, guest speaker Bryan Power, the Senior Vice President of The People Team at Yahoo, took the SEBA community behind the curtain of the tech industry, describing the differences between start-ups and established companies, and providing tips for those students interested in tech careers.

Power’s own career path has taken him through some of the most prominent companies in Silicon Valley, including Google, Square, and Yahoo!. He noted that he benefited greatly from his choice to work as a consultant first, as he was able to learn first-hand the way different tech companies operate in Silicon Valley. Power also described the fast-paced velocity and chaos of the tech industry.

Power believes the culture at tech companies, and the direction that each grows, is set by the founders. Google culture centers around brilliant engineers, modeling their thought processes. Even if an employee is not an engineer, decisions are based around the question, “What would an engineer do?”

At Square, the founder emphasized elegant point-of-service for customers, asking the question, "How do we make this more beautiful?" The team members worked to create a simple interface design, a similar aim of Apple’s. At Yahoo!, the culture that most recent CEO Marissa Meyers has created is unassuming, humble, and friendly yet smart.

The most common question Power is asked by prospective job seekers and students is, "Should I join a startup?" He always recommends basing the choice on individual personality. He explained that there are three types of managers and company climates: “dirt,” “gravel,” and “pavement.”

Power described “dirt” culture companies as “driving in the wilderness, where there are no places to stop and ask for directions, no other cars to follow.” In the "dirt" culture, many adjustments need to be made very quickly. A "dirt road" manager thrives in an environment where there is no guidance, and everything is hard because it’s being done for the first time — a situation often found at an angel phase startup or in starting a new line of business.

Conversely, the "paved" company culture is one of little flexibility with a set path, lots of meetings, and red tape. But this is also a place where managers don’t have to push to constantly redo the strategy; they can simply make it happen. The "gravel" culture is somewhere between the two extremes. This would include people who have left a start-up culture such as Google or Facebook to join someone else’s small start-up. A person in this type of role can use elements from the paved and dirt road models to influence their decisions.

"Don't expect nimbleness at a large tech company," said Power. "Don't expect mentoring at a startup. There are pros and cons for each culture."

When asked about trends in the tech industry, Power described how tech is melding into all industries and the adjustments that follow. For example, Uber has disrupted transportation and AirBnB has disrupted the hospitality industry, forcing those industries to embrace technology. Tech is becoming more vertical,” he said, “Now there are only a few specialized companies, and many more horizontal, which forces companies to re-think how they operate.

Power also discussed immigration and the election, addressing the hot topic of how immigration laws may affect talent in the tech industry in the future. He believes technological engineering jobs will not necessarily be affected, because there is such a huge demand for them. “There is a huge need for tech jobs which will go wherever talent can be found,” said Power. However, the immigration issues currently in the United States may affect certain industries. “Current administration changes of H­1B visa program may actually be good for large companies such as Google, Apple, and Yahoo!, since it may target companies who are taking advantage of these visas. The impact will be mostly with non­skilled workers.”

In his conclusion Power addressed the skills employers are looking for in potential candidates—mainly the ability to use and manipulate data, as in business analytics.

"Tech industries have one-third to one-half of employees using hard data versus five percent in larger, more established companies," he said. He said candidates who want to be competitive will have to be able to use numbers to tell stories and to keep up.

Power concluded the evening with his favorite quote from Mayer: "Always take the opportunity you're not quite ready for."