Thursday, May 3, 2012

Yahoo Employees Know Less About Computers Than You Think

Well, the CEO anyway.

Via Hacker News comes a letter from Third Point LLC claiming that newly appointed Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson may have, er, 'embellished' his academic credentials:
According to the Yahoo! Form 10-K/A, filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission on April 27, 2012, newly-hired Chief Executive Officer, Scott Thompson, "holds a Bachelor's degree in accounting and computer science" from Stonehill College. ...
A rudimentary Google search reveals a Stonehill College alumni announcement stating that Mr. Thompson's degree is in accounting only. ...
Furthermore, Stonehill College informed us that it did not begin awarding computer science degrees until 1983 -- four years after Mr. Thompson graduated
Hmm, that's quite a pickle, no? 

I mean, maybe he just forget to correct everybody for all these years when they talked about his computer science degree? He's reading the press release where they're lauding him for this degree that he doesn't have, and he figures 'Hey, why not? I deserved  a computer science degree. It's like an honorary PhD, but granted by the secretary at Yahoo instead of the college itself!' 

Could happen to anybody, really.

Third Point then decides to put the boot in:
We inquired whether Mr. Thompson had taken a large number of computer science courses, perhaps allowing him to justify to himself that he had "earned" such a degree. Instead, we learned that during Mr. Thompson's tenure at Stonehill only one such course was even offered - Intro to Computer Science. Presumably, Mr. Thompson took that course.
Oooh, that's gotta burn.

Third Point are an activist hedge fund, and as such are professional rabble rousers. They own 5.8% of Yahoo, and want their own people appointed. That doesn't make them wrong, of course, but it does tell you their incentives in the whole thing.

So far, Yahoo has admitted the discrepancy, but claims that it was all a clerical error. They also claim (with perhaps more credibility) that it doesn't matter anyway, since the guy has a lot of tech experience, running PayPal and Visa's Innovant division.

Personally, I think they're right. It's hard to imagine that my opinion of the guy's credentials would be much increased by the presence of a computer science degree in 1979. Learn the fundamentals of Fortran! Study the coming microprocessor revolution! And to add to the gravitas, the piece of paper certifying all this comes from a college I'm not sure I've even heard of.

This makes Third Point's claim that this "undermines [Thompson's] credibility as a technology expert" laughable. On the other hand, they do have a point that this bodes poorly as a sign of the guy's character if he's been lying about his credentials. That kind of thing is hard to come back from.

Still, Yahoo shareholders can take solace in the fact that in the bigger picture, the provenance of Scott Thompson's degree is the least of their problems:

Whether the same can be said for Mr Thompson himself remains to be seen.

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