Christian Heilmann

Goodbye, Yahoo – it was an awesome time

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010 at 11:27 am

Last week I handed in my notice at Yahoo to leave them for pastures new. I’ve been with the company for almost 5 years (which would have given me a gumball machine) and I have to say that I do not regret a single moment.

So yeah, I quit! Anybody for a Hot Piece of Engineer/Evangelist?

Hot piece of engineer/evangelist anyone?

So yeah, another Yahoo jumps the ship – I can already see people talking about talent bleed and all that. To all the people who blog, write and publish that Yahoo is not a technology company and there is no innovation going on I can only say: bullshit.

Yahoo rocks as a tech company

The amount of talented people I was lucky enough to work with is one of my best takeaways from the time I had at Yahoo. The amount of innovation and kick-ass tech being produced is staggering, too. Yahoo doesn’t blow its own horn about it enough, that is all. If, as a web developer you look at the Yahoo homepage and see the JS implementation and the performance you will see what I mean. Yahoo also publishes and gives out the findings for free. The design pattern library, YUI and the performance guidelines can be used by you to be as awesome without much work.

In Yahoo I learnt a lot I previously thought I knew already – having come to the company with already 8 years of experience. I got a chance to hone my speaking and training skills and I witnessed the birth of amazing technologies like GeoPlanet, YUI, YQL, YSlow, BrowserPlus and all the other things you probably miss out on if you see Yahoo as a huge ad company on its way out like some of the rag mags of our tech world love to paint it.

It is about the people

The thing that kept me for a long time in Yahoo are its people. You can have fun working there. Travelling the world and visiting different offices I was amazed just how much local flavour is retained rather than being a Silicon Valley drone someplace else. It is also OK to be outspoken in the company and nobody gets stopped from blogging, tweeting or writing their own thoughts on their own server. Going through a few interviews I found this not to be the norm at all with other companies like Yahoo.

I find myself being in contact with all of the people I care about outside the company channels and there is no way that I will not use these connections in the future to share great ideas, get inspiration and bounce off previews of the things I will release. There are far too many people to thank personally for the time I had in Yahoo and this is not for public – you know who you are.

Yahoo has its problems, and given time I will write about a few I can mention. None of these are really surprising given that they are a big company. Putting too many people together to solve a problem will always result in a lot of noise vs. signal – it is simply human nature.

So why am I quitting?

It is actually very simple – my job is done here. I’ve spent the last two years evangelising Yahoo and left over a hundred different presentations, numerous blog posts, demos and screencasts and other info on its technologies and how they fit into the larger picture of technology or how you can use them to make your life easier.

I find myself repeating what I said before and getting congratulated for getting people excited about technologies like YQL just to get the final blow of “I had no idea Yahoo did anything like that! I thought you guys were almost dead”. I don’t mind the misinformation – albeit wrong – I mind that I feel I ran in circles telling people about the real Yahoo just not to be backed up by other official statements and actions of the company.

I proposed to start a full evangelism department in the company (based on requests from engineers which also lead to me writing the Developer Evangelism Handbook), training up engineers to talk to the world and get them excited and offer evangelism and training as a natural evolution for engineers who want to talk about what they do. Right now Yahoo has two full-time developer evangelists: Tom Hughes-Croucher in the US and me for the world. There were no plans for that to change in the near future so maybe a change is in order.

The other thing is that I have been in the company too long. As I mentioned in my talk at Fronteers this year it is amazing how much better you work when you concentrate on the good things about your job. If you’ve been at one place for a long time you start to get tainted and always see the “this will not work as it didn’t before” instead of the “fuck yeah, let’s do this”.

The good news is that the man who brought me to Yahoo in the first place, Murray Rowan, is now in charge of YDN international, so I am confident he will find a replacement for me soon.

So what’s next?

Later today I will publish a chapter of a book I started but never went anywhere – so this is one of the goodies I will leave immediately. Update this is now live get the book chapter here.

As for the new job…

You know, what? I keep that announcement for tomorrow. I have a new job and I am as excited as a 12 year old in a candy shop with a free puppy section. There is a hint in the source code of the start page and I can say that I am very much looking forward to being Wash and playing with Dinosaurs:

I am also very much looking forward to being able to rant and realise that it is me who can and will fix the thing I am annoyed about:


Again, me leaving Yahoo is not on a bad note – I just see myself in the way of people who should get a chance to shine. I will still be rooting from the sidelines and talk about their stuff when I like it. My last day is the 24th of November, my last official Yahoo gig is YUIConf in Sunnyvale and I will be at Science Hack Day in Palo Alto. Then I will go to Jordan to talk to the Maktoob people about the wonderful world of Yahoo Tech and on the first of December my new job starts – with me brewing a coffee in my own flat in North London and writing my first mails to the people I had so much fun with during the job interview.

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