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4/2/2008
02:29 PM
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn
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Google's CIO Will Be Hard To Replace

Google employs plenty of impressive people. But Douglas Merrill, Google's CIO, is the only Googler I've met that I've mentioned to my kids as an example of accomplishment in the face of adversity. Merrill is leaving Google to join EMI.

Google employs plenty of impressive people. But Douglas Merrill, Google's CIO, is the only Googler I've met that I've mentioned to my kids as an example of accomplishment in the face of adversity.

Merrill is leaving Google to join EMI.Born in Hanover, N.H., and raised in Conway, Ark., the fourth of four children, Merrill was deaf from age three to six due to an infection in his auditory nerve. When I interviewed him in 2006, he apologized for his accent, vaguely southern and Canadian, that latter flavor the product of a Canadian voice coach.

Merrill happens to be dyslexic. "Some things that are easy for some people are pretty hard for me," he said at the time. "It's very hard for me to read. It's very hard for me to do math. It's very hard for me to remember what people look like in pictures."

You'd never know it from his resumé. He graduated from the University of Tulsa having majored in social and political organization. He received his master's and doctorate from Princeton in psychology. He joined Rand Corp. in Santa Monica, Calif., as an information scientist, studying the use of technology and computer simulations in schools, and military communication. He taught classes in Southeast Asia in information security and subsequently joined Price Waterhouse and became leader of its West Coast security practices. He later joined Charles Schwab as senior VP of information security. He joined Google in late 2003 at the age of 33.

Not bad for a hacker. "Arkansas was an interesting place to grow up," Merrill explained. "At the time, there was a pretty active white supremacist faction there. And they were beginning to use bulletin boards -- remember the old dial-up things? And I'm pretty anti- that ... particular perspective. So one of the things I found that really interested me is it turns out that it's not actually all that hard to crash those bulletin boards and make them unavailable."

Crashing Klan bulletin boards got Merrill interested in technology and developed into what he sees as one of the themes of his life: how technology actually works and how do people use technology.

In 2006, Merrill had The Clash's London Calling as his mobile ringtone. Music, he says, is one of his two passions. It will be interesting to see whether he can translate that passion into a way to save the ailing music industry.

Whatever happens, Google will have to work hard to continue to attract individuals like Merrill as it matures. To be sure, Google still has plenty of top talent. But the tide that was coming into Google is now going out, and the sand is shifting beneath Google's feet.

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