Profile: Google Technologist Knows Problem Solving FirsthandProfile: Google Technologist Knows Problem Solving Firsthand
Engineering VP overcame his own disabilities in determining which challenges matter most.
August 26, 2006
I'm a technology management type. I have pointy hair. No, I am not the pointy-haired boss." That's how Douglas Merrill describes himself in his blog, The Other End of Sunset. Google's VP of engineering, in keeping with the company culture, lives out loud.
Merrill, 36, graduated from the University of Tulsa, majoring in social and political organization, then earned a master's and a doctorate from Princeton in psychology. He worked for the Rand Corp. as an information scientist; taught information security in Southeast Asia; joined Price Waterhouse, where he became leader of the West Coast security practice; then moved to Charles Schwab as senior VP of information security. In 2003, he was hired by Google.
Google doesn't have a CIO. Merrill, with responsibility for Google's internal IT systems, comes closest. He overcame several challenges to get on that track. He was deaf from 3 years old till 6, the result of an infection in his auditory nerve. He sometimes apologizes for his accent, vaguely Southern and Canadian, a consequence of being raised in Arkansas, yet having a Canadian voice coach. He's also dyslexic; reading and math remain difficult.
Merrill's hacking roots go back to Arkansas, where he disabled an online bulletin board used by white supremacists. "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," he says.
An interest in how technology works and how people use it followed. Merrill's premise: There are no lasting technical solutions to social problems, and most interesting problems are social problems. "The particular tools and systems we give [people] yield certain kinds of problems," he says. Merrill sees it as his job to help solve them.
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