A degree of ambition
Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson is in trouble over his CV, but does Computer Science matter in managing a tech company?
Blogs | 08 May 2012 :
What are we to make of the furore over Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson's degree or rather non-degree? To recap, he has a degree, obviously, but it's not the degree he said it was. Whereas people thought he had a degree in Accounting and Computer Science from Stonehill College in Boston, it transpires it's actually (just) a degree in Accounting.
We know this because of the investigative efforts of Dan Loeb, founder of Yahoo's largest external shareholder, Third Point. Loeb's involvement is not completely selfless, however, because he has been agitating to get himself and three other people appointed to the board of Yahoo and it would obviously help his cause if the current board was discredited in some way. Loeb's revelations raise some pertinent questions about due diligence in terms of just how assiduously the board checked the qualifications of potential candidates for the CEO post.
Now, I have to admit I find this whole saga just a little bit confusing. From what I can make of it, Thompson seems to be under for pretending to have a degree that includes computer science. If he was the CEO of a food company or a distribution business, his "offence" wouldn't probably generate anywhere near so much coverage but because he's CEO of a technology company, having such a degree might be considered an advantage in the battle to get the job.
Whether so much importance should be attached to a degree in computer science is questionable. There are plenty of people in the US with computer science degrees but far fewer of them are CEOs of major technology businesses. I would like to think Thompson's career and achievements in the IT industry had a greater bearing on his appointment to the top job at Yahoo than what kind of degree he got a few decades ago. But it's scarcely believable any recruitment panel divided over a choice between Thompson and another candidate would plump for Thompson purely on the basis of his computer science degree.
And there's no doubting that his CV up until his current appointment is fairly impressive, taking in stints as chief information officer at Barclays Global Investors, executive vice president of technology solutions at Inovant (a subsidiary of Visa) and most recently chief technology officer, senior vice president and then president at Paypal. You have to assume that if the lack of a computer science degree made him deficient to the tasks required of him in any way, he would never have done as well as he did.
So I'm tempted to come at this another way. Surely, the salient point about the whole saga of Thompson's non-existent computer science degree is that you don't need a computer science degree to get ahead in the technology industry. Some people could argue he might not have got a job here or there if prospective employers knew he didn't have a computer science degree, but the fact is that he did the jobs to the satisfaction of his employers even though he didn't have one.
In which case, might we pause and ponder the respective merits of an accountancy degree compared to a computer science degree when it comes to getting ahead in the IT industry? The fact is that because of what he has achieved, a man with an accountancy degree has become CEO of Yahoo, not a man with a computer science degree. Would it really make things right if he were to now be given the boot because he doesn't actually have the computer science degree that he obviously didn't need to get where he is today?