This note accompanies the follow episode(s):
The Writer’s Almanac for July 5, 2017: Graveyard Shift At Ace’s Truck Stop

July 5, 2017: birthday: Susan Wojcicki

Today is the birthday of American technology executive Susan Wojcicki, born in

Santa Clara County, California (1968). You might not know her name, but if you like to watch cat videos on YouTube, she’s the person to thank: she convinced her employer, Google, to buy the home video startup. Wojcicki has been called “the most important person in advertising” and “the most powerful woman on the internet.” She’s now the CEO of YouTube. Her name is pronounced “Whoa-JIT-ski.”

She was a pregnant Stanford alum when she decided to rent out the garage of her house in Menlo Park, California, to two Stanford students, Sergey Brin and Larry Page. Back then, what we call “Google” today was known as “Backrub,” and it was Brin and Page’s senior project. They’d figured out a way to design a search engine that used links to determine the importance of individual pages on the internet.

No one really knew how the project was going to take off, but Brin and Page paid Wojcicki $1,700.00 a month to use her garage and the three of them stayed up late eating pizza, playing pingpong, and perfecting their product. Wojcicki became the first marketing manager at Google; she was known as “Google Employee #16.” And those little ads on personal blogs and websites? Wojcicki created those, too, and called the idea “AdSense,” and it took off, allowing blog and site owners to make money by displaying Google ads.

Susan Wojcicki helped design the first “Google Doodles,” those quirky little alterations of the Google logo that change according to holidays, birthdays, and international events. Doodles have honored artist Andy Warhol and singers Freddie Mercury and Ella Fitzgerald.

Wojcicki grew up on the Stanford campus; her father was a physics professor. There were always professors and thinkers at her house, arguing and talking about ideas. She credits her upbringing for her success, saying: “We had all these amazing people around us. […] Their goal wasn’t to become famous or make money, it was to do something that was meaningful for the world because they had a passion, they found something interesting, and they cared about it. I mean, it could be ants or it could be math or it could be earthquakes or classical Latin literature.”