Center for Social Entrepreneurship

at Middlebury

CSE Friday Speaker Series: Kristen Morrissey

A Key Pioneer in the Rise of Google
By Otto Nagengast ‘17

The Center for Social Entrepreneurship’s Friday Speaker Series: March 14, 2014

            In the late 1990s, Google started as no more than a useful search engine to navigate the nascent World Wide Web. A decade later, it has cemented itself as one of the giants of the Internet. Google’s transformation from a small business built on a single program to a multifaceted and innovative tech giant has captivated the world and inspired new generations of tech developers. Our Friday speaker, Kristen Morrissey Thiede, has been an instrumental part in the rise of Google.

After graduating from The College of the South, Kristen worked in political advertising. Her primary job was to buy radio and television time for political campaigns. With her experience in marketing, Kristen joined Google and worked to expand the company’s online advertising service. She quickly became one of the largest media buyers on the Internet, and her staff expanded to 40 people. Although already very successful, Kristen felt uncomfortable running an office in which many of the staff were older and more educated than her. Despite “hiring a boss to train [her],” she did not feel that her talents lied with managing people. She decided that she wanted to return to doing “the fringe stuff that no one had ever done before.” For the next year, she split her time between Google headquarters in San Francisco and countries with emerging economies, chiefly India and Brazil. She formed partnership with large media companies to advertise in their online content. She was so successful in establishing Google’s presence in these countries that Google eventually opened permanent offices in both places.

Kristen then brought her talents to the New Business Development Team, where she and her team were tasked with finding innovative ideas that would take Google into new areas. After the devastating earthquake in Haiti in 2011, Eric Schmidt sent Kristen and a team to Haiti to improve communications in the massive relief effort. One of the team’s contributions was providing the most up-to-date maps of Haiti for free. With these maps, relief workers could tell what places needed help and how to get there, making their work more effective.

Kristen’s most recent post is leader of the Business Development Team of Google Fiber, which is one of Google’s newest and most ambitious projects. Google Fiber provides Internet and TV services at speeds 100 times faster than conventional high-speed Internet. The service currently exists in three cities, but there are plans to expand into dozens more in the near future, and Kristen is leading this expansion.

One of Kristen’s mottos is: “Be the first one to do it because you can’t do it wrong.” Yet, as she admits, she seems unlikely to have been such a pioneer in a giant tech company like Google. She studied Political Science in college, not Computer Science. She learned mathematics from Dummies’ Guides, not world-class mathematicians like many of her colleagues. What were the qualities that enabled Kristen to thrive at Google?

  • No fear of failure
  • Honesty—Kristen has been able to experiment with new ideas, evaluate the success of the ideas, reform or scrap the ideas, and honestly communicate the results of her work to others.
  • Knows enough to be dangerous—She may not be as knowledgeable as her specialist colleagues in their respective fields, but she knows enough to be effective.
  • Fast learner—Even if she does not know something, she can quickly pick it up.
  • Can build a team—In a company filled with some of the sharpest minds on the planet, Kristen’s ability to inspire and enable others to do their best work has been an indispensible skill.

In addition to being a key member of Google, Kristen is a proud mother of three. Kristen has been a pioneer in a company known for pioneering, and it was truly a pleasure to learn from such a world-class entrepreneur.



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