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The clout of Google's engineers was evident when the company was developing its e-mail system, now known as Gmail. Paul Buchheit, a headstrong engineer who reported to Mayer, was creating the prototype. One night in 2001, he and Mayer discussed applying advertising links to e-mail so that if you opened a message from, say, your brother that included the line, "Mom and I played tennis yesterday," you would see links to firms selling racquets and sneakers. It's all automated; no human would be reading your mail. But, as Mayer puts it, "there's a creepy factor." The two debated until the wee hours of the morning and ultimately decided not to go ahead with the ads. Or so Mayer thought. When she logged on to the e-mail system the next day, the ads were up and running. Buchheit had hacked it together. When Mayer, Brin and Page played around with it (there were only six people using Gmail then), it didn't seem particularly evil. And so another advertising model was born; Gmail linked to ads when it ultimately launched in 2004.
To keep innovating, Google has to outwit and outspend the likes of Yahoo! and Microsoft for the best young brains. Even though few of Google's insta-millionaires have cashed in their stock options and quit since the 2004 IPO, Google is on a hiring binge, adding about 100 people a week. It applies quirky tests of talent. Google once put up a billboard on Route 101, the heavily trafficked artery that links the Valley to San Francisco, that said, in its entirety:
(first 10-digit prime found in consecutive digits of e).com
No Google logo, no recruiting pitch. Just the equation. The curious who solved it (yep, it's 7427466391.com typed the answer into their browsers and went to that Web page, which offered another, harder problem (don't ask) that finally led to an invitation to interview at Google. The company also has inserted the "Google Labs Aptitude Test" in geeky publications like Linux Journal. It poses 21 questions, ranging from absurdly complex mathematical equations to poetic queries like "What is the most beautiful math equation ever derived?"