Kara Swisher

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In 2009 Interview, Yahoo CEO Does Not Deny He Has a CS Degree, and Calls Himself an “Engineer” (Audio)

On March 25, 2009, Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson — when he was then president of PayPal — appeared on the TechNation radio show to talk about the revival of the eBay payments unit.

At the end of the largely charming interview, Moira Gunn asked him a direct question about his college degrees, specifically noting they were in accounting and computer science.

“Your bachelor’s degree is in accounting and computer science. Now, from both of those, I mean that’s, that’s pretty obvious that’s PayPal,” said Gunn. “What are the most important things you learned?”

“Yeah,” begins Thompson, failing to correct her at all on the fact that he does not actually have a computer science degree — only one in accounting.

He then went even further, touting his early tech training at Stonehill College, near Boston, which did not offer a computer science degree at the time he went there, from 1975 to 1979.

“And that’s really the background that I have, and it started back in my college days, and I think that’s really the wonderful part of being an engineer is you think that way,” said Thompson.

In the most generous interpretation, it’s not quite clear whether Thompson was saying “Yeah” to her statement of his academic credentials, or if he was not actually listening.

But it’s a careless oversight on his part not to have corrected her about the degrees, which could also be said about a computer science degree being present on his bio for more than a half-dozen years at eBay and later at Yahoo without some notice by him.

Because while Thompson has had a long career as a tech exec, as well as a stint as a CIO, academically speaking, a computer science degree did not happen in his college days nor did he graduate as an engineer.

That became apparent earlier today, when Yahoo confirmed that it included inaccurate information about Thompson’s academic background on its Web site and in its regulatory filings.

The admission came after activist shareholder Dan Loeb of Third Point correctly asserted that Thompson’s resume was overstated related to his education.

Yahoo called the inclusion of the computer science degree on his bio an “inadvertent error,” but gave no other explanation as yet. Tonight, the Yahoo board said it was reviewing the matter and would then make appropriate disclosures afterward.

While it is entirely possible that Thompson did not correctly grok what Gunn was saying, it seems pretty clear that he implied his college background was in tech and he was an engineer.

It is true that Thompson did take some computer science classes at Stonehill. And it is entirely possible that he thinks of himself as an engineer by work training and not by college degree.

I am awaiting comment from Yahoo PR, which has its hands full today (welcome to the circus, Amanda!).

Until then, here is the actual audio of that part of the interview and the pertinent part of the transcript, which began at the 26:33 time on the audio, to judge for yourself:

Gunn: Your bachelor’s degree is in accounting and computer science. Now, from both of those, I mean that’s, that’s pretty obvious that’s Paypal. What are the most important things you learned?

Thompson: Yeah. You know, I think and I, I mention this to young kids when I’m on campus, and my son who I was just talking about at Santa Clara, what I’m happiest about in my background is if you work in technology you’re trained to solve problems.

And that’s really it, you’re trained to pull apart very complex things and think about okay, how can I do this or how can I do that or how can I make it better?

And that’s really the background that I have and it started back in my college days, and I think that’s really the wonderful part of being an engineer is you think that way.

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