Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da

Both a good day and a sad day as an Intel employee.

There is some excellent press about Paul's presentation at the Intel Developer Forum taking place in San Francisco. Also some pictures and other info. Paul announced that we'll be shipping quad core processors in November. And a large part of an an AMD's law suit (du jour) against Intel was dismissed by a federal judge. Paul showed off some Teraflop processors. Overall a good news day.

The more I see Paul out doing these events, the more I like him. He seems to be a charismatic guy and is good with the press, which to me is as important as having the ability to run the company. Will we see Paul sitting across the table from Larry King anytime soon?

It was a sad day at Intel as I heard about some cuts starting to take place. This will be happening over the next week or so, and as I've said before, it's hard on everyone. It's worst for the people who are let go, but also bad for the people who have to tell them they're going, and for the rest of us watching friends leave. Chins up, guys.

A couple of additional housekeeping notes: I'm traveling and am still working on some other posts. I've got some e-mail from several readers that I won't be able to return until later this week. Thanks for your patience.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Please Mr. Postman

I'm working on a few posts that should be ready to publish shortly. In the meantime, I'll cover some housekeeping and address some email questions I've gotten.

A few of you have asked why I'm blogging externally rather than using the internal blog system at Intel. There are few reasons for this. First of all, I like that Intel has an internal blogging system for employees. There are several blogs that I read regularly. I'm not sure where the exact boundary is between acceptable or not for blogging internally, but I can almost guarantee that I'd be crossing a line with this blog. There's one particular funny, popular, insightful blog inside Intel that recently retracted a post that poked fun at the CEO after an open forum meeting with employees. It was a humorous, insightful, and well written post. The blogger said some things that many of us were thinking, but was far funnier than most of us were in our own heads. I didn't think any less of the CEO after having read it, and actually was impressed that Intel would allow someone to post that blog entry. But then it was gone shortly after being posted.

Did someone ask the blogger to take it down? I don't know - he wrote that he removed the post voluntarily. I'm guessing he removed it after having a conversation with his boss or HR. I say this because, as a fellow blogger, I doubt he would have written and posted an entry he was not comfortable with. And why would a smart, funny guy retract a smart, funny post? Btw, I fully support some boundaries - clearly you can't let employees say anything they want on an internal blog. But it's determining where that gray area is that causes a problem, and that one retracted post was an indicator for me. So that's why I'm writing out here and not in there.

I've gotten comments from a few non-Intel people who are reading. One from an Intel spouse, and a couple from friends of Intel people. They seem to appreciate the perspective they're getting here. This wasn't intended, but if this blog helps give non-Intel employees a better perspective, I think it can only be helpful.

I was asked about the post that disappeared for a while last week. I don't know what happened, but it was moved to my blog drafts folder. This may be a quirk of the blog software, or more likely something I did. While I will edit for punctuation and readability after posting as needed, I don't plan to remove any entries, or heavily re-edit (as I did with one post). My posts will stay out there, and I'll make corrections or address issues in subsequent entries if needed.

A couple of folks asked whether or not they should be reading this blog from inside Intel. I can't really answer that, as it's a personal choice. Like many employees I tend to access the Internet infrequently during the day, and I think it's considered acceptable. Please do what you feel comfortable with.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Blue Badge of Courage

There are two recent articles published on the internal company web site that I found interesting. Both are positive, well written, and give good information. My reactions to the two articles could not be more different. The first was a Q&A with the VP running the company wide efficiency effort (our CFO). It was only a few questions, and they were soft but direct. I thought the answers were good. I think he gave a fair overview of what the efficiency team is trying to get done, explained the reasoning for several actions, and talked about the long time line and the anxiety it's causing. Overall it was well done, and acknowledging that it's stressful for employees shows empathy, which reduces employee stress. I appreciate the information he provided, and better about the effort efficiency overall. I was happy with the message and appreciate the CFO answering those questions.

The other was an article about decision making. It was a good description of what's happening to improve decision making across the company. But it was missing any mention of a large, possibly the largest, issue I see with decision making: delegation. How delegation is handled obviously varies from manager to manager. But it seems that over the past few years managers have been less willing to delegate true decision making. Too often I've seen managers delegate and then overrule the decisions that get made. Thinking about delegation got me thinking about trust, and courage.

Here's a tip for those managers who delegate decision making authority and then change their employee's decisions: that's not delegation. True delegation requires trust, and some faith in your employees, and risk taking on your part. You have to be willing to let your people make decisions you don't like, and let them figure out how to deal with that. And maybe help them deal with it. I'm obviously not talking about irresponsible delegation, or decisions that put the company at risk. When overruling decisions I've heard some managers explain "you made the wrong decision." No, they didn't. If you delegate a decision, then the decision that gets made is the right one, by definition. If you already know the answer you want, you shouldn't delegate, you should dictate. Saying "Go do this" is perfectly acceptable, and far more efficient than saying "go make a decision, but only the right decision."

A few years ago the eBusiness group (now part of IT) determined that decision making was a big problem. Many people in the organization were complaining about it, and it bubbled up to the VP and her staff. One problem was that decisions made by the staff were too often being reversed later by the VP, and there was a rebound effect on the organization. An even bigger problem was delegation. People were told they were empowered to make decisions, but they were often overruled by the staff or VP, so it often seemed like there was little real empowerment below that level.

After hearing enough complaining about this, the VP assigned someone to look into the decision making problem and come back with a recommendation. After a couple of months a whole new decision making system was rolled out that included formal tools and training. We all took the training and were advised to use the tools. This led to me having conversations with my manager like this:

Me: We lost of one our QA people. I'm going to move an engineering guy over to cover. I think the schedule will be ok.
Manager: How did you decide to do that?
Me: It makes the most sense. This guy understands QA, he's ok with the move, and it will keep us on schedule.
Manager: Do you use the decision making matrix?
Me: What? No. This is the right thing to do. QA is the critical path.
Manager: You need to use the decision making matrix. Please go through the process and get back to me.

This is an extreme example, but my boss was determined to have us use a new, cumbersome process to do what we were already doing well. I don't know what he really thought about the process - I suspect he was doing it because he was told to.

Allowing true delegation requires courage, and faith in your people. The courage to let people make decisions that could make you look bad. The faith to trust that they want to make you look good. The same kind of courage is needed to question using a new process that seems stupid and inefficient. It takes the same courage to let people speak their minds about their work environment, or their management, knowing that they may say things you dislike. And the faith to trust that they'll write the truth, perhaps help others feel better, and maybe allow people to laugh a little in the middle of a tough day. These things take courage.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Blog's Labours Lost

I was writing a long post about managers admitting mistakes. I had it 90% done but did something stupid and lost it. I am apparently destined to re-learn the lesson about saving drafts of my work many times. I'll get it rewritten in a day or two, and for now will share a few other items.

There was an interesting article about Intel culture in the Oregonian a couple of weeks ago. It's a good article, but I don't agree with all of it. It's a short read.

Traffic to this site is fairly low. But I'm still surprised to be getting any traffic at all. The visitors I am getting can probably be attributed to the generosity of Josh and PentrinoVI IV. I thanked them both privately for mentioning this blog on theirs, but wanted to do so publicly as well. Thanks guys! I recommend checking both their blogs if you haven't yet (they have permanent links in my Other Interesting Blogs section).

Things are starting to heat up as we approach the next round of cuts. I've had several conversations lately with people from one sub-group that is going to get hit hard. (I'm choosing not to say which group out of respect for them.) They've all be told that about 75% of their ~100 person group is going to get laid off, and they don't know yet who will be keeping their jobs. These guys know their chances are not good, and are scrambling to line up temporary assignments or find something outside of Intel. Most impressive is that the people I've spoken to are philosophical about it. They all want to find something else, but none of them are angry or bitter. Real pros, these guys.

We'll see more and more of this over the next couple of weeks. Some people will take it in stride, some won't. No one way of reacting or handling this situation is better than another. Those who are laid off need to get through it the best way they can. Most people just want to work and go home to their families. I don't have any sage advice to offer. As I said in a comment to a previous post, this is hard on everyone at Intel, and doubly so when you start seeing people you know and like being impacted.

I appreciate you reading, and especially appreciate the comments I've gotten. I had originally posted a longer version the "Don't Speak" post which read much better and had more impact, but I thought it was too long and whittled it down. Someone had read the original before I edited it, and commented that they were unimpressed with shorter version. So going forward I'll worry more about content than length. Let me know what you think and I'll consider making adjustments.

Monday, September 18, 2006

I Dig Everything

I had to step out at lunch to mention that this blog has been dugg by one of you. Four votes and one comment isn't exactly going to get it moved to the top of digg.com, nor is the fact that I'm targeting a fairly narrow audience. But I appreciate it anyway.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Working for the Middle

Intel is going through a large efficiency exercise. Those of us who work there have heard all about it for months. There's been some press about it as well. Intel makes good money, but the stock has been flat for a while. Sales are only ok, but will get better as the new processors gain momentum. But earnings are down, so cutting expenses makes sense. Given Intel's employee population explosion over the past few years, cutting some jobs seems reasonable, particularly in areas that appear to have redundancy.

But there are several things about the efficiency effort I don't get. In a recent IT open forum meeting, our CIO mentioned that the "efficiency team" (I'll address this more later) looked at Intel's IT expenses relative to those of other companies and found that they were higher than average. He said the upcoming cuts would help to get us in line with the average for IT spending.

When I heard that, I thought it sounded fine. If we're spending more in IT than similar companies, then we're probably over spending. It sounds right. Right? But that word "average" kept sticking with me. Average. Hmmm... And then it occurred to me: why does Intel want to be average? What at else at Intel is expected to be average? Do we hire average people? Do most people work average hours? Do most of us have average passion about our jobs? Do we produce (or want to produce) average products? Why do we want IT average costs to influence what Intel spends on IT?

I'm not advocating that Intel necessarily needs to spend more than the average on IT. And I'm not saying that knowing what the average is, and knowing what we spend relative to it is a bad idea. But to use the average as a target seems inane. We hired a consulting firm to help us figure out efficiency. We sent the new CFO off to work with them for months. He took two IT staff members and had them working on IT efficiency for several weeks. And the best these guys could come back with is that our spending should be average? I can't help but ask: What the fuck are these guys thinking? How is this leadership?

Intel should spend what it needs to spend to make the company successful. If the board, and the CEO, and the CFO don't want to spend what we should, then make the hard decisions needed to cut back on IT services. But let's do it intentionally, for specific reasons, and know exactly what we're getting. Perhaps Intel has good reasons to spend more than average. Maybe IT services are a strategic advantage, so spending more gets us more productivity. Or maybe the exact opposite is true, and we should be spending less. It doesn't matter, provided that Intel determines what it needs to spend to do the right job.

It's possible that the CIO was using this as a reason to justify the upcoming layoffs, and that this really wasn't how the IT budget was determined. And if he was using this to try and soften the blow, or give some reasoning for the cuts, it didn't work. At least not for me. I want to know that Intel is looking hard at the company and choosing where to spend and not spend money, not just copying others. Do we want to spend an average amount on marketing too? What about finance, HR, and legal? In some of these areas, I have not doubt that Intel can be below the spending average if we work at it.

There are two key messages I'd like to give the CEO, CIO, and CFO: Striving to hit an industry average target seems like the easy way out to cut spending. The second is a recommendation: don't ever tell Intel employees that the goal is to be average at anything, even spending.

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life

If life seems jolly rotten,
There's something you've forgotten,
And that's to laugh and smile and dance and sing.

I'm working on about 5 other posts for this blog. When I took a step back and looked at them, they all seem to be critical and negative. This is probably what you expect to read in an anonymous employee blog about a large company, which is unfortunate. I don't want to post only negative items, and I don't feel only negatively about Intel. If I did I wouldn't be working there.

So why so many negative thoughts? I think it's because they're kind of backed up. We don't get to vent at Intel the way we used to. At least I don't. As I mentioned in my last post, at some point it became unacceptable and potentially career limiting, so I stopped doing it.

I generally like working at Intel. I have liked it more than I do now, and I've liked it less. But after more than a few years I still find it a good (if not great) company to work for. I get to work with a lot of smart people, and a few brilliant ones. I get to learn a lot. I get exposed to a lot of cool technology. I have some good friends here. And overall most people work hard and try to do the right thing. To have a company this large that has this many bright, hard working people is surprising, and one of the things that keeps me here. And my fondness for the company and the people is one of the reasons I fell compelled to write about it, especially now.

And Intel's processors are back on top! (I wish I could say that I helped this happen, but I didn't.) Core 2 Duo rocks! I'll admit to having a huge bias toward Intel processors, but from what I'm reading the Core 2 Duo processors are fantastic. I don't have one yet, but I did order my 6600 yesterday. They appear to run great out of the box, and people are overclocking the crap out of these things. There are some availability issues, but I'm not sure that's a bad thing if it gets solved before the holiday buying season. This is a great example of what Intel is good at.

The core of the company is solid, even though the stock price sucks. For those of us with older Intel options, it really sucks. But if you look at the financials, Intel is still doing well. Most companies can only dream about making the money that Intel does.

So overall I feel lucky to be working here, and I like the company. I may not be the most gruntled (go ahead and look it up if you don't believe me) guy at Intel, but I'm far from the most disgruntled. Thanks for letting me indulge in a little positive balance before some other critical posts.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Don't Speak

A few months ago an article appeared in the internal IT newsletter about employees being afraid to speak up. The conclusion was that people challenge things less out of fear, and that it leads to bad practices, like not calling BS on a deadline that can't be hit. I was surprised and impressed to see it published. JJ (the guy who runs IT) acknowledged that this needs to be fixed.

Interesting that neither the author of the article, nor JJ, nor Paul seem to understand why this happened or how to fix it. I think they're looking at the employee base and wondering why we have changed. The answer is simple: it ain't us, it's you.

About 1/2 the current IT population came from the old eBusiness group (eBG). Questioning management in eBG was actively discouraged. Staff members who challenged the VP's decisions were moved out of staff. eBG was also marketing driven, and managed largely via spin. My favorite example when we received "the first" CMMi Level 3 certification at Intel. A conversation with my manager, a sycophant, went like this:

Syco: We are the first group to hit CMMi Level 3.
Me: But we're not at Level 3.
Syco: Well, one team hit Level 3.
Me: You can't get to level 3 in isolation.
Syco: This is a strategic program for Intel.
Me: We're not at Level 3 yet.
Syco: It's strategic.

Across eBG the trust required for constructive confrontation to thrive was broken. eBG managers role modeled and valued conformation, not confrontation. We don't question things any longer because we were told not to. There's a simple fix: Sr. Management needs to acknowledge that this happened, and that it was wrong.

The trust was broken. People won't start speaking up until it's fixed.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Paul is the walrus...

What is Paul Otellini (Intel President and CEO) and his staff thinking? I'm sure Paul is a very bright guy. But I can't find any sense in how he and the other execs are managing the layoffs at Intel. It was April when I first heard that layoffs were coming. In May they let some people go, but told us there were still more cuts on the way. In July 1000 managers were fired, and we were reminded again that more cuts were coming in September. In early September we were told again that more cuts were going to happen soon. IT has said they'll inform people in early October. Really, they will.

Ok, we get it, you're going to fire more people. But could you, um, maybe get on with the firing already? Riddle: what happens when you tell 100K people that their jobs are at risk? Not much. Which is exactly what is happening in the groups that are awaiting layoff announcements. Please fire some of us so that those of us who aren't fired can get back to making Intel successful.

View From the Inside

I suppose my first blog entry should explain why I'm starting an(other) Intel blog, and why I'm starting one now, and what my intentions are.

There's at least one other external (not inside Intel) employee blog, and it's good. But I want to write about some stuff that isn't posted there. I don't want to compete with other bloggers, but hope to compliment them.

Intel is in a transitional period. Most people who read the business section of their newspaper know this, and everyone who works at Intel knows this. I'm looking for a place to share some thoughts and hold discussions that can't take place on a company blog.

My goal is write about working at Intel and other related maters. Or whatever happens to spill out that day. This blog will be primarily written for Intel employees, but anyone is welcome to read it. I'll try to keep the use of jargon and TLAs to a minimum. This is not intended to be a forum for Intel bashing, revealing confidential information, or being (too) vengeful. My hope is to be informative and respectful, funny and enlightening. We'll see about that.