Friday, June 29, 2007

Pieces Don't Fit Anymore - follow-up

The last post generated a relatively high number of comments, and I want to address a few of them. Someone made the point that employee blogs don't contribute to productivity. As measured by what? I have no idea if my blog helps productivity, but I like to think that it isn't hurting any. I'm fairly sure that Jeff M's internal blog adds a lot to productivity. At the bottom of a previous post I mention why speaking out can help. If people feel some empathy from others, or have an opportunity to vent, or realize that they're not alone, how can that not help? I can't speak for this blog, but I know other blogs have had an impact on management decisions and communication. If people feel that someone else is speaking out and it makes them feel better, how can that not be good morale, and therefore good for productivity?

I found it almost quaint that one commenter seems to think that IT is around to fix laptops. There's no point in me trying to defend the role IT plays, or to compare the value of IT to Intel manufacturing. IT is a pure cost center, and needs to be run as efficiently as possible. If you don't get why losing people at the top of the performance and skill set pool is bad for Intel, then I can't explain it to you. There actually will be impact beyond getting your laptop fixed.

The only comment I considered blatantly incorrect was the one stating that employees with over 10 years experience add less value and don't have good ideas. No doubt there is some dead wood at Intel, but if you've been there more than a couple of years, it should be obvious that length of tenure is not a factor in focal. Everyone is required to be competitive. There are a few places people can hide for a while, but the process is fairly good at eventually identifying below average performers. One indicator of innovation at Intel is invention disclosures and patents. Go take a look at correlation between patents and tenure, and then get back to me on the lack of fresh ideas from experienced employees.

And then there was the commenter who wrote:

It's damn annoying to keep reading complaint after complaint from those in a service organization lamenting about how hard they have it. What, not enough time to work on your level 32 Dork-Wizard on World of Warcraft?

which I found quite funny. He also pointed out IT people are expendable. True. But he may want to consider that, like all Intel employees, he is expendable as well.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Pieces Don't Fit Anymore

I've been having conversations with people recently about whether or not IT staff actually wants people to leave, and if their actions are encouraging them to do so. As I mentioned previously, attrition seems to be high. We're hearing that IT wants their employees to work at "hub" sites, and will be getting more restrictive about allowing people to work from home. Nobody really knows what this means yet. The impression by IT employees is that these changes will have some impact on convenience, flexibility and work/like balance. Are we being told that we need to work elsewhere if we want these perks?

Intel is unique for many reasons, and one of most unique features has been they way that many, if not most, employees approach their jobs. Intel instills sense of ownership for solving issues that most other companies do not. If there's a problem that is being caused elsewhere, you are expected to address it and to help resolve it. Everyone is expected to understand the strategic goals of their group and to help move toward them. This sense of ownership for items you don't directly control leads to a far better and more efficient solutions.

IT seems to be challenging some of these differences relative to other companies, primarily cost. Money is always and issue, and some IT managers are saying that the cost of IT at Intel is 5x that of other companies, such as Dell. It's possible that Intel spends more in IT than do other companies, but 5x is a ridiculous number. I haven't seen any evidence that shows this is an apples-to-apples comparison. This claim seems so outrageous that I've completely discounted it as propaganda. I discussed some of the pitfalls of comparing our IT spending to other IT shops here.

I have a friend who left Intel a couple of weeks ago to go work for Nike. In this short time he's already seen a dramatic difference in attitudes between the two. Practically no IT people at Nike have laptops. When he asked about it the answer was "why would you want a laptop?" The idea of working from home, or being able to connect and work flexible hours, or longer hours, is foreign to them. I'm not saying that IT people at Nike don't work hard, just that their mind-set isn't to be able to work from anywhere, anytime like it is at Intel. I believe Intel gets a large benefit by allowing people to work remotely: they will often work an extra hour in the morning or evening because they can, and because it's beneficial for their job schedule or that of others. It's a lot easier to call into a 7:00am meeting from home than from the office.

Another difference my Nike friend pointed out was that IT folks at Nike seem to be less invested. Nike appears to be more of a classic IT shop than Intel, where people tend to work with business groups in a more segregated manner. This isn't bad, it's just different, and it isn't Intel. And if you look at costs, it might even be cheaper. But it requires a service attitude rather than one of ownership. It allows people to say "not my problem" when something isn't in fact their specific problem. It allows people to literally work 8-5 and not worry about whether or not their work is helping to drive strategic goals, or if IT is going to hit their quarterly indicators.

My concern is that by moving to a more traditional, less flexible working environment, we're going to retain only the more traditional, less flexible people in IT. Do we want a group populated by people who don't take their work home with them, who don't drive as hard to solve problems, and who don't reach across other groups to solve problems? I would encourage IT staff to think hard about what the long term outcome of these changes could be.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

More catching up...

Yes, it's been far too long a gap in posting. Travel, vacation, some family stuff, and before you know it a few weeks have elapsed. C’est la vie.

In case there's anyone who hasn't seen the video of Conan O'Brian's visit ot Santa Clara, it's worth a look. I found several things about this video amazing: that Intel allowed Conan into the building with a video crew, that they allowed him to openly mock the work environment, and most surprisingly, that Sr. management embraced it. I first heard about this video in an email that had originally been sent from a Sr. VP to his staff.

Some local Oregon news: Intel is moving out of the Elam Young building. Intel has been leasing space there since 1984! And one more Oregonian article about an Intel engineer who left to start his own business. Worth a read to get some perspective on tech jobs in Oregon vs. the SF and Seattle.

Attrition in IT still seems to be high based only on my personal contacts. People are moving to other groups or out of Intel faster than I've seen previously. This could be just my perspective, as I don't have any data to validate this trend. I think losing people from IT is generally a good thing as belt tightening continues. I'd much rather see people find other opportunities rather than another round of layoffs. I am seeing some disciplined cuts taking place in IT, particularly around removing redundant tools and functions, and attrition may be related this.

When I watched Craig Barrett on 60 Minutes discussing the One Laptop Per Child initiative, my reaction was that he was well reasoned and made perfect sense. I don't see why OLPC should have a monopoly on providing cheap laptops to students. I would think they would be encouraging more competition. But Intel has the ability to look bad when trying to be competitive. There's no question that Intel sees this as a business opportunity, but I don't see how OLPC can be sustainable long term unless it's run as a viable business. One colleague described Craig's appearance as reminiscent of Dick Cheney.

And speaking of looking bad, Intel will apparently be lowering prices on processors again next month. I like seeing our expensive processors sell well. But people smarter than me have decided it makes more sense to cut prices, probably for deeper penetration of C2D and C2Q processors. But the press is positioning this an attack on AMD. Bloomberg and BusinessWeek are both saying that Intel's intent is to cause problems for AMD. I suppose that's possible. Is it not more likely that Intel's intent is to continue to win back market share and be as competitive as possible? Was AMD trying to cause harm to Intel when they were kicking our butts with their processors a couple of years ago? No, they were trying to grow their business and were worried about their bottom line. Regardless of the impact, prices coming down this quickly has to be good for consumers.