Intel got very exciting for investors earlier this month when it announced that it managed to woo Pat Gelsinger to take on the position of CEO starting next month.
Gelsinger has, in turn, managed to convince legendary chip designer Glenn Hilton to come out of retirement to work on a new CPU project. The news traveled fast going through Sina.com (in Chinese), but I spotted Ian Cutress’s article in English.
If you’re not familiar with Pat Gelsinger, he is credited for leading the development of WiFi and USB, but I’ve first heard of him as the Intel 486 processor lead architect in the early 1990s. That design was a vast improvement over what Intel had before and was one of Intel’s most important discontinuities from my then-developer point of view.
Pat Gelsinger led as CEO of EMC, a behemoth data storage company that now part of Dell. He later became the VMWare CEO, a foundational company in the cloud computing space, before finally coming back “home” as Intel’s CEO.
Glenn Hilton is an Intel fellow and is most known for leading the engineering of Intel’s first Core-branded processor (2008), which is still the foundation of today’s Intel CPUs in many ways. At the time, it was a breakthrough in power-efficiency and scalability, spanning from Core i3, Core i5 to Core i7.
Talents such as Glenn Hilton is extremely rare, and it’s not hard to imagine (or hope) that the synergy with Pat Gelsinger might lead to game-changing innovations at Intel. By all accounts, Glenn Hilton is recognized as an amazing engineering leader as well.
Space Cowboys is a Warner Bros movie in which a group of retirees astronauts were the only people capable of getting a job done at NASA.
Silicon Valley has a real ageism problem that might even push some engineers to seek plastic surgery, but we should not underestimate the potential impact of talented veteran engineers.
I have an anecdote of a retired older gentleman who worked for a chip company and was still on the payroll. Surprised, I asked his colleagues why that was. The answer was that it was always good to have such talents on hand, “just in case.”
Sure enough, a time came when a whole team was bogged down with some extraordinarily costly technical problems, and within a day or two, the retiree was able to “fix it.”
Anecdotes do not make a rule but what’s going on at Intel made me think of that story. Intel faces stiffer competition than ever before as AMD, Apple and Qualcomm have extremely competitive CPUs. At the same time, NVIDIA remains the leader in GPUs, is making considerable strides in data centers, and is on the verge of controlling ARM.
Intel’s Window of opportunity to turn around the situation is shrinking, but with new leadership and new energy, it might be able to steam the tide in the next few years.