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6 Evergreen Career Tips From Intel Co-Founder

“Only the paranoid survive,” said Andrew Grove, a co-founder of {complink 2657|Intel Corp.}, more than 15 years ago, summarizing the driving principle that has propelled and kept the company at the top of the semiconductor world. Grove does not remember when he first said this and admitted as much in his book published in 1996.

Paranoia, or the fear of failure, is not necessarily bad, according to Grove. In fact, a healthy dose of paranoia about the direction of your company, its products, manufacturing strategy, number of factories — too few or too many — the impact of technology, and finally, what Grove called the “strategic inflection point,” are necessary to survival. If you have never read the book, Only the Paranoid Survive: How to Exploit the Crisis Points That Challenge Every Company , try to get a copy. If you don't want to read the entire book, try and read at least the preface here. In the meantime, here's a quote from the book to get you started:

    I believe in the value of paranoia. Business success contains the seeds of its own destruction. The more successful you are, the more people want a chunk of your business and then another chunk and then another until there is nothing left. We live in an age in which the pace of technological change is pulsating ever faster, causing waves that spread outward toward all industries. This increased rate of change will have an impact on you, no matter what you do for a living. It will bring new competition from new ways of doing things, from corners that you don't expect.

The book offered more than advice to companies, however. In it, Grove, a revered veteran of the high-tech world offered numerous tips to workers faced with job cuts, outsourcing, and other challenges. I believe these tips are timeless and are as relevant today as they were when Grove wrote them. I have itemized them below. Let me know what you think of them on the message board.

  1. Nobody owes you a career.
  2. Your career is literally your business. You own it as a sole proprietor.
  3. You have one employee: yourself.
  4. You are in competition with millions of similar businesses — i.e., millions of other employees all over the world.
  5. You need to accept ownership of your career, your skills, and the timing of your moves.
  6. It is your responsibility to protect this personal business of yours from harm and to position it to benefit from the changes in the environment. Nobody else can do that for you.

24 comments on “6 Evergreen Career Tips From Intel Co-Founder

  1. Parser
    December 6, 2010

    I would compare business paranoia to adrenaline addicts. People who volunteer to be medics (emergency doctors), police or professional solders are all seekers of action, which keeps them satisfied. The adrenaline is a potent drug and it is produced free of charge by our brain. These people crave the action, but for majority of the population it is a state of fear and uncertainty, very unpleasant state. Business paranoia might be good to very few of us and it is a source of miscalculated decisions based on fear. Fear and emotions are not logical weighted moves.

     

    Tips for workers faced with job cuts are misdirected. When I am alone out of job it is truly obvious to me that everything depends on me. Tell a fat person “you are fat” unless you want to offend that person. You may say, “how about exercise today” or “let us eat less for the lunch”. Saying obvious things is an affront. An unemployed worker needs to be told about glamour of being on his/her own. Number 1 can be rephrased to: You can choose your carrier, 2: Do what you like the most, 3: No more unreliable co-workers, 4: Your competition is diluted in the crowed, 5: You have complete freedom on timing of your moves, 6: You are going to succeed

     

  2. Barbara Jorgensen
    December 6, 2010

    If anything, these are more relevant than ever. The idea that you are “owed” a job comes up more and more as college graduates can't find the career they feel they were groomed for. Taking responsibility is something else that is no longer in vogue (“It's China's fault”). Grove's tips absolutely stand the test of time.

  3. bolaji ojo
    December 6, 2010

    Parser, Paranoia as defined by Andrew Grove should not be equated with unwarranted fear. It isn't asking people to live a life governed by panic scenarios conjured up by the mind. It is asking us all to confront the reality of life whether it as business leaders or employees. This distinction is important. I have heard Intel leaders repeat Grove's statement over the years and I believe they live by the constant awareness that the industry owes them no dues and that they will win only by bringing the best products to the market at the most competitive price.

    I interviewed a senior manufacturing executive at Freescale Semiconductor once who informed me that his job was only as safe as the savings and efficiencies he could engineer for the company.At a time of increased outsourcing and the adoption of fabless-model by semiconductor companies, the Freescale executive's job rested on his ability to prove that manufacturing should stay in house.

    The same applies to the rest of us. My job depends on the success I can deliver to the company and my employment is — as they say in the field — “at will” on both sides.

  4. Parser
    December 6, 2010

    Yes, that distinction is now clear to me. Not everyone wants to be an executive or president of a company or a nation. An engineer who does his/her best job will be affected by executive decision to keep the fab in house or outsource it. A president may give incentives to companies to do business on foreign soil. While there are no “owed” jobs we all want the American Dream. Grove’s tips are so obvious to me that maybe they are addressing college students, because after you start working for an industry you will know them painfully well. 

  5. Anna Young
    December 6, 2010

    A former colleague was stunned when she was laid off by her employer after 12 years at the company. She didn't see it coming and was totally unprepared. To the surprise of even our colleagues, she had assumed she was irreplaceable. This colleague did not even have a resume ready as she had not since joining the company applied to any other positions within or outside the corporation.

    I know you think Andrew Grove's tips are so obvious that they could only be useful to fresh graduates but they are relevant even to older employees. In my opinion, each employee must be “mercenary” in their approach to their career. Gone are the days when you fully expect your employer to watch your back. The only way you can ensure your own relevance to the corporation is to regularly examine your role in that organization, scope out other areas you can be useful, offer to take on new roles or design new roles for yourself AND always be in job-hunting mode, whether for new positions within your company or elsewhere.

    “Thank you for what you did yesterday is no longer enough. What have you done for me lately is the question most employers ask nowadays and you better have a good answer plus “here's what I plan to do for you next.”

  6. DBertke
    December 6, 2010

    While the six tips provide a good starting point, the key point in all of them are that ONLY YOU can control your future!  In my early engineering days, I was naive enough to believe that the company or my boss would take care of me.  I was extra lucky to have good leaders who educated me on the fine points of making a career in the Engineering field.

    The key to surviving is to always remember to include “Whats in it for me?” in your decision space and “How can I make the team look good?”  The later builds you a cadre of people who will both trust and respect you.  These elements are very important during review time, and yes it is up to YOU to remind your boss of your accomplishments and how you made HIM look good.

    The best way to remind yourself about your own greatness is the bucket test.  Every time you think you are irreplaceable, fill a bucket with water and put your hand into the water up to your wrist.  Then fast as you can, pull your hand out of the bucket and observe if you have left a hole in the water.  If you do, then you are indeed irreplaceable.  However, if you do not, like nearly all of us poor mortals, then you can be replaced.

    The sad truth is that we can all be replaced, it is only a matter of by whom and when.  So remember the boy scout motto and “Be Prepared” and you will always improve your chances of surviving whatever life throws at you.

  7. Parser
    December 6, 2010

    In 80ties large employers attempted to build relation with their workers and came out with loyalty to the company. If an employee worked extra hour he/she could get a comp time or simply it would be reflected in yearly bonus. On personal level I think loyalty is the most important in relationship but in business loyalty does not exist. When company is going down there is no money to pay there are layoffs to the last person.

    Recently I talked with one small business owner. The owner had to layoff the best worker because this worker became too expensive over the years of promotions and rewards. Company income was going down and other staff engineers could have done the task on hand. 

  8. eemom
    December 6, 2010

    First, I totally agree that everyone is responsible for their own career and life, no one owes me or you anything, and it is with hard work and perseverance that we can succeed. 

    Second, I think it is very sad that we all agree that there is no loyalty in business anymore and that every man is out for themselves.  I agree with all the observations, I just found myself getting incredibly disheartened reading the posts. 

    That being said, today's business owner does not have any choice but to look out for the bottom line.  That does not hold true however, for the larger companies that may downsize yet offer their top management huge bonuses.  I think loyalty is very important in business, especially in small business.  A company is defined by its people, they are the heart and soul, they are who the customer sees.  If they truly believe that management is not looking out for them, why should they look out for the company.  This may speak to why so many businesses fail today.  Just sad!

  9. Anna Young
    December 6, 2010

    There are different levels of loyalty that a company's management must pay attention to but all of them are defined by profit goals. Since we operate in a capitalist system, it makes sense for companies to respond first to the stimulus to make money for shareholders. All of the resources at the company's disposal are considered tools in the process of attaining the profit objectives. Human resources fall within that category.

    What we have is a situation where companies have come to that realization and, even if some people consider Andrew Grove's pointers to be pedestrian in some ways, I think we should take a second look at them and acknowledge the fact that he's done employees worldwide a significant service by giving them a peek into the executive suite.

    He wrote the book while still chairman or CEO at Intel. For someone in that position to openly say employees should focus on their own interest, implying they need to rate corporate interests second, is the height of honesty. How many employers nowadays tell employees their interest would be safeguarded even as steps are being taken to strip them of benefits and lay them off. It may be sad but it's a reality we are at least no longer ignorant about.

  10. Ariella
    December 6, 2010

    Anna, the example of your friend really has great impact. Of course, no one is completely irreplaceable.  It could have nothing to do with your job performance or even the financial health of a company.  With at-will firing, the company doesn't even need to justify taking the job away.  That is the harsh reality, and even having an updated resume on hand does not make dealing with the shock of the job loss (especially in the case of one held over a decade) easy — even if severance pay and benefits continue for a while.

    And back to the quote with which the original post opens:  even being paranoid will not necessarily help you much when there nearly 10% unemployment rate means that there are hundreds of people applying for the same job opening.  The only really practical thing everyone must do is plan in advance with an emergency fund that will cover a year (rather than the customary 3 – 6 months that had been standard) of living expenses in case of job loss. 

    I have to agree with eemom that it is very sad.  Some companies will still pay lip service to the notion that their greatest asset is their people.  But their actions often belie their words.  Whether it is a setup that cuts pay directly or indirectly or a new system of micromanagement, many employees get the message that they are not valued.  Of course, that makes them feel less loyal themselves and much more apt to jump ship if an opportunity comes up.

  11. eemom
    December 7, 2010

    I don't believe anyone is ignorant about the fact that it is every man for himself out there.  While Andrew Grove's comments give us an insight into how the executive world thinks and operates, I believe employees at large received the same message through downsizing, cost cutting measures, etc.

    Again, I don't disagree that every company has to look out for its bottom line and financial health, I just believe that there has to be some sort of balance so that loyalty to the ones that have served the company well does not totally disappear.

  12. Ariella
    December 7, 2010

    Even if one does accept that everyone serves only himself, people do form strategic alliances and partnerships. If a person blatantly disregards the interests of the partner in putting him/herself ahead, then s/he would have good reason to be paranoid.  For a society to thrive, it is necessary to have some form of balance between absolute social Darwinism (with everyone trying to be king of the hill) and a cooperative society (in which the danger is one of stagnation with no motive to get ahead on one's own).   

  13. DBertke
    December 7, 2010

    EEMOM, I disagree about your point that there is no room for loyalty.  Throughout my carreer, I was loyal to my team and my bosses until they established that my trust was unwarrented.  If you trust no one, then no one will trust you.  The real issue we are trying to address is broadening your perceptions beyond just the technical side of your work.

    I got into engineering because I loved everything about it and spent many happy years working with advanced technology in many different applications.  But engineering is a business and it involves many people who each have their own perspectives about their jobs and what is both good and bad about the work environment.

    If the work is exciting and the people involved in the project are all working to a common purpose, then incredible things can happen that make you so fullfilled that you remember why you went into engineering in the first place.  Unfortunately, there are individuals who have other career goals and who do not care about who they destroy to reach their goals.

    You stay in engineering because the same situation exists in all types of work and in all businesses.  If you get lucky, then you get a situation akin to one big happy family.  If you get really unlucky, you get involved with the job from hades.  Each company or office has its own good and bad point. 

    What I am trying to emphasize is that as an engineer, you have to look at the BIG picture every time you accept an assignment or make a job change.  As in every decision you will make in your life, do your homework and try to understand what you are getting yourself into before you decide what to do next.  The best way to stay out of a bad situation is to communicate with someone already on the inside.  While their experiences will be different from yours, it gives you an invaluable data point about the people you will be working with.

    I worked at three different companies in my career.  I was at the first one for over 11 years, the second lasted only 11 months, and my third lasted for nearly 18 years before I was forced to stop.  As you might guess, company number 2 was a really bad place to work.  I did not do as much home work on that company as I should have and spent a very stressful year trying to find a good exit strategy. 

    The first and third companies were both mostly enjoyable.  The offices were run mostly by engineering people who spent most of their time focusing on doing the best job they could.  I had a lot of fun there, but I had reached a point in my career where my skills and interests needed a larger venue.

    At my last job, I did my research on the company and carefully used my opportunities to impress the office not only with my technical skills, but with my accomodating attitude and respect for others.  I actually turned down promotions that would have moved me from doing things I liked to doing a job I know I would have hated.  By then, I had the experience and understanding of the company to make that choice to benefit me rather than having others put me in a position I would not have liked for the “good of the company”.

    So please do not get discouraged.  For those of us who are technogeeks, the engineering field can be very rewarding both mentally and financially.  All I ask is that you broaden your perspectives a bit to enable yourself to choose wisely when you reach career decision points.

    Over all, I look back on my career very fondly, inspite of some very harrowing instances of stupidity.  But I know engineering was the career for me and I am convinced that I made a very positive mark in the industry.  Keep your eyes open and you too can look back with that satisfied sigh and smile.

    Good luck.

     

  14. eemom
    December 7, 2010

    DBertke

    Thanks for your post.  i was just trying to make a point about the past posts that loyalty (not blind loyalty) is equally important to the employer / employee relationship.  I think they are co-dependent.

  15. Susan Fourtané
    December 9, 2010

    Bolaji, 

    Interesting article. Food for thought. 

    One thing I can never agree with is that paranoia and the fear of failure can be seen as something good or something not bad.

    For years and years people around the world have needed the need of a psychotherapist in order to get themselves rid of certain paranoias which were interfering with the natural and healthy development of their social and personal lives. The same about the fear of failure as one of the many manifestations of low self-esteem and lack of confidence.  

    Interesting enough this is the second time this week that I hear someone saying that fear can be good. I wonder if trying to convince the masses about this can serve for giving room to some kind of domination. I think I do. If we look back at situations in the world's history we see that inducing fear has always been used as a psychological weapon. 

    Fear as well as hate, envy and anger and the four negative giants of the soul that human beings have been fought against for centuries in order to achieve a high level of happiness and harmony. For centuries philosophers and psychologists have treated these emotions as negative. How come now they come up to be seen as positive? No, I don't agree.

    -Susan  

  16. Ariella
    December 9, 2010

    Excellent insight on this, Susan.  I wonder that no has yet offered the quip, “Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you.”  Paranoia is always considered negative because it is not a response to reality.  It is not useful as a defensive device. You can only effectively arm yourself if you are not paranoid and can distinguish between those who are truly loyal and those who are not.  King Lear is a sterling illustration of the absence of clear-sightedness that leads a person to distance himself from those he should trust and to rely on the flatterers who are waiting to stab him in the back. Ayn Rand's ideas notwithstanding, people do not progress in a vacuum and will perforce have to engage with other people if they are to succeed. 

  17. elctrnx_lyf
    December 10, 2010

    All this discussion comes down to a single point, how much people should plan their future. There have been lot of changes in the definition of life throughout the centuries. Now the life is about job, i mean it is how many of us perceive. But I do not accept with paranoia. Only the knowledge of history and the insight into future will be necessary for any person to grow.

  18. Susan Fourtané
    December 10, 2010

    Thanks, Ariella. Yes, King Lear is a very good example. I was thinking about how paranoia is defined.

    In Psychiatry:   a  mental  disorder  characterized  by  systematized  delusions  and  the  projection  of  personal  conflicts,  which  are ascribed  to  the  supposed  hostility  of  others,  sometimes progressing  to  disturbances  of  consciousness  and  aggressive acts  believed  to  be  performed  in  self-defense  or  as  a  mission, thinking that is something one tries to avoid instead of promote.

    I find it hard to understand that paranoia might be becoming a common mass behavior within companies. Can you imagine the number of patients requiring treatment and medication? 

    -Susan

  19. Susan Fourtané
    December 10, 2010

    elctrnx_lyf,

    The way people choose to live life may have changed. At the end of the day it's always up to you what you decide, what you do and what values you apply into your life. If you choose fear to have to know how it will affect your life. If you choose to be paranoid you have know you most likely will end suffering from a mental imbalance. 

    Yes, it's how people perceive life or their job but I would add that is the meaning of the job what has changed and not life in its essence. 

    Having the positive and negative emotions in order is also necessary for any person to grow. 

    -Susan

  20. hwong
    December 10, 2010

    For the most part, I agree with others comments regarding taking charge for our own career. But here are many things that is not within our control. It's the corporate culture and environment that determines our career success. For example, one of my colleagues had 2 different project managers in a single project. With her first role she was not given any opportunity to grow and was not appreciated for her work. Her second project manager, on the other hand, saw the potential in her and gave her increased responsibilities and she was able to prove herself. Then she got a promotion. She said that she was still putting in the same amount of effort in her roles. It's just that one manager allow her to grow while the other manager did not appreciate her work. She is still the same person and performing same thing. How could it turn out so diffferent?

     

  21. Susan Fourtané
    December 11, 2010

    hwong, 

    Our career success is determined by a combination of factors, the first being our own personal motivation and willingness to achieve goals. Nevertheless, leadership is closely linked to career success and this affects us and everyone around us within the corporation. As you say, the environment that surrounds us is important and plays a decisive a role as well. Sometimes  this is determined by the person who is above us in the career ladder.

    The case you present about the two different Project Managers your colleague had during a same project is a good example of good and bad leadership. A good leader is always going to see the potential in each of the members of his/her team putting that potential into work for the benefit of the project. A good leader knows how to motivate the team, above all. A good leader is self-confident and doesn't fear (and here we go back to the negative effects of fear) the others' potential. On the other hand, a bad leader (who shouldn't be performing as Project Manager) fears competition when spotting potential in a team member. A bad leader is selfish, putting him or herself before the project. A good Project Manager should have some good team-related characteristics and good values and virtues as part of his/her character. 

    So, to answer to your question, she is still the same person performing in the exact same way but what changed was her leader: from a bad Project Manager to one who knows how to see the potential in the members of the team and see them as individuals, letting them perform to the best of their capacity pro the success of the project. 

    Good she got a promotion. 

    -Susan 


  22. prabhakar_deosthali
    December 20, 2010

    In my opinion the 6 tips from Andy Grove are very relevant to the career oriented person.  But the big question remains is  one's life.How much weightage should be given to one's career and how much for living life ! In my career span of 35 years , I was many times forced out of life by my seniors so that he or the company could achieve their carrer goals. So when a paranoid boss takes cahrge of a team where the members also want live their life, the conflict starts. In a large organization you cannot remain the master of your career as you have to go with the corporate goals, your division's goals, the goals of your boss too. In this scenarion you personal career goals get trampled many times. Intel as a company , no doubt , has remained at the forefront of technolgy because their top management has been paranoid. But many of their engineers must have lived thru hell to achieve their company's objectives.

  23. maou_villaflores
    December 31, 2010

    This is totally right. As a project manager I treat my projects as my own business. With this mentality it helps focus with my goals.

  24. Tim Votapka
    February 21, 2011

    Personal integrity and ethics is key to every aspect of life. What it comes down to is how well you apply what's known as the optimum solution – what will provide the greatest good to the greatest number of dynamics. Sometimes that's a tough one to confront, but it won't steer you in the wrong direction when some of the tougher decisions arise.

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