things i learned at intel

Lately I’ve been reflecting a bit on the habits I have and how they developed. Some were developed as a child or during my schooling years or by virtue of being married or being a homeowner or some such. It’s long been obvious to me that the first phase of my career-life must have also been influential in terms of habits-formed, but I’ve only recently started attributing certain behaviors to habits picked-up during that time. Once I started down that line of thought, however, a little list came to me quite readily.

(I wrote all this very fast, in a fit, and did not proofread. I feel bad about that, like the sentiments deserve more attention, but as you read you’ll see why, for me, pressing “Publish” right now vs. laboring over this longer, is positive movement.)


I developed a desire to be incredibly precise in all things. I strive to find and use the right words to convey ideas. Before I speak I work ideas and sentences around in my head over and over, chewing them around and changing little bits to tune statements for clarity and impact and brevity and tens of other factors I consider to make-up good communication or documentation.

Pros: Being precise lends itself, in my opinion, to the best kind of communication. Wringing true meaning out of intent is critical to “lean” execution, not wasting time on things which were never intended to be in-scope. This sounds engineering-focused, but it’s really for everyday life. If we’re having an interpersonal issue, let’s be precise about what it is and why and what we want to do about it; that kind of thing. Being precise also leads to completeness in understanding and scope (see below).

Cons: This habit can be really frustrating for people I’m interacting with. In discussion, I can get hung-up on a particular word they used flippantly in the heat of the moment, when in reality they weren’t thinking deeply at all about the meaning or connotations of their turns of phrase. It can also be frustrating when someone has what they feel a very simple question or problem and my fishbone litany of clarifying questions seem to only over-complicate and delay things.


I want what I do or say to be complete. I don’t like doing a partial job. My tendency towards precision means that I strive to bound all my work with good conditions-for-satisfaction, and I don’t consider the effort finished until I’ve satisfied 100% of those conditions. If someone presents a problem to me and requests help, I ask a million and one clarifying questions in attempt to precisely define these boundaries and conditions.

Pros: When you get things fully-done because you did the whole of them from the outset, it reduces the need for repeat or wasted or retroactive effort. Being complete (and precise) makes communication much easier, as there’s significantly less risk of being misunderstood or having your words twisted in unanticipated ways. Being complete also increases the satisfaction received from work, and usually provides maximum longevity of solution/decision.

Cons: It can be easy to fall into a value-rigidity “gumption trap” by restricting myself to an incorrectly bounded problem or pre-existing set of expectations. I can waste too much time preparing before executing; sometimes just getting started is better than first painstakingly mapping out the battle plan. I can get hung-up on achieving perfection and not realize I can (and maybe often should) stop at good-enough. I can become overly attached-to and proud of my precise and complete solutions/decisions, seeing them as “finished once and for all” and become emotional or de-motivated when something needs to be completely re-done because, well, things don’t often remain unchanging.


If you hadn’t picked-up on it yet, a lot of what I did for 19yrs in that first part of my career was structured problem solving (i.e. “debug”). My opinion is that being open to new ideas is a critical aspect of debug (connected to the value-rigidity trap mentioned above). Maybe, however, this one should be at the top of the list because it’s really something that’s valuable in every domain – not just problem solving. I want to entertain (almost) all thoughts and ideas, give each one at least its due respect via consideration. I attempt to not be dismissive of ideas which seem silly or odd or fruitless to me, as maybe those gut-reactions are driven by my own biases or fears or ignorance vs. experience or wisdom.

Pros: People feel seen and heard when you listen to them and give their input respectful consideration. This makes people less afraid to offer new or radical input, input which may be brilliant but otherwise be stifled in a less open environment. In my opinion, things almost always improve with a little bit of group-think and collaboration, as long as all participants are honestly motivated primarily by wanting a solution vs. ulterior (personal or political) objectives.

Cons: It’s easy to fall into a “please everyone” trap when open-mindedness is of paramount value. “Please everyone” solutions are often watered-down or unnecessarily weighed-down with tacked-on items intended to appease the pantheon of input. It’s easy to strive for these “everyone’s happy” solutions when you want everyone to like you, to respect you – in other words it’s easy to let your ego fool you into thinking you’re being objectively open-minded when in reality you’re being selfishly open-minded.


Sometime in the first half of my time at Intel, cellphones became a thing – and from that point on the job was always and forever being “on call.” I learned quickly that being available 24/7 was a boon to my professional stock. I want you to always feel like you can reach me, and when you do I’ll listen and consider you, no matter what I was doing at the time, like you can call on my when you need something and be confident I’ll come running.

Pros: This is a tricky one. Being highly-available can absolutely drive personal and professional benefits, but over time I’ve realized the balance is incredibly important. I feel like the key positive pieces of availability are presence, listening and empathy. Most of the rest I’d tend to sort out as cons.

Cons: This habit, and the one below, are probably the ones I most want to break and still struggle with today. I feel they are so closely tied to egoism. I’m trained to be monitoring and available all the time, and that robs me of true presence in wherever I am and whatever I’m doing. I’ve always got one ear to the ground in anticipation of some need which I can receive an ego-hit from instantly satisfying. This looks like pulling out my phone and checking everything every 5min. It feels like anxiety when someone texts me a question and I don’t have what I need to answer ASAP. This habit is insidious.


Partnered with the above, not only do I want to be ever-available, I delight in having the first word. Being the person who always hears and responds first, regardless of time, place or circumstance, gave me a huge advantage and made me a valuable asset. Being able to “anchor” a conversation around my stated-first ideas or suggestions or opinions was a key driver of my success. Being able to pleasantly surprise someone in Asia who sent a 3am local-time question via email with a real-time response (from under the covers in bed after hearing the notification ding) provided a dopamine hit – that Dave guy is always online… It just becomes an easy default to go through me, because you won’t have to wait.

Pros: With so many people tending to just never follow-up on anything, being responsive can be a real benefit in relationship-building. The barest minimum of interaction, being acknowledgement and response-to being addressed, is neglected by so many. “Seeing” people is important, and giving them your time and response demonstrates honor and respect.

Cons: Like availability, responsiveness can become an ego-driven obsession. At least, that’s how I struggle with it. To always have something to say, and to eagerly want that something to be top-of-stack, can be overbearing and bullying and pushy and a big turnoff. Learning to use the absence-of-opinion, a silent confidence, as a tool can also be highly effective, and is much preferred in social context to constant pontification.

There are probably a lot more I could document, but those are what came to me in this blast of productivity so that’s what I got and that’s what you get.


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