Evangelist? Not quite…

I took the ACT Layoff package and left my job at Intel on June 30, 2016. My job with Intel to that point was almost unheard of from what I’ve been told and was in fact one of the most interesting things I’ve had an opportunity to do in my winding career path. Others have suggested that I was an evangelist but I myself would not say that at all. As it happens what I did with Intel factors into what I’m doing next so this might be good to know.

I had two titles.

Software Architect. This is a standard Intel pay grade title and has certain implications that I wasn’t really held to (I think the grade is more the reason for the title). Technically speaking an architect is more about designing a system, specifying it, working out software details, writing white papers about the bits, etc. I didn’t do that. I visited our development sites in Ireland and France and worked with our product design teams at an engineering level (sitting in the lab, identifying problems, trying to fix things, advancing the cause, etc). This hands-on access to our products was invaluable but certainly par for the course, so I can label this the “normal” part of what I did for Intel.

Technical Liaison. This was a little less typical and certainly was a normal thing for the group in which I worked [initially New Devices Group, NDG, which would later get re-orged as part of the New Technologies Group, NTG, and our specific group moved to the Maker Innovator Group, MIG, within NTG]. Initially I was to be the “technical face” of our group when we were at Maker Faire and similar events and shows, and somehow that organically absorbed responsibility to support our Maker products at Hackathons.

You’re a sociable engineer. You love this stuff. — Massimo Banzi

Many dozens of hackathons flew by during my 2.3 years with Intel. Each was a learning experience on its own and collectively they represent a bit of a change in the way I see a few different things. Whether it was 30 or 40 people at an Amazon Loft event in San Francisco, an all-night hackathon at FirstBuild in Louisville, an all-night hackathon at UPenn, an all-nighter at TechCrunch Disrupt in London, a commercial hackathon under NDA in Leixlip, or participation in the Intel reality show, America’s Greatest Makers as a Mentor, each and every one of his shown a light on another facet of the vastly different world we’re in nowadays.

I was not an evangelist.

It’s possibly one could say I was an evangelist for the general notion of hackathon participation, but I don’t think that’s really quite it. I was certainly not an evangelist for Intel’s Maker products, in that I didn’t proactively drive anyone’s use of them (I was not in marketing nor in sales). Not that I wasn’t a fan of our products… it’s just that as an engineer with experience in the embedded space, I always found along the way that a hackathon participant with perhaps entry level experience selecting parts and designing their system (even under duress at timed events) should be offered helpful insights that will help them. Not help them use Intel products that were in many cases not the best choice for their needs. No, I think mentor is probably closer, and while it sounds maybe slightly pretentious, it’s not quite teacher which is a higher level still.

The really interesting part, though, was that co-mingling of product development and customer interaction. I know of no one else from my time with my former employer (though I certainly did not meet everybody) who had an opportunity to work hands-on with new products and then work “hands on” with it’s users out in the field in real usage scenarios. A large company like Intel will usually have customer service and technical support groups and layers, and they did indeed do their jobs, but somehow I was able to bridge that a bit and not only share what I knew about our products directly with anybody trying to make their project work [sometimes with Intel products, sometimes with non-Intel products], but more often learn about how they were attempting to use our products and how we might make things better. This was ten times true with our documentation and technical support, both of which were maintained by people at least once and more typically twice removed from product development…

The take-home lessons were many but here are some:

  • More and more women are participating in Hackathons and similar events and there are more and more women getting in to Making and similar. This is encouraging over the long term if the environment and community continue to be inclusive without being condescending.
  • One (or more likely 2–5) can accomplish the nearly-impossible in about 3 days, the completely-impossible takes about 5 days. I’ve seen this in person many times.
  • The unencumbered creative types among us can move and accomplish so much faster than our slower-moving Big Companies it truly boggles the mind.
  • Learning how to work in this new world is essential. Talking the talk is only a small part of it, walking the walk means good documentation, good samples code and other examples, and a real belief that even one teenager with an idea is important.

That was basically it. Wander around a small fraction of our planet working with really smart people inside and outside Intel and at Universities and other interesting places filled with even smarter and more creative people who were in some cases turning notions into real functioning things [sometimes called Proof of Concept demonstrations] in hours and days, not weeks and months.

The question now is how to continue with this momentum without the weight of Intel (which is a good and bad thing), and that is what is coming next…