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Multiple careers at one company, or one career at multiple companies?

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When I first started at Intel I thought I’d be here a couple of years and move on. Twenty-five years later I’m still here.

“That’s crazy… a quarter century in one company. Madness!” I hear you gasp. Not so. It’s been a series of very deliberate decisions on my part to stay at Intel. And it has a lot to do with why I was recently called “The Madonna of Intel”. Let me explain.

A lot of my college buddies have worked for more companies than they can list on their fingers and toes. To them, the idea that I have worked for only one company my entire career seems alien, even a little unadventurous. But I feel I’ve had a much more exciting work life than any of them. .

You see, they tend to have had one career spanning multiple companies — selling pharmaceuticals for different pharmaceutical companies, or designing hardware for a range of computer companies. But it’s always pretty much the same role

By contrast, I have been lucky enough to have multiple careers inside just one company. During my time at Intel I have worked in engineering, sales, marketing, management, events, manufacturing, communications, and even spent a couple of years as a video producer. Each time I found a manager at Intel that was willing to give me a chance in a new field because I was enthusiastic, adaptable, and was building a track record as someone who could turn their hand to most things.

And my story at Intel is not atypical. One friend of mine started working at Intel in the warehouse. He now is now a VP in charge of managing all our construction projects, security, and facilities . Another friend has a degree in graphic design but is now an HR manager for our Software and Services Group. I hope I can inspire you a little by sharing a quick history of my career at Intel and what’s possible here.

As a kid I was always fascinated with the future. I could see from an early age that computers were going to change the world. I thought the best way to participate in the future of computing was to invent it and build it.

In 1985 (yes, I’m that old), I started as an intern at Intel’s UK site . Intel sponsored me through university and I popped out the other end with a couple of degrees in Microelectronic Systems Engineering. I was ready to invent the future.

My first job at Intel was building customized systems and getting them into manufacturing. I did that for a couple of years and learned a ton about hardware, software, and systems integration. But I learned something even more important: 1.) I didn’t really like engineering that much, and 2.) I wasn’t really that good at it. It was then I started to realize that I could still help shape the future, but didn’t need to be an engineer to do that. Penny drop number one.

I then shifted to a project manager role and used my understanding of the time needed to build a system to quote new business to potential clients. After a couple of years, I was approached by a manager at Intel who told me he wanted to hire someone in marketing. I looked blankly at him and told him that I didn’t know anyone in marketing.

He realized I wasn’t catching on very fast and spelled it out for me. “No Steve, I want you to do the job.” I protested, “But I am an engineer, I don’t know how to do marketing.” He gave me a sympathetic look and then said something that changed my career (and personal) outlook forever “I think you can do it. I will teach you how.” Penny drop number two.

It was as if a switch flipped inside my head. Suddenly, a world of possibility opened up before me. I finally gave myself permission to be anyone I wanted, to do anything I wanted. I was no longer confined by the limiting identity of terms like “engineer” or “technical person.” I was now free to try my hand at anything within reason. Lion taming was probably out though, at Intel anyway.

That’s how I began a decade in marketing. From that initial job hocking network analyzers I moved into product marketing for PC motherboards. I learned the PC businesses and got a lot of customer face time.

By late 1996 I was ready for a big new challenge and started putting the word out to my US colleagues that I was interested in making a move stateside. By the summer of 1997, I was on my way to Oregon , where I still live today. I worked extensively with Intel product groups, government organizations and industry partners to promote new technology standards.

In 2000, I shifted roles again, this time to events. I knew nothing about events aside from having put on a few bands in college, but I snagged a job co-managing the team that ran the Intel Developer Forum (IDF) program worldwide. It was an amazing gig that had me traveling all over the world, working with a fascinating set of creative people, and making contacts across the industry.

The IDF job was challenging and wonderfully rewarding, but after three years of it, I was burned out. I was ready for a break and wanted to try something totally different. I was a week away from quitting Intel and putting myself through film school in New York, something I’d wanted to do since I was in my late teens. Thank goodness I didn’t.

I decided to change directions completely. I became a video producer .

A friend pointed me to a job posting for a video producer in Intel’s internal corporate communications group. I spoke to the hiring manager and applied. My rationale was simple: Why walk away from my Intel salary and pay for expensive tuition in film school when I could get 1:1 training at Intel and be paid to do it? My new colleagues were an Emmy award-winning cameraman and editor, and a former TV anchor and video producer with twenty five years in the business. Talk about quality training! I learned to produce video, to edit, to host live webcast events under bright studio lights, and how to look good on camera. It was an absolute blast and gave me skills I still use to this day. After two years, I switched again, to managing a team of ex-journalists working on Intel’s internal webzine.

Two more years, and then I switched to my current role — and don’t laugh — the role of Chief Evangelist. I know, I know, it sounds like I should wear long, white, flowing robes to work, but it is probably the closest description we could come up with of what I do.

I travel the world visiting Intel’s sites and meeting face-to-face with big groups of Intel employees. I help them understand Intel’s strategy, our business environment, industry trends, competitive forces, and help to get them excited about our future direction, something I’ve written about a bit here in previous posts.

It’s the most fun job I have had, ever. I absolutely love it. It leverages all the skills I have gained from my last two decades at Intel --- a deep technical background, strong presentation skills, and a wealth of business and industry knowledge.

You can do anything you want to at Intel and be anyone you want to be. It just takes a little time, some hard work, and a willingness to learn. As my friend once said to me, “Steve, you truly are the Madonna of Intel. You have reinvented yourself at Intel more times than Madonna has had hairstyles.” It’s an odd analogy, but in a way he might be right --- and I’m really proud of that fact.

So let me ask you this: Which would you rather have, one career in multiple companies, or multiple careers in one company?
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Awesome post - for the Chief Evangelist - how did you find that role - did someone suggest you to apply or look, someone reached out to you specifically and recommended/referred? This was truly a great leap fwd!