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Intel's disruption is now complete (jamesallworth.medium.com)
894 points by davnicwil 7 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 627 comments



As someone who worked on Intel's phone chip: we definitely didn't win it. We fucked it up twelve ways to Sunday. Why: giant egos. There were turf wars between Austin, Santa Clara and Israel over who would design it, and the team that won out had long since lost its best principle engineers and had no clue how to spin the architecture to meet the design win. Otellini's hindsight hedge is pure spin: we knew the landing zone, we just didn't know how to get there. And the aforementioned turf war guaranteed we didn't get access to other teams' talent. I'm bitter because it was a really fun team when I moved from Motorola to Intel Austin, and then it just corroded over political battles.


I have a theory about why turf wars like this happens: the more successful and wealthy an entity, the greater opportunity there is for a manager to take wealth instead of make it. When you’re scrappy and broke, the only path to success is to make the company successful. When the company is rich and multitudinous, an individual can gain more from politics and turf wars rather than actually trying to push an already high enterprise value higher. The “maker:taker” opportunity ratio changes, and so does the type of personality the organization attracts.


As I've linked to many times on HN:

The Iron Law of Bureaucracy

> Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy states that in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people":

> First, there will be those who are devoted to the goals of the organization. Examples are dedicated classroom teachers in an educational bureaucracy, many of the engineers and launch technicians and scientists at NASA, even some agricultural scientists and advisors in the former Soviet Union collective farming administration.

> Secondly, there will be those dedicated to the organization itself. Examples are many of the administrators in the education system, many professors of education, many teachers union officials, much of the NASA headquarters staff, etc.

> The Iron Law states that in every case the second group will gain and keep control of the organization. It will write the rules, and control promotions within the organization.

https://www.jerrypournelle.com/reports/jerryp/iron.html

This (and other organizational failures and technological innovations) is why there will always be startups and small businesses eventually where there was once a big entrenched business or two (or sometimes three).

There is also, of course, whole new industries and niches to be created out of nothing, value and wealth is never a finite pile. It's mostly a matter of human effort to find and break out these new areas. Sometimes just reinventing things as the old talent grows old and dies off, providing value in learning history.


I had always heard that there are two 'Iron Laws of Bureaucracy':

1. The only thing that matters is the budget.

2. Bureaucracies only grow, never shrink, and the only thing you can control is the rate of growth.

Thanks for sharing another one with us!


This reminds me of an observation about the British Empire that the bureaucracy was at its most vast the day it was abolished.


Yes, that comes from an essay written in 1955 by Parkinson:

http://doc.cat-v.org/economics/parkinsons-law/the-economist-...

What we have to note is that the 2,000 Admiralty officials of 1914 had become the 3,569 of 1928; and that this growth was unrelated to any possible increase in their work. The Navy during that period had diminished, in point of fact, by a third in men and two-thirds in ships. Nor, from 1922 onwards, was its strength even expected to increase, for its total of ships (unlike its total of officials) was limited by the Washington Naval Agreement of that year.


HBO's The Wire captures this so well across a variety of organizations.

Edit: thanks OP for continuing to post this link, I as well found it enlightening :)


That sounds like an ironclad law. But is there empirical evidence for it? And a rational explanation behind it? I mean it's very strict as a rule: "in EVERY case the second group ... ".

Strong claims like that require strong evidence and a theory of WHY that would (always) be the outcome.

I'm thinking of society as large. That is an organization too. Are we doomed by bureaucracy?


When management becomes separated from both the people at the coalface (the people actually doing the jobs the organisation needs to do) and the founders/president/CEO, then behaviour changes. In most organisations, this is at 3 layers of management (not including the actual workers and the top management layer, so 5 layers deep for the whole organisation). After this point, presentation and political acumen outweigh all other factors for the middle management layer, because all other factors can always be "spun" to look good, or blamed on a scapegoat, etc. - there's no direct link between what the middle-manager did and what the result was, so presentation matters more.

Once that happens, the organisation will promote people who do politics well. It's only a matter of time before the entire organisation is focused on internal politics (apart from the people actually doing the work, who become pawns in political moves). As the organisation grows and the layers expand and more layers of management become disconnected, it gets worse.

In a company, eventually the company will get disrupted and die off. In a government that's not a thing, and it'll just keep expanding and playing politics. This gets worse for government departments headed by a politician, because the politician is very focused on getting something they can boast about to their electorate in the few years they have in the department. And they're usually very familiar with the kinds of political games being played.

Source: We studied this in my MBA, it's a known thing. If I still had my textbooks I could dig out a reference.


Would be interested in hearin' more ...


Think of it in terms of thermodynamics. The first group requires extra energy relative to the second group to perform roles of leadership, since those are secondary goals. The second group is instead naturally drawn to the roles of direction of the group. Thus, the lowest energy state will be one where the second group is in charge. Over time, things will gravitate to that state as it is the global minimum.


> But is there empirical evidence for it? And a rational explanation behind it?

I don't have empirical evidence for it, but I can take a stab at a rational explanation.

The second group faces no opposition in their pursuit for control of the organization and its processes.

At best, members of that group will fight among themselves, but certainly won't find resistance from the first group.

Control over various parts of the organization is therefore slowly given to one or more members of the second group.


Shouldn't the senior leadership team be providing resistance against the bureaucrats? This doesn't always happen, but I think it does sometimes.


Eventually the bureaucrats become the senior leadership and then they protect themselves.

This grows like a cancer: it starts from the bottom of the pool with people with no much skills, but looking for promotions while people with skills are looking for work results. In some very large companies I worked in (or with), techies focus on work while less competent people become managers; techies regard managers initially as admins that do work techies don't want to, but then the managers take over the organization and make it rot. This is initially far from senior leadership's sight, when it becomes visible it means most of the organization is already affected and it is too late. In most cases HR is helping with this because HR is completely disconnected and not understanding techies and the power dynamics ("those geeks nobody understands") and side with the bureaucrats because HR is also a form of bureaucracy (you don't get in HR is you are a brilliant STEM graduate).


Workers may, indeed, offer resistance against the second group.


They may offer resistance to the control of the second group but they don't fight as hard to take that control (because they focus on doing the work) so are eventually overpowered


By the time when the administration takes hold(due to legal, management or investor requirements) - workers are less than likely to care.

I work in one of those organizations (US legal requirements make it a nightmare)... I even have stock incentives, and I couldn't care less.


There will be a lot of datapoints supporting that “law”... the problem is that it’s subjective.

Everyone hates “education bureaucrats”, but if the mission is educating children, at some level the state of the institution is critical to that mission.


I don’t really believe you could do such a thing empirically. I mean it just depends on scale as you indicated. I have never been a fan of ‘social’ sciences either.

Just like Christensen’s Dilemma books are mostly just anecdotes combined with patterns in history. As many such business books are.

But in my short time on this planet I’ve seen it in countless forms where I strongly believe it deserves such a title as “iron law”.


I don't have empirical evidence, but it mirrors the 2nd law of thermodynamics (entropy always increasing). Most "concentrated" things tend to dissipate away.

> Are we doomed by bureaucracy?

When empires collapse, you get small offshoots starting up somewhere nearby. If you search "tree life cycle" on google images you will see the analogy I'm trying to get at :)


Yes. This is why Moon, Mars, etc colonies are important - it is like small startups wrt. BigCo which is our Earth civilization reaching the state of disfunction.


You may have posted this many times, but this is my first time seeing and it explains so much about what is going on right now in my life. It doesn’t give me hope, but it gives some clarity around what otherwise seems like dysfunction. Thank you!


But isn't apple that's overpassing Intel an equally big organization? How is it exempt from the rules of bureaucracy?


Apple is actually bigger by employee count, however about half (I think) are retail employees in the stores.

So yes - a very large organisation. However Apple's chip design teams are much, much smaller than that. And because Apple mostly doesn't do chip design those teams are likely able to work like a startup, without much internal politics or in-fighting. Where as all of Intel's 100,000+ employees are basically devoted to chip design and manufacture.

Apple as a whole, though, is starting to look rather sick from the same sort of problems that Intel has. Under Jobs there was an energy and clarity of purpose that's been lacking for some time. The drift in Apple's core businesses are obvious. The iPhone has been stuck in turgid incrementalism for a long time now, and has already been largely "disrupted" by Android which sold into cheaper markets and used that to fund R&D budgets that match Apple's. We don't think of it as disruption because Android arrive so soon after the iPhone and thus there was no obvious delayed "disruption event", Apple just had their market share capped by the refusal to compete on price, which is why Apple fans have for years been forced to make arguments about why Apple is successful because they take a larger profit margin than others.

Their core Mac business has also been adrift for many years now. I and many others actively avoid trying to upgrade because things frequently get worse rather than better. The first decade of the century saw constant innovation in the Mac business, after all their best people were reallocated to the iPhone and iPad, quality entered a long period of decline. macOS releases struggled with regressions and rarely introduced new innovations worth caring about. Their apps and hardware have also stalled with own goals and unforced errors like the keyboard fiasco <looks at butterfly keys with holes in the plastic from ordinary levels of use>.

Developer experience and docs are another area of problems, there was a good rant about it posted here the other day.

All these are due to organisational rot, and most obviously, a form of in-fighting between iOS / macOS in which the iWorld got the best people and resources, leaving macWorld to pathetically try and steal things from the other group occasionally, regardless of whether it made sense for a laptop context or not.


It's not. It has in the past shown these exact traits. And will most probably also do so in the future.


I get the idea that Apple's culture of secrecy applies just as much to internal projects. So while the total headcount is huge, the headcount involved in any given project is small, and unlikely to be affected by the rest of the organisation because they don't know about the project.


Thanks for making me aware of this. I’m interested in finding the derivation of this law. Intuitively it sounds sort of like Grisham’s law were bad money drives out good, but it can’t be quite that simple, can it? Is it more of an empirical thing? I know I am being lazy just asking but a quick search turns up only statements of the law. I can make up my own thinking behind it but I’d like to get it from Pournelle if possible. (Aside: Rothbard was great at this sort of logic chaining I think) Also nice rabbit hole generally here!


Turf wars are a symptom of thinking you are smarter than everyone else ... and what group makes the greatest effort in this counter-productive egotistical exercise? Silicon design engineers.


Wouldn't most employees fall under the first category, and managers and executives the next? And employees are paid to carry out goals. while employers take care of the organization and set the goals. With this modeling of the situation, the second group always had control to begin with. They're management.

And there's always corruption and politics where there are humans, be it in the mailroom or the boardroom.


> Wouldn't most employees fall under the first category,

Tell that to any college/university in the western world!

There's a reason tuitions have risen so high and it's largely been cited as the ratio of admins to teachers as being at least 10:1 when it used to be much closer.

I personally blame cheap gov subsidized credit for this quickly forming trend, which only took ~2 decades to have a devastating effect on students who come out of school without a degree which can somehow pay back such debt (which we in STEM are fortunate and I personally dropped out early).


This law is the reason term-limits and liquid-democracy are such strong tools.

Term limits are best implemented where someone must take on a different job every x years. This doesn't solve the problem of entrenched vampiric bureaucrats entirely, but it at least pushes them towards the chopping block.

Liquid democracy is a type of democracy where people give their voting power for particular issues to whoever they trust most for that topic. Then that person may pass the cumulative votes onto someone they trust and believe in. The point of liquid democracy is to empower people who are actual experts in a subject. Rather than having laymen vote in ways that just empower the most socially adept.

The entire skillset involved with gaining power is so time-consuming, it's incredibly rare for someone to have it and an actual technical skill at the same time.


Term limits are a terrible idea. They reduce the power and expertise of elected representatives in favor of the permanent government, civil service and lobbyists. On top of that they encourage corrupt behavior as you know you’re not getting elected so there is no reason not to beyond the threat of legal consequences.

> Disentangling Accountability and Competence in Elections: Evidence from U.S. Term Limits

> We exploit variation in U.S. gubernatorial term limits across states and time to empirically estimate two separate effects of elections on government performance. Holding tenure in office constant, differences in performance by reelection-eligible and term-limited incumbents identify an accountability effect: reelection-eligible governors have greater incentives to exert costly effort on behalf of voters. Holding term-limit status constant, differences in performance by incumbents in different terms identify a competence effect: later-term incumbents are more likely to be competent both because they have survived reelection and because they have experience in office. We show that economic growth is higher and taxes, spending, and borrowing costs are lower under reelection- eligible incumbents than under term-limited incumbents (accountability), and under reelected incumbents than under first-term incumbents (competence), all else equal. In addition to improving our understanding of the role of elections in representative democracy, these findings resolve an empirical puzzle about the disappearance of the effect of term limits on gubernatorial performance over time.

https://dash.harvard.edu/bitstream/handle/1/9639960/Alt_Dise...


A: Power corrupts - is not a joke. Reelection doesn't prevent corruption at all. It's a complete non-factor.

B: Elected officials are supposed to be the overseeing representatives, rather than functional executives.(think board vs C-suite). Elected executive is overall a poor idea.


The person you're responding to provided a published study from Harvard as their evidence. What's your evidence he's wrong?


It's not just one study, either. This isn't the area of political science I work in. Amongst those who do, it's an essentially universally-held belief that term limits for legislators are empirically a bad idea.

It's a shame. I like the idea of not concentrating power.


FFS! Incumbency is a complete non-factor in corruption. It's always the ability to increase your power, while in office.

Three countries with fairly open and competitive elections, and very high levels of corruption and high levels of incumbency:

https://www.transparency.org/en/countries/india

https://www.transparency.org/en/countries/turkey

https://www.transparency.org/en/countries/hungary

Then there are these least corrupt countries, that elect new people all the time:

https://www.transparency.org/en/countries/finland

https://www.transparency.org/en/countries/new-zealand

Oh... and let's not forget, that the study is about how efficient the governors are... not about corruption at all.


What about the people who project themselves as being experts in a very believable fashion but are actually not experts? Human nature would tend to cause these people to double down on their own self delusion rather than admit they don’t actually know what they are talking about. How do we guard against that?


Whiteboard interviews! Wait, no


I have a similar theory as to why rapidly growing companies become toxic environments (of which politics and turf wars are a symptom). When a company is small and has a low profile, its employees are in it for the company. They believe in the product or service that the company is creating, and but into its mission.

When the company becomes successful and starts to grow, it starts to attract people who don't really care about the company and its mission—they are in it only for themselves. They only want to improve their lot, and are willing to play politics and backstab as required to get ahead..

If the company is only growing slowly, they can weed these types out during the interview process. But if they are growing quickly, they don't have time to interview properly and slowly and surely the company is transformed from a cooperative, mission-driven organization to one where employees are fighting against themselves.

Unfortunately these politically minded types are the ones who quickly rise up the ranks, and once most of the top areas of the company are populated by assholes, there is no cure.


> When a company is small and has a low profile, its employees are in it for the company. They believe in the product or service that the company is creating, and but into its mission.

In the history of the world, 99% of people has been "in it" for the salary. Who gives a rat's ass about the company or the product?


I think just avoiding the people "willing to play politics and backstab" can be a big improvement (for employee happiness and the bottom line / shareholders)


I’ve been thinking similar thoughts about politics. Normal countries can turn into superpowers, and then it looks (from my non-politically astute eyes) as if politicians fight for power over the nation at the expense of the nation itself, and in so doing turn the superpower back into a normal nation.


An additional set of guesses to add on: some individuals are temperamentally better at the extraction than production, prefer it, are more able to exercise deceit, and have less regret or self shame.


That's obvious but doesn't explain why some organizations are vulnerable to it while others aren't.


Wasn’t meaning to be cheeky. Have been thinking about this for a few years and those are observations that took a while.

There’s analogies to building institutions in developing countries. See the constitution in the Ukraine (I think) or South Africa. Ginsberg commented publicly and Brayer agreed with (at a talk I attended) from a “source code” perspective those constitutions are superior to the American one. Sort of v2 efforts where you can adopt best practices. Yet most people would agree those younger nations don’t have stronger institutions and than the US.

So there has to be both an individual and organizational component.

This next comment is completely unbaked and probably terribly phrased, so please read it gently: in addition to the rest of the comments, I believe there is also (and I understand this is a terrible analogy) a “standby passive observer” mechanism mentality similar to how Hitler came to power. Conceptually, people that get hired externally should maybe be >50% of any large organization maybe. Those employees need to see repeated instances of malicious political acts go by (“hey aren’t we going to do something here”) and learn that sort of complicit passivity.

That’s probably a terrible analogy, but notice that there seems to be nothing the three or four people in this threat that worked at Intel could do to alter the company’s direction (obviously) but more importantly there’s also a tone of dread and finality in their words, and they seem to have all chosen to have left.

So, it seems, like nation building, a complicated problem to understand and solve.


Part of this comment made me think of Albert Hirschman's 'Exit, Voice, and Loyalty' [1] - at least as I have understood the argument, comparing the 'standby passive observer' to the 'loyalty' standpoint, and the commenters as having chosen the 'exit' option. Hirschman's book is still on my reading list though, together with his 'The Passions and the Interests' - my impression of his work is mostly based on the episodes of Alphachat where they discussed his life and work [2,3,4]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exit,_Voice,_and_Loyalty

[2] https://www.ft.com/content/d1f5d43e-9cef-41d2-a651-f59a40e47...

[3] https://www.ft.com/content/798e6641-ecf9-480e-906e-8ee756296...

[4] https://www.ft.com/content/33809fbc-c999-41c5-97f6-a5d1f33d0...


Thank you!!! Will Amazon. This is one of those back burner questions that festers and your material seems like it might lead to an unlock! Appreciate it.


As well as the formal, visible institutions like constitutions or legal frameworks there are a lot of invisible ones like cultural norms.

In a lot of countries the most powerful institution is "family first" (sometimes extending that to ethnic or religious in-group second).

The (currently) successful countries got that way with a different norm, "same rules for everyone".

I'm viewing the emphasis on family first in recent Disney/Pixar movies with increasing concern. Sure it sells better in China, but at what long-term cost?


>In a lot of countries the most powerful institution is "family first" (sometimes extending that to ethnic or religious in-group second).

>The (currently) successful countries got that way with a different norm, "same rules for everyone".

Which successful countries are these? As far as I can tell, the richer, more resourceful, established tribes don't follow the same rules as everyone. They might not be as blatantly corrupt as others, or the corruption may be more higher level with more plausible deniability, but "family first" is human nature.


You have any concrete examples of both type of countries?


"Same rules for everyone" countries: the archetype would be England after the civil war, where it became established that it didnt' matter if you were related to the King (or were the King), the law applied to you also.

(Of course there are varying values of "everyone." Most countries pretty much excluded half of the adult population until recently.)

For "family first" countries: this is the default mode for humans, so pretty much every country at one point or another. Nigeria and India would be two ountries where it's important to be related to the right people. India's caste system further reduces opportunities for many, perhaps most, people. For more extreme examples: Yemen, Afghanistan.


“Same rules for everyone” resonates very strongly here in New Zealand. There is a book-length study [1] on our national obsession with ‘fairness’ (contrasted with the USA and ‘freedom’).

[1] https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/12112539-fairness-and-fr...


There's the other extreme - state above all.


Constitutions are just pieces of paper. If people don't uphold them - they aren't worth the paper...

You could have a constitution that says - everyone is free and we decide how to govern ourselves voluntarily.... And still get a country like Switzerland.


Most organizations, over a period of time are destined to decline.

My views on the subject : https://realminority.wordpress.com/

Preventing the decline is possible, but is _continuous_ hard work.


Doesn't have to be a superpower. Look at all the autocrats that set themselves up in various African states. If anything, the success of a power grab depends on weak institutions leading to poor incentives to be "well behaved". This could be at a large established corporation, or a nation-state in disarray after a revolution.


I think both the Roman Empire and imperial China went through several cycles of this.


That's more dependent on a firm's monopoly power than scale or wealth.

If you're in a competitive market you're forced to innovate.

If you're a monopolist you can just sit there and extract wealth. Which Intel was for a while.

By the way, your little theory has support and a name, it's the resource curse in political economics.


Also wanted to mention the resource curse.

When billions are raining from the sky, whether you do good work or not, the rational plan is to fight over those free resources, rather than work to create new ones.


Aka "Dutch disease"

> coined in 1977 by The Economist to describe the decline of the manufacturing sector in the Netherlands after the discovery of the large Groningen natural gas field in 1959

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dutch_disease


I think scale might matter too. Companies are partly public goods problems. Each individual's hard work benefits the whole company. As a result they will undersupply hard work. If the company is size N, they only share 1/N of the total benefit they provide. So, the public goods problem bites harder when companies get big - even holding the level of competition in the market constant.


> If the company is size N, they only share 1/N

The graph of the distribution for value per person must be wierd, and definitely not flat. Maybe based on a power law, but I am unsure how to model the people that provide negative value, for example bad managers.


Well, the question is how much of the output they get :-)

Though actually note that the classic Mancur Olson result is "the exploitation of the strong by the weak". That is, the person who has the largest share of output contributes disproportionately much to the public good.

Simple proof: write individual i's marginal benefit from the company's total effort X as

s_i f(X) - x_i

where s_i is i's share of the output f(X), and x_i is i's own effort. Taking everyone else's effort as given, i will equate marginal benefit of own effort to marginal cost, so that total effort solves

s_i f'(X) = 1

equivalently

f'(X) = 1/s_i

Now suppose the person with the largest share satisfies the above. Then everyone with a smaller share must have

f'(X) < 1/s_i

and therefore, if they are contributing more than the minimum possible, they have an incentive to reduce their contribution. So, this extreme version has that only the largest "shareholder" does any work. (A more realistic model has a convex cost of effort, so smaller shareholders do something, but they still contribute less than their output share.)


Your assumption is that the organisation is a cooperative - the employees get a share of the output of the organisation.

Intel is not a cooperative.

Fungible employees (the majority?) are paid a market clearing price (salary) for their effort. The company can derive much more value from an employee and the employee earns very little of the excess (perhaps bonuses to align working incentives).


Supposedly, in knowledge work like programming, the distribution follows a pareto distribution: for n people, sqrt(n) produce half the productive output.


Countries with lots of minerals in Africa/ South America can tell you stories about the resource curse.


The 'resource curse' might have the causality wrong though in many circumstances.

Maybe those countries would find themselves in a similarly bad state (or worse) without those resources. Maybe their bad state is due to historical reasons - being former colonies with very little power on the world stage - and resources just couldn't help much.


The resources curse really is about staying bad, not turning bad. We must realize that all countries 300-400 years ago were 'bad' by out perspective.

Countries with a dominant resources that only found them when they were already developed don't suffer from the 'resource curse'.

In such cases not having resources doesn't mean you turn into Switzerland or Canada rather it means that it will be harder for one dominant dictator to hold on to power. In some African countries that are now proto-democracies, dictators simply couldn't hold on to power without easily available resource base.

Bruce Bueno de Mesquita work in 'The Logic of Political Survival' and ' The Dictator's Handbook' is quite interesting.


Having a certain superpower send funds, training, and arms to right wing militias and established dictators certainly helps maintain the resource curse.


this is a common trope - but Canada has lots and seems ok.

Also the USA is the poster child for this; it's arguable that without the California gold rush there would be no USA as this is what is thought to have capitalised the federal government sufficiently to impose order on the west and fight the south.


This seems true, but I guess I also have more empathy for decision-makers: to me it seems like it is far from obvious who should take on which projects. Pretty much by definition, the organization is structured so that its current projects have sensible homes, but when a totally new project comes up, it is unlikely to fit perfectly anywhere in that structure. If it did, it wouldn't be totally new!

None of the options for dealing with this seem great. I've seen "internal incubator" type things which are designed to come up with new ideas, but honestly I'm not a fan of these. The structure incentivizes prototyping new "left field" ideas, but those ideas are likely not to gain any traction, and if they do, it is likely to be a mess to transition them into real projects within the more normal operations of the organization. And it does nothing for projects that are clearly important from inception, even if new; the "left field" incubator is not the right place to put something that isn't a crazy idea being tested but something known to be important.


The problem I've observed is also that (for performance / reward purposes), managers lie as hell when it comes to their team performance. The bigger the company, the less actual signal is received by upper managers because everyone doctors the hell out of this numbers. It might be impossible to even KNOW who the best team in your company is.


Yes. In fact, I would argue it should not be possible to have this "the best team" - if teams in different parts of the org are directly comparable, then they must be doing the same exact thing, and why do you have multiple teams scattered around doing identical things? That is, a well structured org will have teams working on Thing A and Thing B. If a brand new Thing C comes along, it isn't either Thing A or Thing B, and you have no real information on how good either team will be at Thing C, all you can know is how good they are at Thing A and Thing B respectively.


At one time IBM had the resources to assign the same major challenge to two internal organizations.


Fair point, and that sounds pretty awesome for getting data on things, but a luxury most don't have. I suspect nearly every organization where this is the case is doing it accidentally rather than conscientiously.


You put it so well, having worked in both large and small companies - I can attest to this theory. An exception might be SpaceX where you have a strong dictator at the top and any annoyances of tribal war get direct authoritarian spanking.


> An exception might be SpaceX where you have a strong dictator at the top

I think a similar thing is happening at Amazon (the strong dictator stuff, I mean), and it's my hunch that Google has started following Intel's trajectory, they just haven't realised it just yet.


The more perceptive ones at Google have realized that and quit in mass over the past few years. Since Sundar and the rest of the McKinsey gang took over, it has been just death to Google by a thousand cuts.


Sundar's complete destruction of Google's massive goodwill has been spectacular. And sad.


I think he's an improvement over Eric "maybe-don't-do-it-if-you-want-to-keep-it-private" Schmidt


Em... Eric had a disaster PR moment, while Sundar is just turning Google into another IBM.


Similarly in US politics. And before we get emotional, how is it different from those examples?


All countries where there is a class of people who go into politics as their only career. The UK is riddled with them.


In some ways, this is the result of equality through having paid salaries for politicians. While the previous arrangement of having to be independently wealthy excluded most people from getting into politics, it did mean that it wasn't a career choice. It was something you did after you gained wealth and experience, at the end of a career in an actual industry and most likely running a business or being a senior manager, or you were wealthy to begin with. While the arrangement was not perfect by any means, it did mean that the politicians of that era were men of substance with a wealth of knowledge tempered by real-world experience. Politicians who go into it as a career straight from university lack any serious real-world experience outside politics, and I'm afraid to say they aren't up for the job. Their heads are full of political ideals but they mean little to the rest of us who just want competence and level-headed decision making.

I think there's a relatively straightforward and fair solution to the problem, and that is to require a certain amount of experience before being permitted to stand as a political candidate. You could do this by having a minimum age limit (e.g. 35), or by having been employed or being an employer for a certain number of years e.g. 15. This would ensure that the people representing us have gained a little understanding and experience of the world we live in and the real needs of the people they serve. Right now, I feel politicians of all stripes are almost completely divorced from the rest of us, and the consequences of their actions.

I do feel it is somewhat foolish that any job in the real world, from management through to the lowliest worker requires years of experience, multiple qualifications and certifications, training and assessment. But politicians require no independent assessment of their capabilities. The ballot box is not a high enough bar when all the candidates are of low quality.


While the arrangement was not perfect by any means, it did mean that the politicians of that era were men of substance with a wealth of knowledge tempered by real-world experience.

Yes exactly. I don't hold with the notion that the head of the NHS has to have been a doctor or the head of the MoD has to have been a soldier - there is value in being about to look at thing objectively with an outsider's perspective. But at the same time, I do absolutely believe that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should be someone, from any industry, who has employed people and had to make payroll on payday come hell or high water.

It would also benefit everyone if some life experience was required before becoming a teacher.

The ballot box is not a high enough bar when all the candidates are of low quality.

Agreed again, voting now is about holding your nose and choosing the least-worst. I want "none of the above" on the ballot paper and if it wins, the real candidates are banned from politics for life. Repeat until some decent candidates show up. But none of our incumbent politicians would ever pass that law for obvious reasons.


Absolutely agreed on all counts.

The point about teachers is also something I think is quite neglected today. A teacher with real-world experience of their subject is vastly better than someone who has known nothing of the world outside education. And that's of value far beyond the subject matter: they can provide career guidance and real-world perspectives of all kinds that less experienced teachers simply can't provide. Certainly some of the best teachers I had were those who had done real work.

Regarding the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I absolutely agree. But I think it should go further. I think all MPs should have direct experience of running a business and having to make payroll. Too many of them lack understanding of the reality of what a business is, and how the economy runs. It would temper some of the most extreme and dangerous actions, from taxation to social welfare spending. Too many think businesses are "rich" and can be taxed with impunity to pay for things of dubious benefit. It's easy to be profligate with other people's money if it seems like it's there for the taking. Experience might make them think about how to grow the economy to benefit us all, and reduce unnecessary expenditure. They might also think more carefully about supporting small businesses while ensuring large multinationals also pay their dues. I personally paid more corporation tax than several multinationals, despite earning less than the living wage.

For the first time, I set up and ran my own small consulting business for the past two years after being made redundant. (I'm also in the UK.) It was a small-time business with only one client for a couple of small contracts, and I since got a new permanent position. But the experience of having to do all the company registration, contract negotiation, invoicing, bookkeeping, dealing with accountants, paying corporation tax, and finally getting it all wound up was an invaluable experience which will likely be of great benefit in better understanding the businesses I work for. It gave me a proper appreciation of the realities of running a business, including all of the responsibilities you have to shoulder. I think every elected politician should have this experience. Every self-employed person in the country has a better understanding of the practical reality of economics and taxation than most of our politicians. And I think all politicians should be aware of the reality of what the rest of the country has to bear in response to the decisions they make.


A company and a sovereign state are completely different things.

Both have politics since they are structures made of humans.

But they are completely different.

A company is a legal entity functioning within the framework of the legislation of a state, to start with.


A company and a sovereign state are completely different things.

It depends on the level you look at. For example the political skills of a manager to advance themselves at the expense of the organisation and their subordinates is identical whether at Raytheon or the DoD (to use an American example).


Only the government can use force openly on you with complete impunity.


Despite their size, I think they're still in the startup phase where they have a large number of starry-eyed (pun intended) folks coming in because of the mission. That really is Musk's secret - you can get a lot done churning through people.


Is SpaceX already that big to be in the class of overweight titans like Intel?


You could imagine the division responsible for mobile chip design to be of similar size to a mid-sized company like SpaceX. The optics are the same. You're right Intel is massive - the logistics department at Intel doesn't have any friction with the teams tasked with mobile chip design.


perhaps not in absolute terms, however In the launch industry they are almost as massive if not bigger . spacex also employees 8,000+ people. That is a scale large enough for it to have similar problems of intel size companies.


that's a very astute observation

having worked at all three of

A Trillion Dollar corporation

A smaller company that grew quite a bit and sold for $5 billion+

A start up now

*

People optimize for what will make them rich/wealthy

In larger companies, the ENTIRE function of middle management is to extract wealth and not create it

In some ways it's a miracle Microsoft managed to get Satya Nadella as CEO. Normally the people who rise up the ranks are the politically astute


> Normally the people who rise up the ranks are the politically astute

Don't discount Nadella's political astuteness. I think it would be more accurate to say he is not merely politically astute, but instead able to combine his skill at internal politics with customer empathy and technical intelligence.


The conversation in Satyas own book of the trip to try to recruit some HP exec with Balmer where Satya pushed to take over some division and Balmer reluctantly agreed on the flight down to SF but told Satya he better be able to execute and quickly or he should work on his parachute skills, alone is hilarious when viewed through the lens you describe.


I just read that part of the book[0]. Actually, Satya says that Ballmer offered him the position because MS had to answer to AWS.

>[...] Steve had invested in it because [search][1] would require the company to compete in a sector beyond Windows and Office and build great technology—which he saw as the future of our industry. There was tremendous pressure for Microsoft to answer Amazon’s growing cloud business. This was the business he was inviting me to join.

>“You should think about it, though,” Steve added. “This might be your last job at Microsoft, because if you fail there is no parachute. You may just crash with it.” I wondered at the time whether he meant it as a grim bit of humor or as a perfectly straightforward warning. I’m still not quite sure which it was.

But yeah, funny, though.

[0] The book is Hit Refresh, if anyone is curious.

[1] It was Bing: >There was no mention of the cloud in that year’s shareholder letter, but, to his credit, Steve had a game plan and a wider view of the playing field. Always a bold, courageous, and famously enthusiastic leader, Steve called me one day to say he had an idea. He wanted me to become head of engineering for the online search and advertising business that would later be relaunched as Bing, one of Microsoft’s first businesses born in the cloud.


Thank you for the quote! I would be a bit skeptical of any highly ambitious executive’s self-described potentially revised historical narrative of their ascent, however his words are his words.

I don’t know about you but if my boss made a parachute joke while currently in a private plane flying south, it would be a scary thing.


I highly doubt you can get to the executive level of such a large company without playing politics. And playing it well. It's inevitable.


There was a comment in one of the Google biographies that the execs fought so much (maybe bill Campbell? RIP) that Sundnar became the person to unwedge the egos and therefore got selected on that basis.


It's hard to think of a 'successful' tech org without a massive ego at the top. So far Sundar hasn't shown he has what it takes. Is a massive ego required to drive these orgs?


What is it that makes you think Satya Nadella is not politically astute?


"When you’re scrappy and broke, the only path to success is to make the company successful. When the company is rich and multitudinous, an individual can gain more from politics and turf wars rather than actually trying to push an already high enterprise value higher."

Extremely well said, and having worked at two (initially) successful behemoths so far, I couldn't agree more.


If there is some Pareto-like distribution of who is creating new value, all of those others must be working at something.


Not just attracts - rewards and cultivates, too. People already working somewhere don’t have immutable personalities. If an employer is a bad influence on its employees, problems will manifest not only with new hires.


I agree with you and a lot of the things people who are responding are saying but the one thing that keeps popping in my head is that Apple who is disrupting in this case isn't exactly the lightweight scrappy contender as put forth in the parables and anecdotes. If the hypothesis is true for Intel why is giant Apple not suffering from the same mercenary middle management / toxic political BS?


Apple historically has concentrated leadership to a T (see: the Steve Jobs mythos) I don't recall hearing anything about Intel being nearly as centralized.

Steve Jobs apparently demolished internal units, with the following outcome:

> As was the case with Jobs before him, CEO Tim Cook occupies the only position on the organizational chart where the design, engineering, operations, marketing, and retail of any of Apple’s main products meet. In effect, besides the CEO, the company operates with no conventional general managers: people who control an entire process from product development through sales and are judged according to a P&L statement.

https://hbr.org/2020/11/how-apple-is-organized-for-innovatio...


Apple is very differently organised from most big corporations, it has whats known as a functional organisational structure. Marketing, operations, software engineering, hardware engineering, etc.

Most corporations are organised around product groups, but what happens when the mobile products group comes up with a new device and wants to sell it to corporate clients? The enterprise products division might not like that. Imagine if Apple had a Mac division selling laptops, they might not have been happy about the Phone division coming out with the iPad and keyboard cases.


To be fair, I think many of their Mac-related problems over the past few years are a result of no one being able to defend the line internally, too. Management is a difficult problem.


I think this is a misunderstanding. The problems with the Mac have not been due to neglect, but due to very aggressive forward looking and innovative advancements of the platform some of which just failed.

You don’t develop all new low profile keyboard technology, an original touch sensitive display interface system, a new hinge mechanism, a custom integrated security and image processing chip (T2), and a unique 5k display system through neglect. The problem is some of these advancements were simply misconceived. It wasn’t lack of interest or investment, it was poor execution of some of the new developments.

Steve Jobs used to say that being better necessarily meant being different, but being different means taking risks and sometimes they don’t pay off.


Apple bought fell for the whole "Post-PC" mirage when the iPhone & iPad were on a tear: the desktop Mac was definitely neglected for years with no advancements while manpower was directed at iOS & iOS devices. What they did come up with, was the form-over-function trashcan Mac "Pro" with severe thermal limitations. They only got it right on their next attempt (some 2+ years later), after being publicly called out for neglecting their pro customers (Final Cut Pro X and the trashcan Mac were the final straw for a lot of video professionals who switched to Windows).

For a while, the software quality of new OS releases was night and day, comparing iOS and OS X. It was clear where the focus was. Apple's org structure has it's weaknesses.


The largest issue with the trashcan MacPro6,1 was complete lack of GPU performance. They weren’t even VR capable.


The biggest problem is the form-over-function design. The same applies to the new one as well, though it's not as bad. In both cases, they are missing out on the business market who need a workhorse. Both are priced out of most people's budgets. We end up buying Mac Minis and struggling with their limited capabilities and expansion options. Their whole strategy here is poor. They don't have any midrange options between the two extremes.


Perhaps we just have a different opinion, and that's OK. I don't work at Apple, so I have no deeper insight, other than to me, it looks like the Mac branch has been flailing with no clear direction for some time now. They may have the money to try things, but there no one steering the ship, so to speak.


I'm sure they have it, but it occurs to me that they did go through a near-death experience that might have caused some of the worst baggage to abandon ship, and for a while afterwards they probably knew that it was possible for even a company as big as Apple to go under.

Now that it's been a while, it wouldn't totally shock me if they ended up drifting Intel's way eventually.


Explained somewhat by the nature of the innovators dilemma and the products they're making: - x86 chips for PC were Intel's cash cow so doing anything to disrupt that revenue stream would be fought against - Apple's cash cow is the phone itself so they don't particularly have any dogmatic loyalty to one type of chip as long as the phone sells

Now if there were a technology to come up agains the iPhone (glasses anyone?) they'd probably face the same conundrum; disrupt themselves or be disrupted?


They did, famously, deliberately kill their own iPod market by introducing the iPhone.


That was completely conventional and expected per the innovators dilemma - they moved to a higher margin product with more features. iPhone was innovative and impressive for many reasons but it did not short circuit innovators dilemma.


Very true good point


Apple probably has similar problems, but this particular sub-organization is healthy for now.

Maybe because it's newer and hasn't rotted yet.


While Steve Jobs was alive, he served as Apple's lodestone and BDFL. It's only been 9 years since his passing, so any rot that might exist probably wouldn't have grown enough (taking into account their culture of secrecy as well) to be externally visible.


Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy states that in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people:

First, there will be those who are devoted to the goals of the organization. Examples are dedicated classroom teachers in an educational bureaucracy, many of the engineers and launch technicians and scientists at NASA, even some agricultural scientists and advisors in the former Soviet Union collective farming administration.

Secondly, there will be those dedicated to the organization itself. Examples are many of the administrators in the education system, many professors of education, many teachers union officials, much of the NASA headquarters staff, etc.

The Iron Law states that in every case the second group will gain and keep control of the organization. It will write the rules, and control promotions within the organization.


That's an arvitrt judgment. Workers can be lazy and bad that their jobs, and leaders can enable workers to perform better.


> the greater opportunity there is for a manager to take wealth

Pieter Hintjens (creator of ZeroMQ) wrote a lot about this, and how organizations from big companies to small charities to software projects ought to design their internal structures of roles, titles, voting, auditing, to defend themselves against this kind of attack. Particularly if there's any kind of treasury, an opportunist will become tempted to take that role, but any kind of credit will attract people who want to take the credit without doing the work, power structures will attract people who want the power, and programmers who "just want to code" and avoid politics will find themselves at the bottom of a dysfunctional infected organisation structure with no power, no credit, and being instructed by distorted requests.

IIRC he tried to design the ZeroMQ organisation so that there wasn't any way for one person to insert themselves in a key point.

I'm not sure where on his blog I was reading that, but it's related to his writings about psycopaths[1] as the opportunists, and might be part of his book Social Architecture[2]

[1] http://hintjens.com/blog:_psychopaths

[2] http://hintjens.com/books


Do power structures in open source project really exist when one person can fork the entire thing with the click of a button?

I could be mistaken, but I think this kind of happened with ZMQ where one contributor got annoyed and went off to create nanomsg.


Of course; when Guido Van Rossum left Python[1], he titled his email "Transfer of power" and commented "I am not going to appoint a successor. So what are you all going to do? Create a democracy? Anarchy? A dictatorship? A federation?". No doubt a lot of people would like to insert themselves as new "Benevolent Dictator for Life" - imagine the uproar if Guido had appointed a successor who nobody had heard of, but had recently bought Guido a luxury yacht. What would "fork the entire thing" look like - would Apple do it? Google? FreeBSD? Microsoft? RedHat? Would the Python dev core fracture into competing groups of stay vs leave? Just because you /can/ fork it, doesn't mean nobody has any power or influence.

Or when people complain about Linus Poettering and Systemd, either how it came to be in certain distributions, or how it took over certain subsystems, or people's behaviour around it - isn't that politics and power structures?

Or that recent post on HN ( https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=25076197 ) where the Cairo project appears to have nobody left who is able to make a release and the last few years of releases were done by one person working at Samsung, and there hasn't been one since he left, and presumably there was no organizational structure for how to distribute this power to several people, or how to choose and "promote" someone to the job, or if nobody wants to do it, how years worth of effort came to end up on the rocks where nobody even cares anymore, isn't that a broken or absent organization one way or another?

[1] https://mail.python.org/pipermail/python-committers/2018-Jul...


That sounds very interesting. Has there been any update on how successful or not his ideas are in practice?


I'm not sure. In his article on "Building Online Communities" (http://hintjens.com/blog:117) he says he experimented with building online communities for three years and gathering results, and that ZeroMQ is his biggest success (at being organised to defend to both vendor capture, or takeover by a single powerful/competent/rude contributor). For background of why that was his focus, he wrote this (http://hintjens.com/blog:125#toc15) about his experiences with working on OpenAMQ:

"""In late 2009, the Chair and Red Hat sat down and decided, in a secret meeting, to rewrite the spec. [...] From scratch. By himself. After years and years of committee work. After years of investment by others in working code. Without asking anyone except Red Hat. And then, to force this spec through the working group using his usual tactics: bullying and lobbying. [...]

One of my spin-off projects was the Digital Standards Organization, and I came to understand what was needed to protect a standard from predatory hijack. I summarized the definition of a "Free and Open Standard" as "a published specification that is immune to vendor capture at all stages in its life-cycle." What the "free" part means is, if someone hijacks your working group and starts to push the standard in hostile directions (as Red Hat did), can you fork the standard and continue? Does the license allow forking, yes or no? And secondly, does the license prohibit "dark forks," namely private versions of the standard?

If either answer is "no," then you are at the mercy of others. And when there is money on the table, or even the promise of money, the predators will move in. The AMQP experience gave me a lot of material for my later book on psychopaths. [...]

If we'd managed to build a thriving community around OpenAMQ, it would have survived. So the lesson here is simple: community before code. Today this is obvious to me. Eight years ago, it wasn't."""

And reference this (http://hintjens.com/blog:120) Social Architecture FAQ which talks about rude but highly skilled people contributing to projects (read that with "community before code" and the quote "if you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far go together" in mind).


They're unsuccessful.

His book on Psychopathy was panned on Reddit, as well as on Goodreads:

https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/4c27ss/im_pieter_hint...

Likewise, the wikipedia article for Social Architecture has been listed "not notable" for the past four years, and hasn't seen any meaningful edits since 2016.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_architecture

With respect to the author, I'm not surprised. Nerds like ourselves enjoy "discovering" ideas, slapping pretentious labels on them, and then evangelizing them to the whole world... without checking if other people know more about those ideas than we do.


> Likewise, the wikipedia article for Social Architecture has been listed "not notable" for the past four years, and hasn't seen any meaningful edits since 2016.

Pieter Hintjens died in 2016.


I'm not seeing his book being panned on your Reddit link, I'm seeing ad-hom attacks on him because of his lack of credentials or some unrelated behaviour they don't like.

Is there any actual panning of his book by someone who read his book, in your link? Or anyone who engaged in good faith - e.g. it's a book about his experiences of problem behaviour patterns that hurt others?


The author himself said his book was panned on Reddit: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11631424

The larger point is that the audience he chose to market to, rejected his ideas. Whether or not his audience was acting in "good faith" is irrelevant to his failure to communicate.


It’s time horizons too. The time horizon of creating the next great thing can be 3-5 years. An office politician can spend a lot of time grabbing value rather than creating it in that time span. This is one reason to be suspicious of senior folks who job hop too much.


I suspect some of it is also driven by 'impact-based rewards', i.e. valuable projects get the team paid more.

It means there's immense incentive for teams to monopolize skill and reduce other teams' value so they get picked. It also encourages posturing as strongly as possible, rather than accurately, since it's all based on perception - it's not like you can prove you'll do a better job than another team. To make it worse, if a highly valuable project seems like it might fail, the company will likely throw more resources at it - the risk to the team for getting in over their head is relatively low (and still looks great on a résumé), compared to the risk to the company.


I was thinking precisely this as I read parent's comment. These are managers/teams fighting in zero-sum game (or something they THINK is a zero-sum game) for a bigger share of stock bonuses of the existing extremely valuable company. Take that win and that bigger chunk of a massively valuable company, and in a way you don't really care what happens with the phone chip market; by the time it really pays off big, in 6 or 8 years, you might be somewhere else anyway.

Whereas, in a smaller company with a smaller pie to divide amongst folks, the growth of the pie is the most important thing.


Seen and been subjected to this many many times.

Startup going well, productive team and people to work with.

Some guy who sucks with years of sucking experience joins to “manage” the company/team/department into the ground.

I work for a not for profit now and we get paid less, very few people suck.


In sum humans do not always optimize towards one variable like success / fitness.

Instead they optimize to many things like money, prestige, power, security, and so on. Much like you can't describe health as a single thing, when you collapse your insight to a single variable you miss everything in your simulation of how reality works.

This applies to an individual level but especially applies towards a cooperative level with multiple individuals. When we cooperate (or just act in ambiguous situations) sometimes trying to collapse your actions to "mental shortcuts" aka Heuristics in Judgment and Decision-Making to borrow some thinking fast and slow language further reduces insight.


Some institutions do persist for a very long time. The Japanese monarchy, the Catholic Church, and the old universities at Oxford, Bologne etc, are particularly prominent examples.


I agree, and I'll add more to it. In a very small company, there simply isn't enough space for any individual team or segment to diverge significantly from the overall success of the company. When your company is very large, often the needs of various sub-groups might not be in alignment with overall company success, even if they're still trying to make money for the company.

A great example comes from this article. The group in charge of the Pentium product line would not be thrilled to see the Celerons launched, since that would cannibalize their sales. Obviously for long term success of Intel this was the right move, but from the perspective of the Pentium team this might be a horrible idea.


>the greater opportunity there is for a manager to take wealth instead of make it

Much like countries and empires. Once growth largely stops being the easiest way to capture wealth "entrepreneurs" start eating away from the inside.


You can include wealthy nations in that list of entities. It's not just the leaders but also the individual workers.

This is not a slam against people from wealthy nations. I am one of them. I just think it's a danger to be aware of.


Reminds me of this article I just read. In a totally different domain, but if there is so much wealth, it is easier to just a part of it, instead of creating new wealth.

https://pedestrianobservations.com/2020/11/13/surplus-extrac...


What you're saying might/might not be true in general, but it is not relevant to Intel. Intel has for decades had internal teams compete. It's a purposeful choice that they stuck with despite despite the numerous times it has failed them, the blood on the floor, and the departure of engineers they wanted to keep.


Absolutely my experience.

However the small companies almost always have VC investors, which brings negative effects which are approximately as awful (just in totally different ways).

If you can find a small self-funded company that isn't gonna get squashed next time Masayoshi Son sneezes, it'll be the best job you've ever had.


the greater opportunity there is for a manager to take wealth instead of make it

And what I view as completely irrational is the fact that in so many cases, the self-interested option is actually to work together and do something meaningful that advances you far more than chasing a quarterly metric.


Essentially what Steve Jobs said about product vs sales & marketing people and Xerox, but more regional/department version.

https://youtu.be/P4VBqTViEx4


This is why extremely steep marginal takes rates improve economic efficiency. If you can’t get rich by playing office politics you might as well enjoy making a good product.


> If you can’t get rich by playing office politics you might as well enjoy making a good product.

It seems to me this would go the other way. Making a good product (in the sense that it's successful in the market) is what you want a company to do, but that's the thing mostly aligned with the profit incentive.

If profits are taxed heavily then spending resources on making a better product so that more people buy it doesn't make you a lot more money, but spending resources on office politics brings non-monetary personal benefits like status and control, so managers would have a greater relative incentive to do those things. See e.g. Soviet Union.

One of the biggest problems today is actually that the tax code provides incentives for corporations to retain profits within the organization rather than paying them out to shareholders to invest in something else, which results in inefficient corporate bloating.


Corporate tax rates can be lower, ideally at 0, but I doubt our current system incentivizes corporations retaining profits. On the contrary, recently many needed to be bailed out because they paid out too much to shareholders instead of saving enough for a rainy day.

Making a better product also doesn't necessarily lead to profits. That's an oversimplified perspective. There's a far greater correlation between monopoly power and profit. In some cases this monopoly status comes from truly groundbreaking work. Not in all cases though.


> Corporate tax rates can be lower, ideally at 0, but I doubt our current system incentivizes corporations retaining profits.

Multinational corporations commonly avoid taxes by keeping profits offshore in a low tax jurisdiction. In order to pay the money to shareholders they have to repatriate them and pay corporate income tax on the money, and then the shareholder has to pay tax again on the dividend or the capital gain from the buyback.

Or they can leave the money where it is, not pay any of those taxes and invest it in some index fund from there. But then the money is stuck inside the corporation, and gets invested in some index fund instead of potentially going to some higher risk/reward investments that some of the original shareholders would have chosen.

> On the contrary, recently many needed to be bailed out because they paid out too much to shareholders instead of saving enough for a rainy day.

COVID-19 isn't a rainy day, it's a once in a century pandemic. Most companies have never made enough money to be able to survive it, and the ones that did still shouldn't be hoarding it just in case. Systemic problems get solved through systemic actions, e.g. lowering interest rates or sending stimulus checks. To expect companies to have saved enough money to survive rare systemic events without that is to penalize and destroy any company lean enough to have been unable to save it to begin with.

> Making a better product also doesn't necessarily lead to profits.

Making a worse product in a competitive market has a strong relationship with going out of business.

> There's a far greater correlation between monopoly power and profit.

But that's an independent problem. The solution there isn't to raise taxes, it's to break up monopolies.


> Multinational corporations commonly avoid taxes by keeping profits offshore in a low tax jurisdiction.

That does happen, but many including the biggest tech companies found a clever way around it. Via a combination of ultra-low interest bearing bond sales and share repurchases. It does the same thing but avoids those taxes. So there's no incentive for profit retention on net.

> COVID-19 isn't a rainy day, it's a once in a century pandemic.

Part of going into business is accepting risk, including systemic risk. That's why the corporate veil exists and it's generally positive for the overall economy when weak businesses fail. A strong business would have an operating model that can withstand such risk.

> To expect companies to have saved enough money to survive rare systemic events without that is to penalize and destroy any company lean enough to have been unable to save it to begin with.

Maybe those companies shouldn't have been in business then and that capital would have been better deployed somewhere else. I'm surprised that opportunity costs of capital allocation are ignored when defending bailouts. They introduce market inefficiency and reward complacency.

> Making a worse product in a competitive market has a strong relationship with going out of business.

In principle, yes. In reality, most markets are not competitive to that degree. Perfectly competitive markets don't exist in a modern regulated economy. We can talk about removing regulatory burden to make this true, but that's not where we are now.


> That does happen, but many including the biggest tech companies found a clever way around it. Via a combination of ultra-low interest bearing bond sales and share repurchases. It does the same thing but avoids those taxes. So there's no incentive for profit retention on net.

The loans allow the money to be transferred back into the domestic entity, but there are then restrictions on issuing more in dividends or buybacks than you have in profits, and borrowing isn't considered profit. So they can get the money back into the US and use it for wasteful empire building but they can't give it to the shareholders -- it makes the problem worse.

And buybacks have more advantageous tax treatment than dividends but they're still taxed as capital gains on the difference between the price you bought the shares and the price you tender them for, which doesn't happen if the money stays inside the corporation.

> Part of going into business is accepting risk, including systemic risk. That's why the corporate veil exists and it's generally positive for the overall economy when weak businesses fail. A strong business would have an operating model that can withstand such risk.

You're using two incompatible definitions of weak. In the first case you want weak businesses to fail because they're inefficient, i.e. they're consuming more resources than they produce and go bankrupt. In the second case the business fails because there is a situation resulting in a temporary loss of revenue (shutdowns) but the business still has operating expenses (e.g. rent) and is too efficient to have enough slack to bridge the gap. The inefficiency wasn't caused by the business occupying space it couldn't use, because at the time nobody could use that space -- the loss was a sunk cost to society at large.

If you let them fail then when the temporary situation ends there is greater market concentration because the leanest companies failed, which allows the remaining ones to charge higher margins due to the reduced competition to the detriment of their customers or suppliers.

> I'm surprised that opportunity costs of capital allocation are ignored when defending bailouts. They introduce market inefficiency and reward complacency.

This is why "bailouts" should be distributed uniformly without regard to risk of failure, e.g. through lower interest rates or fixed sum payments to everyone. Then you're not rewarding the most precarious companies because they get no more than anyone else, but you still prevent them from failing. Meanwhile those in a stronger position can use the money they received to increase investment or consumption, which is what you want in a down economy anyway.

> In principle, yes. In reality, most markets are not competitive to that degree.

It still works like that in practice much of the time. Blockbuster's product wasn't as good as Netflix and now they're gone. GM's product wasn't as good as competing ones and it led them into bankruptcy. Blackberry, Sears, RadioShack, Circuit City, AOL.

It could happen more than it does, but it still does.


> but there are then restrictions on issuing more in dividends or buybacks than you have in profits, and borrowing isn't considered profit. So they can get the money back into the US and use it for wasteful empire building but they can't give it to the shareholders

The argument has been subtly shifted here, from businesses not being able to return capital in the form of dividends due to taxes to business not being able to do so due to loan covenants. Irrespective of the latter point, it is clear that given low interest rates, repatriation tax policy has no effect on incentives for capital repatriation. The biggest most profitable companies that pay out large dividends and do share buybacks make frequent use of this.

As for the loan covenant restrictions, from an economic stability perspective, it's very poor incentive design to allow companies to repay dividends when they're not profitable. This is in effect what you mean when you say "restrictions on issuing more in dividends or buybacks than you have in profits". A business thus impacted should focus on getting profitable. Liquidation is also an option. Dividends and buybacks should not be.

> This is why "bailouts" should be distributed uniformly without regard to risk of failure

This policy sends a message that foresight doesn't matter and reinforces a short-term oriented time horizon. Not only is that worse for society, it's worse for business in the long-run due to investment disincentives. Providing temporary support to individuals or local small businesses to preserve communities, especially vulnerable ones, is a different story and this is not an argument against it. Bailing out large well-managed businesses on the other hand makes no economic sense, these businesses can easily be restructured, sold, and given a new lease on life under new ownership. Antitrust concerns should be handled by courts, not by bailouts.

> increase investment or consumption, which is what you want in a down economy anyway.

Not all investment is equal, some investments have a much better return than others. Good policy incentivizes the latter as opposed to incentivizing indiscriminately. Investment for the sake of investment leads to waste and is bad for the economy in the long-run.

> and is too efficient to have enough slack to bridge the gap. The inefficiency wasn't caused by the business occupying space it couldn't use, because at the time nobody could use that space -- the loss was a sunk cost to society at large.

This is very oversimplified. Larger businesses can tap into financing, working capital, and have many other tools available to deal with this. And if they can't, that's not efficiency, that's poor operational discipline. Since the owners stand to gain when such a business does well, they should be ready to lose when things go poorly. It shouldn't matter if the cause is one akin to a force majeure.

> Blockbuster's product wasn't as good as Netflix and now they're gone.

Netflix had a much lower cost of capital in the beginning and also a much lower fixed expense. In their case not having storefronts improved the product but that's not a fixed relationship. One can come up with many cases where the opposite holds. Therefore it only applies to that particular case and doesn't support the general argument. Similar nuances exist for the other anecdotal examples listed.

F.A. Hayek provides great arguments against government intervention in the economy. There can be a role in providing assistance to individuals or communities, Hayek was famously supportive of both, but it's important to not let that bleed over into market dynamics which must remain competition-based.


What is "extremely steep marginal takes rates" ?

Are you saying that low profit enterprises create more value? The thesis is attractive but also makes me wonder about Apple, high profit and also highly creative.


I think they meant 'tax rates'


holy cow this is so, so apt. i am stealing this explanation for the rest of forever. this is exactly why this happens... i wonder how to structure organizations / incentives to alleviate this.


Why: giant egos. There were turf wars

Ex-Intel engineer here that worked in R&D- I saw the exact same situations during my time and was one of the reasons I left. The way that teams in the same org with the same goals couldn't or wouldn't work together was incredibly frustrating and such a massive waste of effort. At the time I thought it was a unique situation with our group, but it's sad to see that it's more of a systemic issue that still hasn't been corrected.


There are the opposites as well, I've seen companies that would send you home for even a hint of ego. Essentially "I" was forbidden as it is not in the "TEAM". I much prefer "we" culture than "I" though.


I used to work there too but from software perspective, they simply did not understand how software world worked. S/W was also relegated as bunch of coding guys. It was not uncommon to see some random benchmark touted to assert superiority, while customers were using it differently. It'll end up becoming a manufacturing company that builds based on spec from Amazon/Google/Apple etc.


Unlike NVIDIA, which is a “Software Company That Produces Chips”. And unlike Apple, which is a software company that sells hardware to run that software.


Pretty funny, even the one little project I did for Intel as a contractor, apparently there was another group working on their own version of it and mine reeeeally had to beat theirs to be considered a success, and for my client to be considered a success. I think I pulled it off, but it was interesting being a pawn in someone else's chess game!


That’s why Netflix had that epic comment along the ways of “Enron had engraved Integrity into the marble of the main lobby its corporate headquarters. True values of a corporation get reflected in who gets rewarded, who gets promoted, and who gets let go.”

People who are political as a prerequisite need to believe there is both a reward and a low fear of retaliation/termination for their actions.


Didn't Steve Jobs usually greenlight 2 or 3 teams to design then just pick the most promising one to go to production?

Sometimes it makes sense to have a bit of competition, but having multiple prototypes (often with slightly different design parameters - e.g. a reliable design, an advanced design, and a moonshot) is a better competition than having managers attacking each other with passive-aggressive Powerpoint shows in a conference room.


I worked at a company founded by an ex-Apple CEO. He tried this technique because Steve Jobs did it. The problem was that it doesn’t work at all unless you truly have 2 or 3 entire teams of fully competent people to pull it off. It can work at Apple because they’re absolutely massive and they only focus on a very small number of products.

In our case, making two teams work independently on the same problem just created a situation where each team had half as many resources.

Given Intel’s history of paying median rather than top wages and losing their best employees to competitors, they didn’t even have one full department capable of pulling this off, let alone 2 or 3.


I think they are doing it wrong then. You do the cheap parts independently. Then you pair down to fewer choices and transfer resources to fewer groups.

You repeat this multiple times depending on your resources. When things get really expensive, you should be down to one idea.


I'd imagine that this can be pretty tricky with more complex systems, where the buy-in for even getting off the ground can be pretty high. In software, that's usually not the case, but I can imagine a number other instances where it wouldn't work. This seems like it would show up the most when the problem isn't a greenfield where getting the first 90% working is the hard part, but on the other end, where the difference comes from optimizing the last 10%, which can be really expensive (i.e. figuring out how to profitably and effectively take production from 1000 parts to 10,000 parts can be much more difficult and costly than moving from 100 to 1000).


Having seen a couple of Jobs interviews, it seemed like he was very well informed of all the trade-offs he was asking. He had some idea how all the bits in his project would scale (in various ways - with more users, programmers, parts, etc) even if he didn't like getting his hands dirty with the work of actually doing it.


> In our case, making two teams work independently on the same problem just created a situation where each team had half as many resources.

You got it. Not to mention that you're incentivizing them to hoard work/attention/resources from one another, or engage in other organizational anti-patterns that would obviously be/become problems to solve if you didn't put the artificial "constraint" of internal competition in the way.


This is very interesting. Just because a technique works for situation A doesn't mean it works for situation B. Also, maybe this ex-Apple CEO didn't have the capability to pull it off.


Reminds me of the legendary turf wars between SEGA of Japan and SEGA of America - that cannibalized the company, and resulted in shameful, consumer-insulting mistakes like the SEGA 32x.

These issues saw them going from 50% of the console market in 1993/4 to folding console operations less than a decade later.

SEGA is my favourite example of 'too big to fail' and turf wars.

Console Wars is a great book about this story.


It's somehow incredible how this infiltrates even the most advanced classes of company in terms of technical knowledge. You'd expect a bit more objectivity


The thing about the top tech companies, particularly Intel and other chip companies where postgraduate degrees are more or less required to do anything interesting, is that people there have literally gone though over a decade of intense competition in the educational system to qualify to get their foot in the door. And then, to stay there and rise through the ranks is another decade or more of intense competition, both technical and political, against similar elites. Needless to say, this can have some pretty corrosive effects without proper supervision.


Recipe for a toxic work culture from day one. Your team should never be your competition. Your company should never be your competition. Meritocracy works only in certain markets. Knowledge-based work isn’t one of them.

I really feel for people who are in these companies. Who put in 6+ years of university/higher education and think that “if I could only fight my peers for the top spot” when “top” is relative.

To someone else’s point, I totally acknowledge that there are certain industries that you have to have a degree to do anything meaningful. I also know there’s tons of companies out there that need bright minds to create the next big thing.

I used to think that I was in competition with my coworkers for that promotion, for that top spot, to basically prove to myself that I could and prove to others I should. I stopped wasting time trying to prove what I already know and now focus on what I don’t.

Office politics sucks and I refuse to play the game. If I get passed up for promotion or if I’m unhappy I leverage my rights under my states at-will work laws and go find somewhere else to work.

The best places I’ve worked where this wasn’t a thing (the elite competition for who’s right) were places that acknowledged your contributions, explained why you did/didn’t get the promotion, laid out plans for you to achieve that (or have you on that list for when it opens up) and then actually honors that promise.


Any competition with sufficient rewards attracts this kind of toxicity eventually and that is why larger companies are usually the worst. Getting a promotion at a small company in the EU or in the midwest USA means you get maybe 10k/year extra. Getting to the next rung in FAANG (or Intel, apparently) can mean hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years, so it's not surprising people are a lot more willing to backstab their peers in those places.


Yeah, I’m not anti competition. I’m anti in-fighting. I also blame companies that structure their pay so radically that this fighting for next rung because it’s hundreds of thousands more is a thing. It shouldn’t be. Maybe a 10% bump, but higher up the latter should mean more responsibility and more importantly, accountability. If that justifies the extra pay then so be it but getting a promotion shouldn’t mean the difference between hundreds of thousands of dollars.


Requirement to be a graduate of a "good" university is not a meritocracy. It's just preferring people who have a diploma, but that doesn't mean the person hired will have other qualities necessary to be effective.

Edit: I know some people with diploma who "gamed" the system, e.g. memorized queries for exam without having any understanding of SQL and passed.


>Requirement to be a graduate of a "good" university is not a meritocracy.

I didn't say it was. Meritocracy in this case was in reference to the company's internal competition (organic or not) for top spots at the company.

I completely understand there are certain jobs where you need a degree. Bar even. A lot of software engineering doesn't fit that mold. I'm 100% behind requiring an advanced degree if you're writing software that controls: lives/property/money in any meaningful way. Money in this case being large capital investments, not consumer payments. I'm a big proponent of hiring people who need a second chance, who maybe are down on their luck, or otherwise have a different path than suburban white America or the H1B visa mills they created (caveat, I'm white). I think there are plenty of opportunities for software engineers without degrees to build web apps, mobile apps, services, integrations, automation, etc.


Mutual cooperation is often spurred by personal and professional competition. I know I've been with teams that I had to drag through projects because they "get paid the same" whether or not it ever gets finished, and well-complemented teams where we forgot everything else while we built on each other's achievements.

There's selfish, winner takes all competition that creates winners and losers, and then there's healthy, productive competition where everyone who engages comes out better off for challenging themselves against a peer.

And obviously, there has to be a culture that provides resources no matter the outcomes. If you starve the 'losers', you're just creating desperate bait dogs in a toxic work environment.


Head Fakes. Learning spikes under the guise of competition are amazing tools. Hackathon's, etc. Competition internally with this cut-throat attitude (because so much money, potentially, is on the line) is toxic and can create some serious mental health issues. This isn't a discussion of competition in the markets, free market and all, it's about competition with the people you work with day in and day out. It can create animosity and anxiety at work. I would much rather work with a genius who's humble than an asshole who is just looking for the next promotion.

To truly grow as a company you need to grow as teams. Cooperation, trust, empathy for your customers as well as your coworkers. Positions of leadership should be given to those who show an aptitude to lead through problems to desirable outcomes, regardless of who/where they are. Flatter org structures to prevent this chasm of salary difference which creates this toxicity in competition for those spots.

Netflix pays their engineers a ton, because they provide the value. Everyone is compensated at a level that everyone is happy working there (for the most part, happiness is relative, I digress). Companies should be providing everything they can to those who provide value to the company. If an individual wants more responsibility, they must provide more value as a result.


> people there have literally gone though over a decade of intense competition in the educational system to qualify to get their foot in the door. And then, to stay there and rise through the ranks is another decade or more of intense competition

Two decades of requisite grunt work will also encourage your best junior talent to seek out start-up opportunities.


Bingo! After a few tries one will always look inward (healthily or not) and seek out other opportunities.


> "Two decades of requisite grunt work will also encourage your best junior talent to seek out start-up opportunities."

For silicon and hardware in general, the job market is much, much smaller, making that decision significantly more difficult.


> Needless to say, this can have some pretty corrosive effects without proper supervision.

And half the time the supervision is the exact opposite. Concepts like stack ranking are a sure-fire way of making the workplace more contentious, politicised, and publicised.

Because that's the thing about

> intense competition

95% of the time it's about visibility, the technical excellence only matters if it's visible and publicised to decision-makers, which means self-aggrandisement and a mastery of office politics not only can compensate for lacking technical skills, but will usually edge out technical skill entirely.


One value that cuts through most of elite society is the thought that competition produces better outcomes. So “competing” instead of collaborating with another office is good, actually, because competition will breed excellence (or something).

When you’re small all that competitive energy is directed at your competitors. When you’re king of the hill that competitive energy turns inward.


It's actually both, a competition that relies a lot on collaboration.


They should compete against the odds instead.


Indeed, for we computer geeks are known for our lack of ego...


Absolutely, not. Seeing my 4 years old son experiment with social skills I’m learning soo much about the most inexplicable conflict situations I’ve been through in 15 years of IT


I completely agree with this. I’ve been in software since ‘98, but many of the valuable tools I apply to interpersonal interaction were learned on the path of raising my 5 year old.

Natural consequences, timely feedback, parallel modeling, Socratic questioning, mirroring...

If you want to know how to handle the politics of a large organization, try interacting with children. The parallels are amazing.


Yup, I'm considering offering to help with programming extracurriculars at what will become his school just to get a sneak peek at how the older children deal with unfamiliar abstractions. I've been living in a bubble of tech savviness and contempt for as long as I remember, I need to reset.

And he's actually 3, so I can't really sit around and wait another 5-6 years before I get to figure out the perfect "business customer" :D


Totally, children are a wonderful display of human nature and a chance to understand ourselves better, I’m feeling amazed by my interactions with a niece, 1.5 years old. She so cunning already, for example she accidentally puts a toy on a side of the bed so it falls over, I get it and she immediately starts to again put it juuuuust on the edge so it would look like she did it accidentally and it fell over. I think I finally stopped getting microgrudges towards people behavior that day :) We just like to play


Super super interesting and I'd love discuss - drop me a note (contact info in my bio) :)


Same observation, from my cats, as I do not have kids. Whenever they come, the cats will meaow right away, as they do not have delayed gratification. They also want fairness, otherwise they will attack each other. The food has to be given at the same time and same portion to each of the three cats.


Pardon me but I'd consider semiconductors experts different from computer geeks. Seems like I'm wrong.


You don't use computer science to make sure people are properly incentivized.


Tech nerds are some of the least objective (and unknowingly too) groups of people I have ever known.


Maybe the feeling of being on top of the trendy tech and above the norm .. hubrys in a word.


Are you talking about Atom or XScale? XScale seems the biggest missed opportunity. I can understand the thinking that being just another ARM vendor was a step down from being the owner of an architecture (AMD, and Via, notwithstanding). But with steady improvements and investment, and riding the coat-tails of fabs Intel built, Intel could have been a an actual mobile contender today.


Bonnell which became Atom. I was pushing to make XScale be the 1GHz multi-core lead vehicle but was soundly mocked. XScale died on the vine. You're 100% correct, it was a hyuge missed opportunity.


If you want turf wars, even if everything else is perfect: Create turfs. The worst period (and the only bad period) of my own company was during the time when teams working with overlapping stuff worked at different locations (at the time this was simply because we didn't have the room. Fortunately we could get back into the same site when we moved to a bigger location, but it took years to heal what the separate locations cost us).


Strange, I would categorize the problem we had was that most groups had a super-majority of people in California who would end up reaching social consensus instead of having technical arguments.


A former Intel engineer here. Paul Otellini -- a non-engineer -- was not a right man for the CEO job. He instilled a bean-counting culture driving technologists out of the decision-making process. It was downhill ever since he became the boss. And as mentioned elsewhere a counter productive and oftentimes adversarial relationships between "sister" design teams (Santa Clara, Jones Farm, Israel, Austin) was a huge drag.


> There were turf wars between Austin, Santa Clara and Israel over who would design it, and the team that won out had long since lost its best principle engineers

So which team/location ended up winning?


"winning" is hard to define here, because the work became so diffuse (meaning, several sites grabbed the Bonnell/Silverthorn core and started whacking at it), but on paper (foils?) it was the Austin fellows who got the gold star. Some readers who were there may disagree.


I used to work in Austin. I always thought Austin was the Atom HQ of sorts because that was where ARM was also located. And at the time it seemed like Austin was the mobile epicenter of the chip world. But yeah, at Intel there has always been a rivalry of which location owned what projects. Thank god I'm not there anymore.


Wherever the teams at AMD, NVIDIA, Appme and TMSC work out of.


Do you think Intel can come back, or is Intel too dysfunctional/inefficient to recover?


I had friends at the Intel fab in New Mexico in the 90s and this type of turf war was prevalent even then internally at the fab. Managers were constantly jockeying for position at the expense of manufacturing processes.

Just one anecdotal story, one of the wafer guys had an idea to improve a process. He went to his boss who shot it down instantly. Wafer guy knew he was right so went to another manager who liked the idea and implemented it. It ended up working and being a great idea. Instead of being rewarded for his idea, wafer guy was fired by his manager for failing to follow the chain of command.

It's built into the culture at Intel to be territorial to advance. It's been that way for at least 30 years. I personally don't see it changing any time soon.


I'm currently reading High Output Management which is 25 years old. So your comment addresses the time where the book was written.

Grove certainly sends quite utilitarian vibes. He also says that a collaborative culture is important. Your comment suggests that neither he nor his successors managed to make Intel's culture collaborative enough.

Higher management is probably often an iterated prisoners dilemma. Collaborating is best for the company but defecting is good for the ambitious manager.


Is is a good book you'd recommend otherwise?


Not the parent, but I read the book, and the principles have become so common nowadays that I never really had a wow moment. It was more like "Yeah, this guy is telling me things I already know." It is nice to see the common knowledge built up from scratch, rather than just automatically accepted the way it is, but I wouldn't consider the value you get from the book worth the time, today.


I agree that you get most of it by reading HN for a few years. However, it is a small old book so not that much of an investment.

It did have a few ideas which were new to me and it presents a holistic consistent management philosophy which you don't get from reading a hodge-podge of blog posts.

Two (for me) new ideas: Matrix organisation is inevitable for large companies in search of the sweet spot between agility and efficiency. Knowledge workers are middle managers.

Overall: Good book but not "you have to read it" level.


The difference is that back then Intel still had a quasi-monopoly. Even AMDs occasional successes from the late 90s on were usually temporary, and never an existential threat to Intel, so they could afford a certain level of internal dysfunction.

But we are now living in a world where mobile is more important than desktop, and mobile chip designs have enough power to be a threat to the desktop market, and perhaps even the server market in the not-too-distant future. This is something that should worry Intel.


I think they have been a commodity for a long time. Rephrased, the discussion is similar to, "Will GE make a comeback in the refrigerator market?" Intel isn't going anywhere, they have many, many big customers to satisfy who simply cannot shift to ARM due to ROIs <=0. And after 30+ years of this, I also don' think there's anything new or revolutionary in silicon fabrication on the horizon. I stopped getting excited about CPU tech when AMD crossed the 1GHz barrier in the PC space. Could be burnout though.


> I stopped getting excited about CPU tech when AMD crossed the 1GHz barrier in the PC space

That was only around 2000. There was a lot for me to get excited about since then:

* AMD64

* SMT

* Dual-core / multicore

* On-chip integrated graphics that weren’t awful (low-end discrete graphics aren’t a thing anymore)

* Gigantic L3 and L4 caches (a side-effect of on-chip graphics)

* Turbo mode making a comeback (yes, I know Turbo Mode switches actually slowed down computers)

Judging by Apple’s direction, it’s looking like we’ll start seeing actual (ultra-fast) RAM on-chip too, with Optane that could mean we can finally move-away from block-addressed storage and have a massive flat memory-space for everything .


ADM64... Aka Yamhill on Intel. Holy shit I had to sign waivers and get a special Unix acount just to ACCESS the RTL model with Intel's 64-bit iHDL.

I kinda laughed when AMD beat Intel to the punch not once, but TWICE. (1GHz, then 64b).

I also worked on the 740, 810 and 815 (both hardware and drivers, oddly, I did a lot of stuff). Game devs HATED us for the 810/815 because it was such huge volume they had to target it as the LCD.


Can you elaborate on all of that? I'm unfamiliar with "RTL", "iHDL", "740", "810", "815", I assume "LCD" is lowest-common-denominator?


Correct me if I am wrong.

RTL https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Register-transfer_level

RTL is a way to model a digital circuit and some common HW design languages are VHDL, Verilog amd Intel's proprietary iHDL.

Numbers are just Intel chipset families.


> And after 30+ years of this, I also don' think there's anything new or revolutionary in silicon fabrication on the horizon.

Why so? Few more material, and device generations are on the way. Litho has went through more generation changes in the last 1 decade, than in any previous one.

Whole new device classes are on the way: optics on silicon, new memory, logic in the backend, and logic on package.

Semiconductor engineering is still a career suicide though, that haven't changed in the last few decades.


This is my "640K should be enough comment", but we've reached the limits of optical fabrication with ~2nm. And really, it is just smaller transistors. Yes, that glibly does a disservice to the process engineers making this miracle happen, but I can get excited about "look, smaller transistors!" only so many times in my lifetime. :)

> optics on silicon,

Yep! That and quantum and post VNeumann architectures. There's some weird shit on the horizon that I probably won't live to see in household products, but I don't think it will be be optical deposition by layer. It might, who knows, I"m officially talking out my arse now. :)


Optics may come earlier than people expect.

And not even for I/O, but for on-die communications, and busses.

High speed SERDES may well be replaced by same-die optics, as a lower transistor count, dumber, and cooler solutions.


> Semiconductor engineering is still a career suicide though, that haven't changed in the last few decades.

This is so true. I am currently a hardware engineer and planning to switch to software. If you are not in Nvidia, Apple or other mega-growth hardware companies, you are suffering atleast 40% paycut compared to software industry and also working about twice as hard, using obsolete tools and flows, and almost no opportunities for technical advancement or significant impact. Meanwhile the annual raises are cost-of-living adjustments. Its truly depressing.


> Semiconductor engineering is still a career suicide though, that haven't changed in the last few decades.

Wow, so I need to thank myself for accidentally bumbling towards ops and dev? Meh, for me it’s just that in EU there’s a total dearth of opportunities in the industry


People making WordPress websites are making more than PhD research scientists in Taiwan, and Korea.


TSMC announced that they're raising salaries by 20% across the board, so that should improve things a bit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T6DaxXukog4


And they cut the bonus at the same time.


Depressing


> Semiconductor engineering is still a career suicide though, that haven't changed in the last few decades.

Could you go into more detail?


Most of semiconductor jobs are in Asia, and in the same Asian countries, you will get n times less than a software person of the same seniority.

The long term is that the industry will get less, and less labour intensive as more, and more old, labour intensive fabs are retired, and new ones are 100% AMHS.


AMD came back. Fabless, bruised, but also thin, agile and with a 10 year plan that thanks to TSMC they can execute more or less on schedule.


AMD came back from being second fiddle in the right market. Intel would have to come back from being first fiddle in the wrong market.


Competition is good for markets. There's still not enough competition in the general CPU market, but it's getting closer: Intel, AMD, Apple, Qualcomm, Samsung, Broadcom.

Intel has money and equipment and existing market share: there's no reason for them not to be profitable for the long term, as long as they stop acting like they don't have any competition (as they did until 2018) or that their only competition is AMD (as they currently are pretending).


Intel will have a chance to regain relevance in several years when the industry reaches the next disruptive inflection point. That will probably be tied to the arrival of a new hardware form factor like AR goggles or direct neural interfaces or something.


Phone chips are hard not least, or especially, the telecom part. I'm thinking that some companies underestimate the effort.

Broadcom also tried and also failed. They came in cocky because they had succeeded in making Wifi chips with a 10-20 people team so thought that 500-ish people was more than enough for cellular even if Qualcomm had 4x that...

I would not be surprised if Intel fell into the same trap.


At one point there were around 14 companies going for the mobile chip market. So it was clear there was going to be a massive casualty rate.


TI was also in the mobile AP space for a while then dropped out


From what I've heard their mobile SoCs were pretty high quality & had superb documentation, running such famous (relatively) open Linux devices such as the legendary Nokia N900. TI dropping out of the mobile game also had a profound effect on the full Maemo/MeeGo saga later on.

I guess even Sailfish OS that came after MeeGo is not really immune to SoC supplier dropping out under it as the first Jolla smartphone with Sailfish OS should have run on a SoC from Sony Ericsson only for SE dropping out of the game as well! And the (in?) famous Jolla Tablet had one of those Intel Atom x86 mobile processor.


It doesn't help that there's also cultural differences. I've been in a similar turf war between an Israeli team and myself as an ex-Israeli on a different team and there was just a huge gap in how things are done. Both teams could have probably delivered just fine but top management is what really messed things up. So really this is probably mostly lack of leadership, and the turf wars are more of a symptom... The lack of leadership is often not just in being unable to resolve/deal/manage a larger org. but also the hiring of more managers who are unable to do this stuff that eventually get promoted to positions where they end up doing more harm.

I'm not sure the engineers themselves having a big ego is a negative. I'd want a team who thinks they can do anything. But how you manage those guys is the problem...


Intel turf wars extend beyond Geos. The 2nd floor and 4th floor of SC12 would tick-tock Xeons and rewrite RTL and verification code just because.


The real action was on the 4th floor. You know, I can tell. :)


And the aforementioned turf war.... then it just corroded over political battles.

I'm no longer surprised, but I'm still always amazed when this happens. It is really crazy how groups within organizations are often unable to see that collaboration is massively more in their interests than minor empire building. It's like they're trying to building a wooden fort a moat filled with mudaround it when they could be building Camelot.

(Well, Camelot minus the whole thing with Lancelot giving it to Guinevere, Arthur to his sister, and his estranged son coming back to kill him. Not quite that Camelot.)


I seem to recall Intel was working on a few mobile chips over the past ~15 years. Or was it all part of the same drawn-out failure?

I also seem to remember shopping around for a new phone a few years back and coming across android phones running on what seemed like a Frankenstein Atom processor. At the time I thought it was a promising concept, though benchmarks weren't flagship quality. But I'd hoped to eventually see dual-boot phones I could slot into a shell of a laptop to have access to a an ultraportable low-end windows box when needed. I'm kind of disappointed that never came about. (I know there's some promising "shells" for android phones, but I'd really like an OS I can fully control for my desktop experience, and Linux phones don't quite seem mature enough)

Anyway, any insight on the above from your unique perspective would be welcome.


This thread reminds me of a lecturer I once met who had a theory based on a Machiavellian scale:

Entrepreneurs typically rate low. They rely on goodwill and reciprocity and great relationships to get things done as they have zero power. Early power comes from getting people to buy into your vision.

Corporate middle / senior managers rate higher because it it generally all about the power.

The interesting insight was that as an entrepreneur, when your business scales it is hard to retain the “low Machiavelly” approach. This is where a lot of the growing pains come from..

Edit: add link https://www.harleytherapy.co.uk/counselling/machiavellianism...


Intel didn't have a real competition for a long time. It gets misguided over its own might eventually.

Turf war and cookie leaking is a problem for all big companies, we are all humans, when there is no external threat, we turns to infighting. After all, why not? This will compensate the missing competing pressure that is also necessary as well.

But unable to have a cohesive strategy and call the shot would be Intel's own downfall. Looking back the past decade, they are on a one-way losing path, without any meaningful expansion. Had they have a decisive leadership, it will definitely fare better right now.


From my reading articles at the time and me waiting for Android phones to become available before the iPhone was even announced I thought all that apple had to do was scale an SOC to their massive production level other peoplehadd already figured out the computing.


Politics at Intel are crippling. Add too that huge egos, arrogance, red tape, terrible managers, all around arrogance, self congratulatory pats on the back, you'd wonder how anything gets done.


Perfect example of why Musk’s no silo rule helps his companies so much.


How much of the blame do you think is Otellini's? I got a really bad feeling about Intel when he became CEO.


100% but the culture was already set then. But letting the finance guys run the shop put a stake through the heart of any engineering soul left


this is sad.. sounds like a lot of good talent went wasted. Based on what you said here, sounds like the problem was not engineering talent but lack of vision/leadership :(.


Corporate mess. I know it, not Intel, but politics, who gets all the credits?, before the first step has been taken - been there.


This is why good CEO's deserve 100x, 200x, or 300x the median salary. They don't work 300 times more than a regular employees, but they are not supposed to. They are there to prevent all the bad things that naturally happen at large companies: turf wars, bloat, focus on process rather than delivery, duplicated work, manual and buggy processes when automation is possible, unfocused investments, mindless chasing of buzzwords, etc, etc. If you don't have person at the helm who's a blend of visionary and dictator, you end up with a good company sliding in irrelevance, like IBM, and maybe now Intel. Those CEO's who keep their star company in their current place definitely deserve the tens of millions they earn.


Do you observe any correlation between CEO compensation and their skills at the above?


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