Intel: The Software Company - Interview With Software Head Doug Fisher
Intel is a giant software company as well as the world's largest chip maker. Here's an interview with Doug Fisher (above) head of Intel's Systems Software group.
Making sure the world's most popular server, PC and device system software -- among them Oracle's Database, Microsoft's Windows, Google's Android and Chrome OS, and even Apple's Mac OS X -- provide the best possible user experience is a daunting challenge.
Even more so, when that mandate extends from phones to cars and digital signs to PCs on up to servers and the cloud. But such is everyday life for the software experts in Intel's System Software Division.
Doug Fisher, general manager of the Systems Software Division joined Intel in 1995 after 10 years at HP.
Intel software efforts reach from the data center to handsets. What are the top priorities across that broad spectrum?
My job is to deliver capabilities on Intel's strategic imperatives, anywhere from handsets where we optimize the Android kernel and Dalvik runtime, to tablets and PCs working on the Windows OS, to datacenter and cloud solutions where we tune things like Oracle's Database and the Hadoop stack to run best on Intel architecture platforms. These are just a few of the key software components we ensure run best on Intel architecture.
The datacenter and client is just as critical to our success as handset devices are, in my view.
Are the operating system vendors and software companies receptive to working with Intel on optimizing code?
It really depends on the segment you're talking about. On the PC and datacenter side, we have tremendous credibility, which makes my job a little easier.
As we enter areas where we're not the incumbent, such as in phones and tablets, our engagements are different. We've had to build up our credibility with these companies. We have to earn our right to participate and the good news is that we're on a path to do that -- I see our ability to contribute increasing daily.
With Google, for instance, our credibility continues to grow as Intel-based handsets are now shipping and we're getting solid reviews. And I believe Google recognizes the value of our software work. Take the x86 emulation accelerator we delivered, which allows application, middleware and user experience developers to build software for Android-based phones with realistic system emulation. It has been downloaded over 3 million times.
As we extend focus on the device segment, we must remember it's not a sprint, it's a marathon. We're going to stick with it, and in the end we expect to prevail.
How has the explosion of device types, from phones to all-in-ones to Ultrabooks to tablets, changed how your team works?
As it is with Intel overall, the work my team does is constantly evolving. In the past, Intel would build a PC-compatible platform, work with partners to build a PC-compatible OS, and my team's work was to ensure everything aligned well. And over the past 10 years, the focus has really been heavily around performance.
Now our attention has grown to include a broader set of focused efforts around integrated devices, the full experience from responsiveness the end-user expects when they touch the device display, to battery life, to ensuring great applications and services are available for that device at launch.
We are tightly integrated with our partners in the industry to deliver on these new user experiences, which require shared efforts all the way from the pre-boot environment, to operating system, to how drivers behave, to graphics and visualization performance -- every element of it.
Who are the leaders or mentors that you learned from or looked up to during your career?
For me it's more about events and people that were involved with those events than it is about a single person. If I look back, probably the person that had the earliest influence on me was my uncle.
My uncle's a farmer and I worked on his farm during the summers while attending college. I drove a tractor, ran a combine, moved pipe in the cornfields -- all the things you'd do on a farm. And I learned what it means to really work from him.
I saw my uncle get thrown off a tractor, break his collarbone and dislocate his shoulder, get back up, strap it with a bandana to his side, and finish plowing the field. You never forget something like that.
I spent 5 years in the military where I learned a lot about discipline, of course, and survival. A key part of survival was teamwork. You wouldn't last long if you could not rely on everyone in your unit.
At Intel, there are so many tremendous leaders here that I learned from over the years. I spend a lot of time with Renée [James, Intel executive vice president and general manager of the Software and Services Group], and she challenges me on strategic thinking.
You travel constantly. What's your secret to surviving?
I took 11 or 12 trips just to Asia in one year, plus several other trips to Europe. And with all the California trips [Fisher is based in Oregon], I'm on the road a lot. I think you get really good at how to be efficient at travel and ensure that you get everything done that you can on each trip -- I load up my schedule.
And it really takes a strong family. There's no way else to put it. I couldn't do what I do if I didn't have strong support and understanding from my family.
You just have to look at the positives. The amount of energy and excitement around what we're doing in software, the conversations that are happening on the importance of software, I can't imagine not being on the road to have those conversations and dialog with our customers and partners.
Gadget-wise, what's in your bag?
I play with a lot of gadgets, I have to stay on top of all these different devices. I play with Windows and Android tablets, I've got a Chromebook I'm playing with.
I can't live without Windows on my laptop. I'm still a laptop guy.
Am I a gadget guy? I probably don't realize it, but I guess when I look at it, I don't know how I'd survive without them.
How did you end up in technology?
I just had a love for it. In high school, I took an electronics class I really enjoyed. And then in the military I worked on electronic equipment, among other things.
After a skydiving accident ended my military career, I said, "What the heck, I'll give this engineering thing a try." So I studied electrical engineering as an undergrad and then focused on business management in grad school.
How did you go from electrical engineering to software?
I studied electrical engineering, but my focus was computer architecture. My first job out of college was to write a microcode disassembler, and then I moved my way into operating systems.
I never really did a lot of pure EE work. When HP hired me and wanted me to work on software, I said, "Software?" My manager convinced me that the best software developers start with a strong hardware background because they really understand the platform and write better software.
So I've been in software since the day I graduated.