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The Reg guide to interviewing Intel

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After all the PR folk bogged off at the Intel Developer Forum last week, the legions of international hacks still left at the San Jose Towers and Hilton asked the elected spin doctor whether the firm kept records on journalists. "Indeed they do," replied the bogus PR representative. "It all depends on the country you live in on the nature of those records."

By this, we believe she meant that in some territories, such as the UK, data protection legislation allows individuals to ask corporations to share the info they're holding in electronic form, although here, at least, paper briefings were formerly not accessible to outside requests.

That changed on the 1st of March 2000 in the UK. Individuals can now ask for details of paper records that are held on them too. So, for a small fee, journalists can find out what big companies really think about them. (Thanks to a reader for pointing this out.)

Some journalists were shocked to hear that large companies held information about hacks, but y'know it makes a kind of sense. If you're wheeling a suit out in front of a hack, it helps them to have an idea of the person's specialities, his or her nature, and the kind of question she or he is likely to ask.

As a service to the general hack community, therefore, we are pleased to present The Register Guide to interviewing Senior Intel Executives, drawn from years of experience.

Readers should note that Intel has an internal policy which can be best summed up as confrontational. In meetings, employees are encouraged to disagree with their bosses and to clearly state why. For example, if a boss says execute something by such and such a date, and an employee does not believe it can be done by then, she or he is supposed to say "I don't agree". While this can be cathartic for people joining Intel who may have talked water-cooler talk at their previous companies, the confrontative approach is supposed to ensure everyone is clear on where they stand on a decision, whether agreeing or disagreeing.

Dr Andrew Grove

Andy Grove does not mind answering tough questions, but has problems with people who beat around the bush. For example, at a Q&A held pre-IDF this year, Tom's Hardware writer Van Smith asked him whether he thought it was right that Intel should invest in firms like Cnet. Grove's answer demonstrated his style. While rebutting what he described as an accusation by Smith, he also outlined the reasons why Intel had originally made the investment, which was to promote the Internet. That strategy had worked, said Grove, by promoting online and other Web sites, including, he added Tom's Hardware Page. (For a fuller version of this, see Van Smith's account).

We have asked him direct questions and he never dodges them, although he may well give himself a moment of reflection before he replies. On the other hand, ask him a flabby or meaningless question and he'll rip it apart.

Dr Craig Barrett

At interview, Barrett comes across very reasonably. We've never seen him flustered by any question, even the most outré. However, he is acutely aware that as the CEO his answers may have reverberations beyond the limits of a briefing. Has a relaxed demeanour at Q&A time. Like practically every other Intel chief exec, you can ask him a question but if he chooses not to answer it, you're a lost soul. Try the subtle (aka sneaky) question -- you may learn more this way.

Pat "Kicking" Gelsinger

This man has a sense of humour but don't let that fool you. He's hard as nails. Gelsinger loves techie questions but can successfully bat just about any brick you lob at him. He actually welcomes tough questions but has no hesitation saying "I'm not going to tell you that" if he's not going to tell you that. The Harry Potter look-alike has been known to shake people by the hand, then physically drag them to the front of the auditorium where he can "keep his eyes" on them. At the spring IDF, Gelsinger donated $20 to the Save Ziff Davis fund when a British journalist contributed a good idea to Intel (photo available on request).

Dr Albert Yu

Albert Yu can be tricky to interview. He gives the impression of stubbornness if you ask a really difficult question and seems firmly to stick to the guidelines that we presume exist on these occasions. Nor does he like being directly challenged. When we asked him last week for a rough idea of when the Pentium IV 2GHz processor might ship, his answer was "I don't know". Of course, he does, but as Craig Barrett gently pointed out he was not at liberty to divulge that. The more a journalist persists with one particular question, the more Yu sticks his heels in. Our advice is if he doesn't answer the first time, give up.

Paul Otellini

A stylish, sophisticated and subtle operator. Like Grove, Otellini likes direct questions but woe betide you if you don't get it the first time round. At a Comdex some years back, we were interested to see his reaction to an Italian journalist who didn't understand his answer and persisted in asking the same question. Otellini, clearly annoyed, stopped him in his tracks. Gives frank answers to frank questions, and sometimes throws in more for good measure. ®

The Register is registered under the Data Protection Act. See also How Intel regards the press - official.

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