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Why Intel doesn't write stuff down

Because they're smart (Modes of Communication, Pt. 94)

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What's the difference between hardware engineers and Microsoft - between the hardware guys and the software guys?

Why was Microsoft caught in the humiliation of a four year hairball of legislative scrutiny, when Intel escaped without the public knicker-washing. A complicated deal was cut with the FTC in 1997 - at about the time Intel acquired the Hudson plant, and with it the license for StrongARM and the rights to manufacture DEC's Alpha processor. At about the same time, Microsoft was being drawn into the propellors of a vicious Antitrust suit. Why did Intel cut such a shrewd deal, while Microsoft let its garrulous dirty washing hang out to dry?

Perhaps it's down to how they communicate, and their modes of communication are worth a moment of comparitive analysis.

Microsoft's heady corporate culture created a frenzy of babble - executives gushed and laid bare their sins in public. Bill agonized (in the Nokia memos) about how nice it is to have a monopoly, because it gives you the guilty pleasures of unearned wealth, and he toyed, as a cartoon Bond villain would, with the option of introducing proprietary protocols into Windows, to screw everyone else over. Brad Silverberg's memorable and quite confessional lower case memos (think bad Bloggers) attested to a dysfunctional company at war with itself, and in quite some disarray.

In common, they left a guilty paper trail behind them.

But Intel's tidiness and exacting corporate culture forbids such communication.

Firstly, when bidding for contract work, Intel representatives are encouraged to refrain from mentioning specifics: they must not commit to figures when negotiations are in progress, sources tell us.

Secondly, staffers have quite specific instructions to talk on a fixed line, not to call from cellphones, and not to email where possible when dealing with sensitive matters.

"Do everything verbally as far as you can", is how one source tell us. Avoid certain phrases such as "monopoly", and certain ways of applying pressure to people.

In other words, Intel is a company very aware of the potency of language in a given context

This is no bad thing. And for Intel, it's paid off. It has evaded the filthy media attention, or public auditing as we like to think, of its internal processes.

This is not intended as criticism: but it is a tribute to the superior modes of communication that hardware people seem to employ: terse, economic, efficient and full of value. Whereas software people tend to babble incoherently, getting themselves into all kinds of trouble.

We reckon this is because the barrier to entry in the hardware world is higher. In hardware, bullshitters are not tolerated. The linguistic economy and sound sense of reason that are required to become a hardware engineer contrast with the skills to become a "software engineer".

When Andy Grove wrote Only The Paranoid Survive, perhaps he was only articulating a defense of linguistic precision, much like any hardware guy would delineate a problem as being between the bounds of feasible and the fanciful). We think he was doing exactly this, and whatever you think of this equation (precision in expression) the results appear to be justified.

So notch one up to the linguistic engineers - or at least, the guys who care how language is used. We hear so much nowadays to the contrary: we are asked to subscribe to a model where more communication is axiomatically good for us. But this isn't the case: hardware engineers reject this Utilitarian equation, and know that better communication means better quality signals, not more noise.

A victory to Intel, and a deserved one, we reckon. ®

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