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Randall Brouwer - Intel Corp

A Silicon Valley Experience for an Electrical/Computer Engineer

I was awarded a Spoelhof Family Externship for the 2004 fall semester. The funding from this grant allowed me to work at Intel Corporation in Santa Clara, CA (in the heart of Silicon Valley). This work began in July and ended in December of 2004. Immediately after concluding my externship at Intel Corporation in California, I began a year-long sabbatical experience as a Congressional Fellow in Washington, DC. These were both extremely valuable experiences for me since, in my role as professor, I mentor students to prepare them to serve God in a high-tech world (often driven by Silicon Valley) in which there are many social-political issues that must be addressed (Congress).

Overview of the Company Worked At
Intel Corporation has been a leader in the semiconductor industry for many decades. Although Intel is primarily known for the microprocessor chips that it produces (e.g., Pentium, which has approximately 80% of the PC market), Intel produces a wide range of semiconductor products, including memory, interface devices, communication devices, motherboards, and networking components.
Intel has many sites in the United States that provide both design and fabrication capabilities. Intel also has numerous sites around the world, including Israel, India, and China. International sites also provide design and fabrication capabilities that are located near emerging markets. The company has more than 60,000 employees and also brings in many contractors. intel

Goals of the Experience
The primary goals of this internship were to:
•  learn about the culture of Silicon Valley and what drives it
•  work in a group of computer engineers on next-generation processors
•  understand the process used by a company like Intel for making decisions about future processors
•  learn about the processes and structures needed for running a high-tech company like Intel

Some specific goals of the project to which I was assigned were to:
•  learn a software-based processor performance modeling tool
•  validate 32-bit architecture performance data using that particular tool
•  apply the tool to upcoming 64-bit architectures to predict and validate performance benchmarks, and
•  evaluate architecture performance with an additional modeling tool.

Benefits of This Externship to Calvin College
The prediction of processor performance and the validation of processor execution prior to the fabrication of the processor are essential for success in the marketplace. The projects I worked on helped me to better understand the design and validation processes used in high performance processor development. It also gave me the opportunity to increase my understanding of the current state of the art in processor design.

Intel has been one of the primary drivers of the electronics revolution, and so I had the excellent opportunity to be part of that culture and understand what propels it forward and where it is going. Calvin engineering students always benefit from the industry experiences of the faculty, and this externship has enabled me to better train young engineers about the field of computer architecture and digital system design. An additional advantage of the externship is that it allowed me to network with a large number of people in the Silicon Valley area from a variety of corporations. I hope to maintain those connections in the future. Possibly some students might wish to intern for a summer in that area, and having those connections will be helpful.

During my work on the project, I was interacting with engineers from Intel's Israel location. It was challenging to deal with a significant time zone difference and a culture that maintains a Saturday sabbath. This results in work weeks that overlap slightly more than three days. I often had questions on software they were developing which, if asked after Wednesday night, would not be answered until Monday morning. Large corporations like Intel sell product in different countries and are expected by many of those countries to set up manufacturing and engineering plants local to those countries. This directly affects employment of engineers in the United States. Many of the established global firms in Silicon Valley direct most of their employment growth to other parts of the world. This externship gave me first-hand experience with a form of the “out-sourcing” issue.

Intel Corporation in Silicon Valley is an extremely egalitarian organization. Nearly every employee in the company was assigned a cubicle, including high-level managers. The only differences in the cubicles had to do with the proximity to a window (based on seniority) and the size (based on the computer and office needs of the job). As you enter the floors of the building, you see a sea of cubicles. The only rooms with doors are conference rooms, labs, and bathrooms.

Finally, I was able to experience first-hand the effects of a corporate re-organization. Shortly before I arrived, Intel's Santa Clara site went through a re-organization. The group I was part of was left “homeless” in the new structure for at least 4 months as managers fought over where the group would be placed. I could sense a bit of concern among the engineers of the group as the process dragged on and on. It sounded as if re-organizations were fairly common-place at Intel.

Benefits of This Externship to Intel Corporation
I believe this externship has also benefited Intel Corporation. Although all of the goals were not ultimately met, due to time limitations and unanticipated situations, I was able to help them work through a complex and difficult benchmark program and, in the process, debug some of their software simulation programs. Through the externship funding, Intel was able to take advantage of low-cost consulting.

Benefits to my Family
Leaving West Michigan to live in the San Francisco Bay area for five months was a tremendous experience for my family and me. We were able to live within biking distance from Intel, and the weather cooperated quite well (only two days of rain). We lived in a community that has brought in people from all around the world and so has the flavors of many cultures. Our children were used to sports teams and shopping centers in which they were an ethnic minority. After 5 months in California and 12 months in Washington, DC., it has been somewhat of a culture shock to come back to West Michigan.

brouwer Thank You
I would like to thank the Spoelhof Family Institute for providing the funding for this externship experience. It was a valuable experience for me, both personally and professionally, and it was a great opportunity for my family to experience life on the West Coast for a short time. It will be a time in our life that we will not soon forget. I would encourage others to consider externships away from West Michigan.