Tamara Wesley: Wellness engineer? Dramatic leader? People person who loves binary strings and Elon Musk? Yes and Yes and Yes. Courtesy Tamara Wesley

Intel site manager at home virtually anywhere

FORT COLLINS — Tamara Wesley is feeling all right, and right at home, wherever that is these days.

Indeed, wherever that has been the past four decades is pretty much OK for the Gary, Indiana, native and some 20 years later Georgia Tech grad. Also for the Intel Corp. intern and some 20 years later Intel Corp. site manager in Fort Collins.

For the wide-eyed teen wondering if she could be an engineer and some 20 years later, mom of two young adults, it’s still OK. Now, in the 18th month of what feels like a 20-year pandemic, she wouldn’t mind being back at the office she leads, if it’s safe and good and works out. 

“I miss people,” she told a BizWest Innovation Roundtable this summer.

Did we mention she works out?

It’s true.

In addition to running a site that can house 350 workers — from interns to widely and deeply trained and experienced chip designers — she has deadlifted 350 pounds.

And in what’s been a harder lift, for the past 18 months she’s supervised those workers located in far-flung places.

Flexible

“People are working longer hours,” Wesley said recently. It was the week before the Labor Day Weekend and Tamara — say it Teh-mer-ah — had just emailed her people to say, “this holiday, please disconnect.”

The company also provides workers one wellness day per quarter and flexible schedules as it looks into a possible return to the office.

COVID cases must be trending downward as vaccination heads up for that to happen.

The big aim: keeping people safe.

“Who knew we were going to be out all this time,” she said. “Now we’ve been here, working from home, for a very long time.”

The team is hitting its marks, coordinating with other business groups, staying productive.

“No one’s missing anything critical,” she said, “and we can go to our daughter’s volleyball game.”

Some workers have to be onsite. Wesley figures fewer than 10% — “no more than 30 people” — are in the building these days. The Intel site she manages includes office and lab space, the latter for testing. It owns the building.

And “we’re still hiring,” she said. “We have critical needs. Our headcount isn’t staying flat.”

Work

The Fort Collins design center makes chips for supercomputers, data centers and some networking. Chips that engineers make there might, for instance, end up not in your cell phone but in the cell tower it wants to connect with.

An analogy there might be the connection workers still crave with each other, even when “distributed” as the saying today goes. And think of the Fort Collins site these days as the cell tower with the power to see that connection happen.

The work is “VLSI” in industry lingo.

The tech talk stands for “very large-scale integration” and refers to the creation of an integrated circuit by combining millions of MOS transistors onto a single chip. MOS in turn refers to metal-oxide-silicon, and sometimes metal-oxide-semiconductor.

In short, very large-scale integration of extremely small products is a very big deal.

“VLSI is all the way down into the transistors,” Wesley said. “These are miniscule — microscopic. Chips are small but the transistors are tiny.”

Wesley emphasized the “tiny.”

The full process includes, well … hundreds of people. About 350 in Fort Collins in more-normal times, to be exact. The team has system architects, people focused on the logic of the chip, others who look at what structurally it should be, still more who design the system and then those who validate the design. And do not forget automation engineers or hardware engineering, the latter the umbrella under which all the work rests.

And much of that effort is “pre-silicon” Wesley said, meaning before the actual, physical chip can exist.

There are “tools to help design the tools” and “logic gates that need to be connected” and “architects that build the spec” and …

Oh, and program managers. And facilities support staff — “they do the important work,” Wesley said of keeping the building ready for everyone else.

Building a chip viewed from a non-specialist, flyover perspective is a bit like building a house with doors and traffic flow and blueprints and myriad internal elements like plumbing and wiring. And all of it must come together and do something and, more importantly, mean something.

And all the team members, she said — all of them — are vital. From logic designers on how the chip is to function, to software that connects the gates, to system designers testing them out, to validation engineers who, she said literally “try to break [the chip] and find out how this won’t function.”

Design cycle, or how long it takes to complete the process and actually make one, “depends on the chip and what’s in it. We’re always trying to innovate and go faster.”

Designs that once took up to four years in times past can now be done in two years or less, she said.

And when Wesley started more than two decades ago significant swaths of it was done manually.

Not only that but “we’re always hiring college grads; we have a strong intern-to-hire program.”

Home

“They get to know the culture and they tend to know the company and they do really well.”

Not surprisingly, it’s how Wesley herself started.

She’s been with Intel for 22 years, 20 of them in Fort Collins. She began as an intern and has been the site manager here for several months. She’s an electrical engineer and hardware designer by trade.

“I’m a better manager than designer,” she said. “I’m a people person. But you have to have the technical background” as well.

But none of this was at first, as she entered the middle- and high school years.

“I wanted to be a surgeon because I liked dissecting animals,” she said. “And in Gary, they had programs on Saturday” where students could visit and talk with professionals about their work.

“The doctors talked about how long medical school was and that was the end of my medical career,” she joked.

A teacher noted her math skills and nudged her toward engineering.

So on other Saturdays, we went to the steel mills, we went to a water treatment plant and they always had an experiment for us to see.”

Her family backed her to the nth degree, she graduated from high school in 1993, and while touring some HBCU — historically black colleges and universities — schools, spied the Tech Tower, “a big prominent monument building you can see from the highway,” while driving by the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.

She ended up a Yellow Jacket at Georgia Tech. Got her bachelor’s and a master’s there.

She snagged a scholarship “that changed my life,” she said, “because my family was struggling to pay for my tuition.”

Her academic and professional arc in retrospect “is not common but not surprising.” Initial notions that she might build electrical systems were honed by taking a digital logical class, she said.

“I was in love: All those ones and zeroes make me happy”

Computer engineering was beginning to gain traction in the business world, and she began along with it.

Genius

“An evil genius I admire is Elon Musk,” she confided, “and I drive a Tesla.”

Wesley likes how he thought big about electric vehicles and keeps pushing.

“He moved it forward.”

Her son is a student at University of Colorado Boulder and her daughter is at Fort Collins High School.

“I think both my kids should be engineers,” she said.

Her son started there but is now planning to be a therapist. Her daughter is thinking business.

“These are good things,” she said. “The African American community doesn’t historically go to therapists, and I could’ve been a business major.”

Then there are those deadlifts.

“I’m working on getting myself some hobbies,” she laughed. “Wellness days for myself.”

Wesley said, “I have to work out every morning.” She has a gym in her basement and has done CrossFit.

Two favorite actresses are Viola Davis and Regina King. They also have pushed some boundaries.

In Gary, she went to a performing arts junior high and high school.

“My talent was drama. I use it every day,” she said. “I have to build rapport and trust; that’s probably my key differentiator. Treat people like we know each other, like we’re distant relatives. It helps you work in business whether you see people or not. They’re more open, they’ll share ideas, work more organically.”

As with medicine, she thought she might pursue acting.

“I was dramatic,” she said. “My first play was ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ I was the Mad Hatter.”

But as with medicine she heard some words — “starving artist” — and that was that.

“I said ‘that math and science looks pretty good to me.’”

FORT COLLINS — Tamara Wesley is feeling all right, and right at home, wherever that is these days.

Indeed, wherever that has been the past four decades is pretty much OK for the Gary, Indiana, native and some 20 years later Georgia Tech grad. Also for the Intel Corp. intern and some 20 years later Intel Corp. site manager in Fort Collins.

For the wide-eyed teen wondering if she could be an engineer and some 20 years later, mom of two young adults, it’s still OK. Now, in the 18th month of what feels like a 20-year pandemic, she wouldn’t mind being back at the office she leads, if it’s safe and good and works out. 

“I miss people,” she told a BizWest Innovation Roundtable this summer.

Did we mention she works out?

It’s true.

In addition to running a site that can house 350 workers — from interns to widely and deeply trained and experienced chip designers — she has deadlifted 350 pounds.

And in what’s been a harder lift, for the past 18 months she’s supervised those workers located in far-flung places.

Flexible

“People are working longer hours,” Wesley said recently. It was the week before the Labor Day Weekend and Tamara — say it Teh-mer-ah — had just emailed her people to say, “this holiday, please disconnect.”

The company also provides workers one wellness day per quarter and flexible schedules as it looks into a possible return to the office.

COVID cases must be trending downward as vaccination heads up for that to happen.

The big aim: keeping people…