Moving up from intern to the executive suite at the same company isn’t a common career path these days, but it’s the one Lisa Pearce has walked at Intel. It’s also a path the Virginia native almost didn’t set foot on. At college orientation, after deciding not to pursue her childhood passion of physics long term, she walked to the computer science building—and her future was sealed.
“The guidance counselor told me I was going to fail or drop out after the first year because I had no coding experience from high school,” Pearce recalls. Rather than be deterred, she grew determined. “It was super-irritating at the time, but I can thank her now for giving me the will to prove her wrong,” she says. “It fueled me to push through and succeed.”
Nearly 25 years later, Pearce is in a position to help other women find success as well. Here, she talks about why feedback is so important, her personal leadership style, and why she’s still eager to get to her gig each morning.
Tell us what led you to your job at Intel.
The summer before my senior year of college, I interned at Intel. I had interned at a few other companies, but Intel just had a different level of energy, intensity, and drive. I really liked that! After college, I moved out to Folsom, CA, to work at Intel full-time as a 3D graphics (think: gaming) device driver developer. I really enjoyed low-level coding and staying close to the hardware/software interface layer. I find it challenging and complex, and it’s awesome to see your product affecting hundreds of millions of new users around the world each year. Twenty-two years later, I’m still in Intel Graphics.
What are you working on right now that excites or inspires you?
I now lead the graphics processing unit (GPU) software engineering team, where we create high-quality, performant GPU device drivers. It’s more exciting than ever, because our goals and aspirations for graphics have never been greater. First, we have fully unleashed integrated graphics in our CPU platforms to deliver leadership gaming capabilities in thin and light form factors, and now we are working on discrete graphics solutions to pair with our CPUs to deliver graphics capabilities that scale all the way up to enthusiast gaming in the PC space and to AI supercomputers in the data centers. It’s an awesome challenge, and it gets us charged up.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I have a super-blunt and direct leadership style. I don’t have the capability to hold back how I really feel to the teams that I lead. Speaking the truth (even when it is uncomfortable) is always best so your teams know exactly where you stand.
I try to keep the team thinking about the overall success of our business, not just the success of self or their own teams. That means I provide a platform to the team to always express concerns, but I also get into the trenches of the problem-solving space to help them out. The feeling is “we’re in this together.”
Why do you think diversity and inclusion are important in the workplace?
An inclusive workplace doesn’t just have a diversity of people present; it has a diversity of people involved, developed, empowered, and trusted by the business. When we can be our authentic selves, we can bring a broader point of view in problem-solving and build off of the best ideas brought to the table.
Sometimes you see leaders who tend to hire people like themselves, either in how they think or their upbringing. Instead, we must always seek out individuals that stretch our thinking, challenge our approach, and bring perspectives that we don’t currently have surrounding us. Thought diversity will drive us to new levels of innovation and impact—and the best way to achieve that is looking for a mix of diversity in any team.
What is the best career advice you’ve ever received?
Treat everyone with respect, listen to them like you’d listen to someone on your own team, and build momentum through impact. I find too often—especially in large companies—that we go in only comprehending our point of view and then get caught up arguing or debating instead of figuring out how to solve the situation in front of us.
What advice do you have for those, particularly women, who want to pursue a similar career path as yours?
As women, we can be more prone to moments where a negative comment or feedback can sit in our minds for some time. We dwell on it, and that can cause us not to take future risks to stretch ourselves. It is important to view failures and feedback as a gift. Learn to build on it and focus on how you will adjust for next time. Let it fuel you into your next challenge.