Last month, I noticed that Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) Fellow Per Hammarlund, who had been the company's chief system-on-chip architect (as well as the chief architect of a next-generation processor core), was no longer with the company via his LinkedIn profile. I wasn't sure if he had retired from the industry, or if he would soon pop up at another top processor maker.
Well, it seems he has turned up at none other than Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL).
Why this is a big deal
Intel has been losing top mobile personnel for quite some time, which isn't a surprise. My hypothesis is that engineers can only handle putting years of their lives into projects that don't do well for so long before getting frustrated and seeking opportunity elsewhere.
What I do find surprising is that Hammarlund wasn't really from Intel's mobile group; he was part of the "A team" that worked on successful projects such as the Pentium 4, Nehalem, and Haswell. More recently, according to the biography that used to be on the Intel site, he was the "chief System-on-a-Chip (SoC) architect" as well as the "Next-Generation Processor chief architect" within the company's Platform Engineering Group.
He was a big deal at Intel, and now he's bringing his considerable talent to Apple. In my opinion, this is a huge win for Apple and a major loss for Intel.
Apple is taking its cores very seriously
Apple has hired a lot of great processor architects over the years from throughout the industry, and it shows in Apple's products. Apple's custom CPU cores -- Swift, Cyclone, and (what AnandTech refers to as) Enhanced Cyclone -- have all offered best-in-class performance and efficiency.
Furthermore, the design cycles for Apple's existing chips began years ago, when its processor team was much smaller. What we should see from Apple's future CPU cores in the A9, A10, and beyond should continue to be incredibly impressive, as the company has apparently bulked up its teams with even more of the industry's best architects and designers.
I, for one, can't wait to see what Apple puts out.
What's going on at Intel?
Intel has the opposite going on; it seems to be having trouble retaining top chip talent. I have no doubt there are still many very smart architects at Intel, but is something going on that makes them seek out employment elsewhere?
One possible explanation is that the likes of Apple and Qualcomm are simply contacting these top engineers and offering them significant raises.
However, I'd like to think that Intel's management understands that this is likely to happen, and compensates its top staff well enough that competitors would find it difficult to justify paying more. In fact, note that Hammarlund was an Intel Fellow. According to an Intel Free Press article, a big part of the whole Fellows/Senior Fellows concept was to allow top technical personnel to "reach the same [pay] grade levels [as general managers and other senior executives]."
I doubt that compensation was the main reason Hammarlund, or any of the other Fellows that have left to work at other top chip companies, left Intel. And that, perhaps, is the most troubling part of all of these personnel departures.