Edited by @SimonCocking, delighted to bring you an interview with Margaret Burgraff in a guest post interview by Lynne Nolan.

Margaret Burgraff, vice president of Intel’s Software and Services Group (SSG), holds a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and Economics from UCC. She talks to Lynne Nolan about the next big tech disrupter, making STEM approachable and keeping George Boole’s legacy alive.


You started your career at Apple in Cork; do you feel the city has emerged in recent years as a destination for tech companies, or has the potential to progress as Dublin has?

I started my career at Apple in Cork in 1994 and am very proud of that.  As the internet has grown, more pervasive companies are no longer as restricted to locations; more and more employees can work from home.  Ireland’s business advantages apply to all of Ireland, which is why local government has to be continually vigilant to the physical advantages and disadvantages to businesses in its local community; advantages in transportation infrastructure, local talent and natural business partnerships for ecosystem building. Local government needs to actively, continually and consistently message around the local advantages and work hard to eliminate the disadvantages.  I live and work in Silicon Valley and being honest, to drive from one end of the valley to the other is the same length of time to get from Cork to Dublin, so it is difficult from my perspective to separate the two.

Do you feel Cork is an attractive destination for start-ups and established companies, and if so, why?

Cork, and Ireland, being an attractive destination for start-ups and established companies is more than just about taxes. Ireland has a very strong skills base, not just in software development but in a wide range of technology areas across a talented, young workforce.  UCC being Ireland’s first five-star University definitely contributes to that talent pool and ought to be a major selling point for local government.  Ironically, the economic collapse in Ireland which led to property values falling through the floor has played into technology industry leaders hands, helping to generate a lower cost of living than other European technology hubs.

Ireland’s main language being English and Ireland being part of the Euro currency zone has made trading with wider Europe far less expensive. Ireland has one of the most supportive regulatory environments, from R&D support to labour laws, which make it fast and easy to establish a company.

What tech trends are you most excited about now, what’s next in technology?

By 2020 we will have 50 billion connected devices, generating 35 ZetaBytes of data. It is clear that Data Analytics is the next big technology disrupter with the opportunity to transform all industries. There is pent-up-demand for data analytics solutions today and it’s our collective opportunity to unleash that demand. The health industry is one of the biggest Big Data opportunities in front of us. It’s big for three reasons:

  • The massive quantity of data – measured in peta-bytes today and rapidly growing.
  • It impacts the greatest number of people – virtually all of us have visited a doctor at some point, have health records, have had our vital signs taken, we’ve had an X-ray.
  • It is an industry clearly lagging in the adoption of IT; hence there are tremendous cost savings opportunities.

Today you have no better than a coin toss chance of receiving an appropriate, science-based treatment when you walk into your doctor’s office. That statistic is from the New England Journal of Medicine. The largest human endeavour on our planet by GDP is caring for our health and has been relying on luck, trial and error and guess work instead of data; healthcare has been the last bastion to embrace ‘digital’ and the ‘web’.

Half of all men and a third of all women will get cancer in their lifetime. The stakes are high and potential for impact is great. The opportunity for data analytics in healthcare is clear, but the opportunity spans all industries. Through analytics solutions we can reduce risk, drive down costs, and create new revenue streams; IoT is expected to grow to 50 billion by 2020. With the increase in devices there will be more data and more opportunities for vulnerabilities and threats. The biggest challenge to scale and adoption of IoT is security and data privacy. I believe that for IoT to be successful, security and data privacy need to be designed in at the onset and be at the core of the solution.

There are some serious issues facing the human race today; these will be the drivers of solutions in the future. Some examples of these issues include:

  • There are 770 million adults who are illiterate across the world today.
  • Water, a hot topic here in California, where we have a major drought. By 2030, there is projected to be a 40% gap between supply and demand across the world.
  • Food – With 10 billion people on Earth by 2040, we will require 70% more food. That is 10,000 years of historical production in the next 40 years.
  • Energy – with the continued growth of economies worldwide, energy consumption will rise by 56%

Some current trends in technology, however, are making solutions to these problems more accessible.  For example, during past 10 years the cost of sensors has reduced by 2x, the cost of computing reduced by 60x and the cost of bandwidth reduced by 40x. Moore’s Law is not a scientific law, but it is a brilliant observation made by Intel’s co-founder, Gordon Moore around 1965, which states that the number of transistors per square inch doubles approximately every two years.

What that means is that we continue to shrink the size of the chips we make, while adding phenomenal amounts of computing power.  Moore’s law has driven compute from the ginormous mainframes of the 60s, miniframes of 70s, Workstation of 80s, PC’s of 1990, laptops of 2000s, Mobile of 2010 and by 2020 compute will be ubiquitous.  This is what excites me and has me jumping out of bed to get to work every day!  I am fortunate to have lived and worked through this hugely transformational information revolution.

What was the main turning point and highlights in your career to date?

I started my career in Apple Cork in 1994 as an Application program interface test engineer.  Very quickly I realised about myself that I liked systems engineering a lot more than going deep in one domain.  I liked to have a broader overview and I liked to work with teams of people.  I became a team lead for validation of full programs, while I was still doing my day to day API testing, before I became an official manager.

In 1998, I was working as the team lead of a project code named Columbus, this project turned out to be the original iMac. Steve Jobs had just returned to Apple, my team and I were invited to Cupertino to work side by side with development teams (Industrial Design, Software, Mechanical, Electrical, Hardware Engineers) for the last few months of the program to co-locate and accelerate development.  I thrived in this environment and when the original iMac was complete, I was shown an org chart and offered to relocate to Cupertino Silicon Valley. The position that I chose was to be Quality Manager for the original iBook and I stayed in that role until 2005 when the transition from PPC chips to Intel chips for the Mac product family was announced.  At that time I was promoted to write and execute the qualification and validation strategy across the entire Mac family.  The next two years was a period of huge growth as I learned so much about compute while working on a processor transplant (akin to a brain transplant in a computer in terms of complexity).

In 2009, although I loved Apple and always will, I was curious to see how other companies worked and I wanted to get myself a more senior position in a smaller company to get more visibility into the breath of business.  Mobile was also where the tech world was obviously at that time.  I got offered a director role in Palm overseeing full validation of the WebOS platform full stack.  The next two years were tricky for mobile with vast consolidations in the market and to make a long story short HP acquired Palm, I stayed through the transition and looked for my next adventure.  At that time my experience was the whole stack from chip up so I was excited to learn about chip down and where else but Intel is the best place to get that experience.

In November 2011 I joined Intel’s Mobile communication group, at that time Intel had zero presence in the Mobile space so it was exciting for me to get in at the start.  Within a year we had fully productized and launched devices in multiple geographies worldwide, thereby proving to the world that Intel chips worked for mobile.  By end of 2012 we had penetrated the tablet space; by the end of 2014 we were the No. 2 vendor in the tablet business for processors.

I’m always looking to the future of technology and having explored the client space for most of my career, I decided it was time to push myself more towards the exciting world of cloud technology given the 2020 vision for the Internet of things and Big Data intercept.  It just felt like the right thing to do.  I applied for the position to run the Intel services division with primary focus on enabling Intel’s Internet of things and Data Center businesses.  In March 2015, I became GM of the Intel Services Division. I’m drinking from the fire hose as there is so much to learn but I’m at my happiest when I’m learning; and in the technology business in order to thrive, a deep love for learning is a huge asset.

You’ve mentioned you’re a person who leads with your heart, what are some of the most rewarding parts of your job?

I lead with my heart and validate with my head.  Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote: “To handle yourselfuse your head; to handle othersuse your heart” describes my style quite nicely.

I’m passionate about STEM and the advantages that STEM has for the human race.  I love working with people to help them realize their true potential.  I get invited to a lot of speaking engagements worldwide to inspire women and the youth in STEM.  I love to demystify it in such a way that it makes it far more approachable and not scary.  I like to challenge the stereotypes of what an engineer should look like or what a leader should look like.

Today in the world 65 million girls do not have access to education; women are responsible for 60% of all the work worldwide, 50% of all the food production worldwide, yet only have 10% of all income and 1% of assets. STEM careers pay more and reduce the wage gap between men and women, and even more compelling, STEM career opportunities are one of the biggest growth sectors.  Being Irish, I feel as though I have a more progressive attitude towards equality and I like to share my perspectives to be a role model for women everywhere to have the courage to go after the roles and jobs which they want.  After all, we already had a female president in Ireland when I was in first year in UCC; Mary Robinson even came to visit us, which was very inspiring to me as a young student.

How would you sum up the impact of George Boole’s ideas today, and the significance of UCC’s bicentenary celebrations?

George Boole, who happened to be the first Professor of Mathematics in UCC, is the inventor of Boolean algebra. Boolean algebra provides the basis for analysing the validity of logical propositions because it captures the two-valued character (binary) of statements that may be either true or false.

In 1930s, a number of researchers noticed that Boole’s two-valued logic lent itself to a description of electrical switching circuits. They showed that the binary numbers (0 and 1), combined through Boolean algebra, could be used to analyse electrical switching circuits and thus used to design electronic computers. Today, digital computers and electronic circuits are designed to implement this binary arithmetic.

There is a direct correlation between Boolean algebra and technology/computer science today; it is one of our key foundation stones.  Given the evolution of the Information Age in more recent decades, it is only right that we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of George Boole, who is one of the fathers of the information age.  UCC should be proud of this and keep his legacy alive.

Was your experience of studying at UCC useful in your career progression and what advice would you give to young women considering a career in the tech sector?

The four years I spent in UCC were between the ages of 17 and 21; these were formative years in my life. Some painful personal situations occurred in my life at that time and UCC was one of stabilising influences and my escape.

My advice is the same as Nike campaign: “Just DO IT”! There are a growing number of job opportunities; we currently have a huge gap in STEM applicants to STEM jobs. It’s the highest paying job sector and you get to be part of inventing the future.  In fact I would find it very hard to come up with a single reason why young women should not work in the tech sector. I’m very keen to encourage more women into the industry as we need diversity of thought in order to resolve some of the bigger issues facing the human race.  I speak at conferences regularly, encouraging women to come into our industry.  At CES this past year, Intel’s CEO Brian Krzanich announced a budget of $300 million behind an initiative to have full representation at all levels by 2020.

With ‘underselling’ ourselves often referred to as the main barrier to women entering or progressing in the tech sector, what advice would you give to tackle that?

This might sound a bit harsh, but my main advice is to ‘get over ourselves’!  My favourite George Bernard Shaw quote is: “People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can’t find themmake them.”

Yes, there are some unconscious biases at play in the industry today, but the conversation has never been more vibrant and most companies are rolling out red carpets to female applicants and males alike.  Nobody is going to come and hold your hand and make your dream career happen, you have to get up and do it for yourself!

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This

Share this post with your friends!