Well, I real­ize I have a con­fes­sion to make. And it’s always good to make it in a room full of near­ly a thou­sand peo­ple, in a medi­um that will be streamed to the Internet.

But my con­fes­sion is this: it turns out I’m a non-technical female. You may won­der won­der what that means. I won­dered a great deal when I first joined Intel, and my job code said non-technical female.”

I thought a lot about what that could mean, what it might mean, and what it ought not mean. And I thought to myself, Well, I’m pret­ty cer­tain I’m female.” We’re not talk­ing about Romanian gym­nast ter­ri­to­ry here. I was like, Non-technical in what sense?” I thought to myself. So I real­ized the path that gets me from a fair­ly exot­ic, in some ways, child­hood, to stand­ing here with some of my dear­est friends in the room is a com­pli­cat­ed one. And it requires a lit­tle bit of explain­ing, because for me in it are the lessons that are most impor­tant to me, and I hope in some ways will be use­ful to you.

As you can see from my life sto­ry here, I’m the child of an anthro­pol­o­gist. I’m the child of a sin­gle par­ent. I am in many ways a whole lot of clichés embod­ied all in one place. But I also had a remark­able child­hood because of those things. And the first kind of place that brings me here is that very childhood. 

When I was about 7 years old, my moth­er, who was at that point a sin­gle par­ent hav­ing not fin­ished high school the first time around, tak­ing it on again a sec­ond time, work­ing her way through uni­ver­si­ty with two kids under the age of 5, has got­ten her­self into a grad­u­ate pro­gram and has decid­ed she is going to study Aboriginal peo­ple in Central Australia. Because there was nowhere else to put my broth­er and I, we go with her. And we end up in Central Australia in the mid-1970s. My broth­er the lit­tle blond one, me the lit­tle red­head with the big fat freck­les. And my moth­er, a sin­gle par­ent in a com­mu­ni­ty of peo­ple who did­n’t know her. 

And it was an extra­or­di­nary expe­ri­ence. I got to live with peo­ple who remem­bered their coun­try before Europeans came. Who remem­bered what their life was like before cat­tle and fences and white peo­ple. And who at the drop of a hat would take my broth­er and I and my moth­er onto their coun­try and tell the sto­ries of the place and what it was like and what was impor­tant to them. And they were always incred­i­bly gra­cious and incred­i­bly caring. 

But for me as a lit­tle girl com­ing out of my par­ents’ divorce, com­ing out of a middle-class and in some ways working-class house­hold, this was a very strange place indeed. And I did­n’t under­stand any of the rules. But I remem­ber a moment incred­i­bly vivid­ly. We’d been on the set­tle­ment for maybe about three months and there was a lit­tle girl slight­ly younger than me stand­ing on a dirt track in the way of where my moth­er was try­ing to go, and my moth­er is nego­ti­at­ing with this small child, which was already kind of odd. My moth­er an adult, small child, this seemed to be a con­ver­sa­tion almost amongst equals.

And my moth­er starts to ask this kid who her par­ents are as a way of try­ing to tri­an­gu­late who they should be talk­ing to. And in the cre­ole of the com­mu­ni­ty I lived in, the ques­tion for Who are you par­ents?” the ques­tion in English is, Who been boss for you?” 

And so my moth­er says to this lit­tle girl, Who been boss for you?”

And this lit­tle girl looked at my moth­er and said, I been boss for myself.”

And I thought, Well, hell. I think I want that. I’m not sure I know exact­ly what that is, but sign me right up.”

And I went about work­ing out why it was that lit­tle Aboriginal girls could say they were boss for them­selves. And what it meant to be inde­pen­dent and self-determining. But I also real­ized that to live in an Aboriginal com­mu­ni­ty was to be embed­ded and nest­ed in a con­stant set of rela­tion­ships and respon­si­bil­i­ties, and you could be boss for your­self, but only if you were also respect­ful of your rela­tion­ships and your respon­si­bil­i­ties and your obligations.

So path one for me was learn­ing that to be boss for your­self meant that you were actu­al­ly always going to be respon­si­ble to oth­er peo­ple, not just to your­self. The sec­ond thread that runs through all of this is my moth­er’s life. Unlike many of the peo­ple who spoke here, my father, not real­ly part of my life, although he is an engi­neer as were both of my grand­fa­thers, so…there’s some­thing run­ning through the air here. But it was my moth­er’s life that has in many ways been an incred­i­ble inspi­ra­tion to me. And when I was lit­tle, long after we’d left Central Australia but before I had left to come to the United States, my moth­er made if very clear to me both quite lit­er­al­ly out loud, but through her own activ­i­ty that if you could see a bet­ter world, you were moral­ly oblig­at­ed to go make it. You could­n’t sit on the side­lines, you could­n’t carp, you could­n’t whinge, you could­n’t com­plain. You were actu­al­ly moral­ly oblig­at­ed to go make some­thing better.

And I grew up think­ing, and I think it to this day, and I know it sounds so shock­ing­ly naïve. I think it to this day, that if you can see a bet­ter world we should be mak­ing it. And I think it is my oblig­a­tion as a researcher, as a sci­en­tist, as a tech­nol­o­gist, as an almost-technical female, to make a bet­ter world because I think I can see one. And much like Brian I’ve been lucky. I’ve spent most of my work­ing life at Intel and I stay there not because there are head­hunters at din­ner par­ties that I’m nice to. That would­n’t real­ly be my style. But much more that it is the place that I can see that is the great­est place that you could change the world from.

If the future of the world is the tech­nol­o­gy around us, I know I’m sit­ting in a place where I can influ­ence all of that direc­tion. But you might ask how an anthro­pol­o­gist from Central Australia who wore no shoes and knew how to kill things got to Intel. And I want­ed to end with this sto­ry cuz it’s an impor­tant one to under­stand, I think, all of the paths and all of the jour­neys that all of us are on.

So at this point near­ly 14 years ago, I met a man in a bar. [audi­ence laughs] No, it did­n’t end like that. Not even a lit­tle bit. I met a man in a bar in Palo Alto in 1998. I’d fin­ished my PhD. I was teach­ing at Stanford. I was with a friend of mine. I was being good. I was talk­ing to him. He asked me what I did. I said I was an anthro­pol­o­gist. He said, What’s that?” Not an unrea­son­able ques­tion in Silicon Valley. I told him. He said, What do you do with that?” I told him that, too; that I taught. And he said, But you could do so much more.”

And I remem­ber think­ing, What an extra­or­di­nary invi­ta­tion that is. I don’t know what more would look like.’ ”

Fortunately for me this man had a plan. Unfortunately for me, my plan involved not speak­ing to him again. So I left the bar. 

He called me the next day, which is kind of remark­able because in 1998 there was no white box on the Internet in which you could’ve typed red­head­ed Australian anthro­pol­o­gist” or Intel secret-weapon-to-be” and my name would’ve popped up. Instead he did it the old-fashioned way. (Because of course also my moth­er told me not to give my num­ber to strange men in bars, so I hadn’t.) 

So he calls every anthro­pol­o­gy depart­ment in the Bay Area alpha­bet­i­cal­ly (which is good, cuz Stanford was last) look­ing for me. And the sec­re­tary of the anthro­pol­o­gy depart­ment at Stanford went, Oh, you mean Genevieve. Would you like her home phone number?”

And I think to myself, Huh. I thought was get­ting a PhD, not a husband.” 

So this man says to me, You seem interesting.”

I’m like, You don’t.” Blunt, not nice.

He says, then, the mag­ic words. To those of you still in grad­u­ate school, you know those mag­ic words. To those of you fresh­ly out of grad­u­ate school, you know these mag­ic words, too. The mag­ic words are, I’ll buy you lunch.”

And then you real­ize sud­den­ly you are still cheap and easy.

And so he bought me lunch. He showed me around Silicon Valley. He start­ed to teach me a lit­tle bit of the ropes of what peo­ple were doing, and at some point in this ongo­ing rela­tion­ship he says to me, I met some peo­ple like you at Intel.”

And I went, People like me, how?”

He said, Well they say they’re anthropologists.”

I’m like, Really?”

He said, Yes, would you like to meet them?”

I’m like, No. I know lots of anthro­pol­o­gists and I don’t believe you.”

Turned out I was right. They were cog­ni­tive psy­chol­o­gists. Very dif­fer­ent. No the same thing at all. Luckily for me, how­ev­er, they were per­sis­tent. And they invit­ed me to Intel and said, Come give a job talk.”

Unluckily for them, they had­n’t explained to me what a job talk looks like in a tech­ni­cal field, cuz in the social sci­ence field you read a paper out loud. For 45 min­utes. Amazingly, for those of you in the room from Intel, they stayed the entire time. An entire room of peo­ple let me read a paper out loud to them. 

And years after­wards I said, Why did you stay?”

They’re like, We could­n’t believe you were going to keep going.”

I had no idea. They then pro­ceed­ed to take me into a room. They put me in a room. Classic inter­view. You’ll all be famil­iar with this. And a series of peo­ple parad­ed into the room and asked me questions.

Unfortunately for me— This was a long time ago. Things are now dif­fer­ent as evi­denced by the fact that we just won an award to prove it. But in those days, we were real­ly inter­est­ed in under­stand­ing how you respond­ed to Intel’s robust cul­ture of con­struc­tive con­fronta­tion.” And it is a robust cul­ture, indeed.

So Intel Labs had dis­cov­ered behav­ioral inter­view­ing, and they thought that meant you should sub­ject the can­di­date to the behav­ior you were inter­est­ed in under­stand­ing their response to, not ask them how they respond­ed when sub­ject­ed. This is a crit­i­cal but sub­tle dif­fer­ence because this meant peo­ple came into the room and said to me… Asked me a ques­tion, I gave them an answer, they said, That is an incred­i­bly stu­pid answer.”

And they pro­ceed­ed to fight with me, and I’m like, Uh oh.” And I’m just enough of a good girl that I’m like, Okay, that’s a bad answer? Let me come up with a bet­ter one.” So I’m all about I’m going to make a bet­ter answer. I’m gonna make you hap­py here, cuz sure­ly I know a bet­ter answer. 

And after about an hour of this, I thought, Really? you don’t actu­al­ly care. In fact, you’re all a bit ghast­ly. In fact, exple­tive delet­ed. I’m going to step right back into you.” So I decid­ed, Okay, fine. You want to have a fight? Game on.”

Next man says to me, That’s a real­ly stu­pid answer.”

I said, Oh don’t get me start­ed about how stu­pid the ques­tion was.”

And he said, Pardon?”

I said, It was an incred­i­bly stu­pid ques­tion. Here are five bet­ter ques­tions. Here are three things that were wrong with that one. Do you have any­thing else you’d like to know?”

And he just blinked, and I thought, Huh. Interesting.”

And so for five more hours, that’s how it went. At the end of five hours, I said, Right. Must go now. I hear California call­ing me. I’m done with Oregon.”

And Intel was in love. Because it turned out I did­n’t cry and I fought back and they went, Right, we need to have her.”

So Intel made me an offer that it turns out I could refuse. And it turns out I could refuse it six times, which I did, through­out the sum­mer of 1998. I said no very nice­ly to Intel, time and time again. 

Then one morn­ing I woke up and real­ized that I was crazy. That I could stay at Stanford, I could become a pro­fes­sor, I could get tenure, I could be a good girl, I could check all the box­es, and maybe I’d do some­thing that was use­ful. But here I was with an oppor­tu­ni­ty on my plate to work in the mid­dle of the rev­o­lu­tion. In the mid­dle of the place where every­thing was hap­pen­ing, that every­thing that was inter­est­ing was going on. Where all of it was happening.

And I could do it with peo­ple who had no idea what they want­ed from me. They just want­ed me. And that seemed like a pret­ty good deal. So I called Intel back and I said, When can I start?” They said it’ll take two weeks. I said, Good. I’ll be there.”

And I rocked up to Intel on September 8th, 1998. I went through a day of train­ing where I promised not to eat things off the fac­to­ry floor, and that I should be care­ful in the park­ing lot. That all seemed fine. Second day, my new boss sat me down and said, Great. You’re here. We need help with two things.”

I’m like, Excellent. What are they?”

My new boss said, We need your help with women.”

And I thought, Well yes you don’t have any.” But I thought I should ask a clar­i­fy­ing ques­tion. And I said, Which women?”

And my new boss said, All women.”

And I said, All 3.2 bil­lion women?”

And my new boss said, Yes.”

And I thought, Cool.”

So I wrote in my note­book, women all.” And I under­lined all” a lot. And I thought to myself, sit­ting in this room, What is the project I’m going to do to explain women all’ to Intel? Wow, I’m going to be very busy.” And then I real­ized this new boss had said there was as sec­ond thing. And I think I drew a deep breath at this point and in my heart I hoped that the sec­ond thing might be men. This would round out the equation.

But no. My new boss says to me, We need your help with ROW.”

And I write that in my note­book and I real­ize I don’t know what that is, either. And I say to my new boss, What’s ROW?”

She says, That’s Rest Of World.”

And I take a deep breath cuz I think I’m prob­a­bly from Rest Of World, and I say, So where’s world’ in this formulation?”

She says, That’s America.”

I said, Okay, so to recap, then,” because I’d been taught you should play back the tasks at hand, I said, to recap you’d like my help with women and every­one else.”

And she says, Yes, that would be good.”

And I thought, Well…either this job is real­ly going to be the best job I’ve ever had, or you peo­ple are crazy.”

Little did I real­ize the answer would be both. It is the best job I’ve ever had. It has been the most remark­able expe­ri­ence in my life. And to echo all the oth­er women who have stood before me over ten years and echo Anita, too, I did­n’t do it by myself. 

And I’m incred­i­bly lucky to have in the room right now my very favorite boss in the whole wide world, Justin Rattner who is sit­ting down in front here, who was Intel CTO and who deserves a round of applause because I hap­pen to know when Justin gave me my cur­rent job it was one of the biggest risks he ever took. And I’d like to imag­ine I haven’t let him down yet. It’s good to give your­self run­way. I’m also incred­i­bly lucky because I know it does­n’t only take a good boss in this world, it takes an incred­i­ble team not to be behind you but to be stand­ing right with you every sin­gle step of the way, and they are all sit­ting right there. Oh, come on gen­tle­men. You all put on suits, you will stand up. It turns out while the expres­sion might be behind every good man there’s a good woman, it turns out behind every good woman there are at least six good men.

So with that I want­ed to end, but I want­ed to say what for me are the key lessons here. One of the lessons is if you want to be boss for your­self, that turns out not to absent you from the human race. It actu­al­ly nests you deep­er in a whole series of rela­tion­ships. It turns out if you want to do work that mat­ters, you have to find a place to do it, and you have to make sure you know exact­ly what the mat­ter­ing is, and you have to tell every­one and enroll every­one in it. And last but by no means least, you have to find a place that lets you be you. And I’m incred­i­bly lucky. I’ve spent a third of my life at Intel, and I’m a bet­ter per­son for it. But you also nev­er do it by your­self. You do it sur­round­ed by peo­ple who care for you, who fight with you, who sup­port you, who smack you around when you get out of line. And some­times, that is the most extra­or­di­nary gift of all.

So look­ing around this room, my kind of task to all of you, because it’s been ten years since Anita died and I can’t imag­ine she would­n’t be so proud of this moment right now. Because basi­cal­ly, this means none of us get to be by our­selves. We all get to have peo­ple around us, peo­ple who care for us, peo­ple who share our pas­sions. A horde of peo­ple who are tech­ni­cal and not so tech­ni­cal, to make a bet­ter world. 

And that seems like a pret­ty good way to end an evening, and to begin the next part of my career. So thank you.

Further Reference

Genevieve’s pro­file at the Anita Borg Institute site.