Being Extraordinary by Being Authentic — A Career at Intel, a Tech Pioneer that Prizes Inclusivity

“Always be extraordinary.” That’s Joannie Fu’s personal mantra. Currently Chief of Staff, Custom Logic Engineering Group, at Intel Corporation; she has had an impressive 20-year career with the Silicon Valley pioneer. She says, “All the different roles gave me unique perspectives and sharpened my skill sets which enable me to continue to grow in my career.”

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Photo courtesy of Intel

Photo courtesy of Intel

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May 30, 2024 at 12:39PM UTC

“Always be extraordinary.” That’s Joannie Fu’s personal mantra. Currently Chief of Staff, Custom Logic Engineering Group, at Intel Corporation; she has had an impressive 20-year career with the Silicon Valley pioneer. She says, “All the different roles gave me unique perspectives and sharpened my skill sets which enable me to continue to grow in my career.”

Much of her success she credits to mentors and managers she’s met along the way. In addition to the mentors Fu mentions, the company is also involved in a variety of programs to support and retain women, including the Pay It Forward (PIF) initiative and Women at Intel Network (WIN). They were also an early ally to the LGBTQ community, and that commitment was one of the reasons Fu joined the company, and why she has stayed. She’s an active member of Intel Out & Ally Leadership Council, a sponsor and mentor of a chapter of the Intel LGBT+ Employee Resource Group (ERG), contributor and speaker to Intel Women’s Network, and a mentor in the Asian Leadership Program.

She recently talked to Fairygodboss about the profound influence of mentors and ERGs on her career, and how she’s impacting others by being a mentor herself. 

Tell us a bit about your job. What’s your current role, and what did your career path look like prior to being in this role? 

My current role as the Chief of Staff gives me the opportunity to be a trusted advisor and consultant to partner with our engineering executives to turn vision into action by setting the strategic directions, driving executive communications, and overseeing operations for a global engineering organization that spans hardware, software, manufacturing, and quality engineering, which delivered multi-billion revenue last year within Intel’s FPGA, Structured ASIC and Custom ASIC business. 

I would characterize my career path as broad and diverse; although I have been with Intel for more than 20 years, with its size, I am fortunate to have been able to work at 4 different fabrication plants, 6 divisions, 5 campuses, and 4 years of international expatriate assignment in Asia, with functions ranging from supply chain, product development, factory start up, NPI launch, information technology, to manufacturing engineering, and launching 18 products. All the different roles gave me unique perspectives and sharpened my skill sets which enable me to continue to grow in my career. 

Earlier in your career, did you have a mentor or sponsor? If so, what did you learn from them? If not, why do you wish you’d had one?

Absolutely - I am grateful for my board of advisors. Many of their lessons continue to influence me even today when I am making decisions. I will share two stories:

  1. “Life is designed by you.” – This advice came from my professor Christine Theodoropoulous (who I’ve kept in touch with, and who is now the Dean of Architecture at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo). Two years after I graduated with highest honors from the Cal Poly Pomona Architecture School, I decided that I wanted to pursue a career in business. I was feeling guilty about changing career tracks, though, given the high expectations, so I went to visit Christine, whom I admired a lot. I told her about my decision as well as my concern that I was abandoning all the architectural training, and she said, “Joannie, what we taught you in architecture is about solving complex problems and creating art – life is about creativity and it is designed by you. So wherever you go, you can create and design your life as you see fit based on what you have learned in architecture school.” This advice gave me the courage to pursue and change my career track. Every time I went about going after a career opportunity that may seem counterintuitive, I think of her advice — this is the key to why my career path has been very diverse and broad.

  2. “Don’t be ordinary, be extraordinary.” – This advice was given to me by my first manager at Intel, Mike Breeze. When I joined Intel, I came out of the closet and told my manager that I don’t want to be treated differently – just see me as a normal person. He said, “Joannie, why be ordinary, when you can be extraordinary?” He encouraged me to be the best I can be with authenticity, and this has been how I manage my career and live my life. This also stayed with me and became my mantra: always be extraordinary. 

How does mentoring help those who may be struggling with bringing their whole selves to work?

As I shared in my stories above, mentoring helps us to overcome anxiety and fears by offering different perspectives, breaking down thought distortions and incorrect perceptions, and leveraging our unique talents as our authentic best self in everything that we do. I believe both mentoring and reverse-mentoring (which I am experimenting with now) help with maximizing our best selves in everything we do. 

What employee resource group(s) are you involved with?

I am a big believer in intersectionality, and I am very fortunate to be able to have several different unique identities. I am active in a few ERGs at Intel to maximize the platforms that I can contribute. I’m an active member of Intel Out & Ally Leadership Council (out LGBT+ and ally senior leaders), sponsor/mentor of a chapter of the Intel LGBT+ ERG, contributor/speaker to Intel Women’s Network, as well as a mentor in the Asian Leadership Program. 

How and why did you first get involved with this group?

I will highlight Intel’s LGBT+ ERG, as I got involved in it as soon as I joined Intel. When I was considering my career post graduate school, I had several offers. Intel stood out because the website highlighted its LGBT+ ERG, which no other company had at the time. I emailed the leader, Debbie Rettke, whose contact information was on the website, and she was extremely open and helpful in giving me advice (and later became my mentor as well). So I made the decision to accept Intel’s offer and when I joined, I reached out to Debbie and joined the ERG.  

How are your company’s ERGs reflective of the overall culture at your organization?

I am super proud of Intel’s diverse ERGs. It is a web of different cultures, religions, identities, and interests. The coolest thing for me is that these ERGs are open to everyone. I have joined many events hosted by different ERGs and felt welcome and engaged, even when it is not the ERGs that I am directly associated with. People truly embrace and include people, and I learn so much from them. Intel ERGs reflect the Intel cultural values of Inclusion, Truth & Transparency, One Intel, and Fearlessness in showing up to work with our heart and soul. 

As a member of the LGBTQ community, woman of color, a mother, and a first-generation immigrant, what are some of the ways that Intel supports you in bringing your whole self to work?

Let’s start with the policy side: Intel is one of the few pioneering companies to offer tax-free Domestic Partner Benefits to all employees, including a health insurance package, adoption assistance, bonding leave, fertility assistance, and more. This was back in the 1990s, and it enabled me to be open about my life at work, as I was offered the same benefits as everyone else. Recently, Intel also set representation and pay parity goals that level the playing field for different folks to get the visibility needed to beat unconscious bias. 

On the workplace side: When I joined, Intel had the safe pink triangle magnet that shows someone is part of the community or an ally. Then in the 2000s, Intel introduced ally badges folks can wear to show support to the LGBT+ community. In the 2010s, Intel flew Pride flags on its campuses during Pride Month – all of these are signals of Intel’s support.

On the more personal experience side: I was offered an expatriate assignment to start Intel's first factory in Dalian, China, which I knew I couldn't pass up. But same-sex marriage was and still is illegal in China. My domestic partner and I had just welcomed our first child, and I was adamant that I would not go to China without them. It's one thing for a company to claim equal protection for LGBT+ individuals under official policies and another to truly ensure they have access to the same rights, benefits, projects, and opportunities as other employees. My company very well could have pointed to official Chinese government policies and left me to handle the logistics of getting my partner and child to China on my own. But Intel HR, the legal team, PR, and the management team surprised me by providing all the necessary resources to avoid separating our family, from support in coordinating with the government, to help with securing my partner's visa, to ensuring our safety while abroad. 

All of the above made it easier for me to bring my whole self to work without any reservation. 

Why do you think Intel has been so successful regarding inclusion in the workplace?

Intel is an engineering company — we solve complex problems. Intel’s bold statement in 2013 when our executives set the goal for hitting representation and parity goals seemed impossible; however, we did by tracking, measuring, and energizing the employee base to attract the most diverse and innovative talent to our company. At the same, we have been going through a cultural transformation to be even more open and have offered many trainings on inclusive leadership practices. As one of the trainers, I have seen many a-ha moments when folks recognize the bias that they have, then take actions to correct them. We are not perfect and still have a long way to go. The Black Lives Matter movement showed that we must do more — but I am proud of the progress that Intel has made in this space and will continue to drive through our 2030 RISE Goals. 

What is your advice for members of the LGBTQ, working parent, and immigrant communities who want to make the company they work for more inclusive? 

Identify allies within your organization that will speak up and advocate for you. And most of all, embrace what makes you unique and learn how to leverage it to reach your full potential. Love your uniqueness even more fiercely than you love your strengths, for they are one and the same. Don't be ordinary ― be extraordinary!

What kinds of boundaries do you follow to separate work and family time?

I use one calendar exclusively, with color and text coding for both work and family. I review my two-week look-ahead calendar on Friday evenings to assign time blocks, and this system makes it easy to analyze the hours I’m allocating to each area over a given time frame. I’ve found that it is actually easier now that we are all working and schooling from home, and I can use midday time to check on my daughter’s homework, go for a walk with my spouse, or spend 15 minutes reading between appointments.

What’s the first thing you do in the morning and the last thing you do at the end of your workday?

First thing in the morning, I get up at 4:30 a.m. and go jogging with my dog. While I do that, I pray and meditate. Then when I warm down by walking, I plan the day and check my emails to prioritize my deliverables. It is what I call “ultimate stacking of time.” In one hour, I can work out, spend time with my dog, feed my spirit and soul, and get my to-do list organized so I am ready to go. 

The last thing I do at the end of my workday is reflection. I ask myself three questions and make notes: What are the three big things I accomplished today? Who did I help today and who should I thank for their help today? What can I do better tomorrow? 

I file away each of these reflections for action: three big things for review with my boss for alignment, follow-up and recognition for those I’ve helped and who’ve helped me, and improvements to continue to learn and grow each day.

What’s the #1 thing you think you colleagues should know — but probably don’t know — about you?

I think most people do not know that I am a Christian, and I hold those values dearly. Being an openly gay person, people assume I am not a Christian. Sometimes folks hear me quote Bible verses, but they assume I am using it as more of colloquialism. A few times when I’ve come out as a Christian, it surprises folks.   


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