Intel’s Estelle Hong Shares Her Journey from West Point to Silicon Valley

 

 

This article was written in partnership with Estelle Hong.  Estelle works as Chief of Staff and TA for Rob Crooke, SVP & GM of Intel’s Non-Volatile Memory Solutions Group. A former Army Engineer Officer on Active Duty, Captain Hong continues to serve her country as a commander in California’s National Guard.

 

 

 

 

 

In celebration of Veterans Day, Intel is proud to showcase the amazing commitment, discipline, and teamwork that is the hallmark of Veteran employees throughout the company.

We recently caught up with Estelle to learn more about her interest in math and science, how she brokered a deal with her parents to join the army at 17, and finally, her integration into civilian life at Intel.

Jobs at Intel: Hello and thank you for taking the time to share your story with us! To start, tell us a bit about yourself. What inspired you to pursue both the military and mechanical engineering? 

Hong: Ever since I was young, I have always been a believer that you should never judge a book by its cover.  It’s not about which school you go to or how much money you make, but rather about the experiences you have with the people you care about. It was about being a part of something that’s bigger than yourself. I decided to go to West Point to prove a point to my friends and family that the Army would give me those experiences and ultimately make me a better person. My dad is an engineer and so as I grew up, math and science was pretty big in our household. West Point is actually a very heavy engineering school, and there’s not much liberal arts at the Academy. My actual major is engineering management with a mechanical engineering focus. When I graduated, I went into the Army as an engineer officer where I practiced civil engineering—and now I’m at a company with a lot of folks with electrical engineering backgrounds, so it’s been really interesting.

Sounds like it. It’s also interesting that even in high school, you were drawn to something bigger than yourself. Was that a family perspective? Did you also have family that served in the military?

To be honest, when I was in high school, (like I said earlier) I was kind of rebelling against my parents because they wanted me to follow my dad’s footsteps and go to Stanford and be an engineer. I had heard about West Point through my cousin who went there and he gave me a perspective that resonated with me. I don’t think I actually understood what it meant to be a part of something that was bigger than myself until I actually joined the Army…but it is one of the main reasons I’m still in the military today.

Not many kids rebel by going to West Point.

Yeah, it’s kind of funny. West Point was actually a lot easier than the rules I had to abide by at home.  For example, West Point had a curfew of 11:30pm where as my parents set a curfew of 9:30pm.

What did you do in the Army, in layman’s terms? And how has your experience with civil engineering in the Army translated to working at an electrical engineering company like Intel?  

For most of the time during Active Duty, I worked on construction projects. I deployed and led a team of 27 Soldiers working on horizontal construction with 40 pieces of heavy construction equipment (i.e., dozer, roller, hyex, grader, scraper, etc.). We built culverts, roads, and essentially anything that dealt with a horizontal surface.  I also worked on the renovation and addition of a medical facility on Fort Drum with the Corps of Engineers. There were some technical aspects to the job, but it was fairly basic. In the Army, it’s all about leadership – building and leading a team of all different backgrounds, ages and strengths in order to successfully execute the mission under any condition safely. They rotate you through different roles every 2-3 years to get you exposed to different areas of the military as well as vocations – it’s really about the needs of the Army. I left Active Duty in 2012, went to business school, and then I came to Intel.

Intel is my first civilian company. I came in through the ALP [Accelerated Leadership Program], which is a structured rotational program that exposes you to all different aspects of the business. The best part about it is the support you receive from the program office and the ALP alums but more importantly, the camaraderie you develop with the cohort you enter the company with and can rely on as you experience this journey together. My first rotation was with the Internet of Things Group in the Retail Solutions Division, and there I had the privilege of working for Dan Gutwein. He always believed in me and the value I brought to the company.  He helped develop me through a broad range of projects from leading an engagement with a beer analytics company, to developing the data analytics strategy and working through the technical/business details of a future gateway product. It was an amazing experience and I’m very fortunate to have worked for him. Then my second rotation was with Rob Crooke. And I loved it so much that I ended up leaving the program early and joining the TA role full time, and I’ve been here since then.

What did you love about it so much?

Rob. His leadership. I just admire so much about him. He’s literally one of the best leaders I’ve ever had, and it’s not because he’s my boss right now but it’s based on of my experience with different types of leadership in both the civilian and military world. He’s so smart – he is extremely technical, but can also paint the vision and a path to that opportunity. He is humble, personable, and results oriented. I don’t think I’ve found a single person who’s worked for him who would disagree with me… but it’s because, above everything else,  he is passionate about people – taking a chance on them, developing them, and empowering them. I am definitely an example. I mean, I didn’t even know what an SSD was before I joined NSG…and when we were in meetings together, he would sometimes put the phone on mute to explain to me what was going on or ask to see if I had any questions. Other times, we would have white boarding sessions where we covered technical aspects of a memory cell, to strategic scenarios of the memory industry. Rob always made time for me and he believed in my potential. He found ways to build my confidence and competence by putting me in stretch roles and then coach me through any challenges I had until I was able to handle it alone. It’s been amazing and I know how lucky I am to work for him. He’s the type of leader I want to be when I grow up.

Going back to your military service, what would you say was your most rewarding or memorable experience?

[It’s] about being part of something that’s bigger than yourself. It’s about working together as a team and getting a mission done, where everyone knows the stakes involved and is still willing to sacrifice themselves. Being part of that team where people are selfless and committed to the goal is very fulfilling to me.

How do you think your experience with the military, with leadership, and the importance of teamwork has informed your time at Intel?

I think the discipline around being accountable, doing what you said you were going to do, and having that commitment is something that’s been helpful. In the military, you stay until you’re done with what your mission is – you don’t go home until then. When I came into Intel, I was like okay, I’m not going to leave until I’m done, but then Rob would tell me to go home or not work on weekends (because ultimately, there will always be more work).

You’re still involved with the National Guard and active response. Are you called into duty frequently and how does Intel support your work/duty balance?

Typically you would be gone one weekend a month, two weeks out of the year. But, my company is unique in the sense that we have two missions – a military one (we are a Sapper Company – when we deploy we provide mobility, counter-mobility, and survivability support to maneuver units) and a civilian one (we are the search and extraction capability in the state of California). Because we have a civilian mission in which only two units in California can provide that capability in the case of any natural disaster, we have to do additional training in order to make sure we’re qualified and ready for those types of events. And so because of that we have a bit more of a time requirement to miss work. Rob has been very patient and understanding and supportive of that whenever I’m gone.

So, I don’t really have much work/life balance at the moment because my current role within the military is a leadership role for a high op-tempo unit and at Intel, the TA role is a high visibility job in which you have to make sure you’re always on top of your game. [On work/life balance] That’s something that I struggle with, but Rob has been really helpful in making me take vacation and he’s very low maintenance about things. He’s also just so proud and supportive of what I do, so whenever I am gone, he takes care of it.

Wow, you have such a stacked plate! How do you decompress with everything going on? 

I exercise. I like to play guitar. I hang out with my friends and family and do outdoorsy things. Being around people whom I love replenishes my energy and my emotional balance. And then exercising gives me clarity and physical strength. Music helps calm my soul and I’ve started to do some meditation. I should go to church more, but I haven’t. And sometimes I just like to sleep in till 1pm.

Those who serve in the military are, to so many of us, real-life superheroes. Who is your favorite superhero?

I would have to say my mom. She is so resilient in any situation, grateful for the smallest things, and just a beautiful person inside and out.  She’s one of my best friends, and she has played a critical role in shaping me to be the person I am today, as well as helping me see what’s really important to me. She’s been a big supporter of everything I’ve done and without her, I wouldn’t have the mental or emotional strength to endure and persevere through a lot of the things I’ve gone through in my career. She’s always been that sounding board from a personal standpoint.

With Veterans Day coming up, how would you suggest to your colleagues — who might be curious or unsure – how to best honor and support veterans?

That’s actually a really good question. Personally, I don’t really like being the center of attention, but I am very proud of anyone who has ever served in the Armed Forces because it’s about loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage. I’m also very proud to be a part of a company that works on amazing new technologies that can change the world on a scale that matters while driving a culture of inclusion and diversity within the organization.

I think the best way to honor and support veterans is to engage them – ask them questions about their experience, share stories of people you know who were in the military, show them that you care and you value their experience and what they have to offer to this company.

If they are still serving, help them out while they are out. When I was gone for three weeks, I was very stressed because there’s a lot of work that had to be done, but the amount of overlap coverage and support that I received within NSG gave me the ability to focus and accomplish my military job.

Actions speak louder than words and the overwhelming support that I’ve received from everyone at Intel Corporation has been incredible. I feel honored to work here.

Captain Hong recently led her National Guard unit’s response in the aftermath of California’s Bay Area wildfires. Learn more about the 235th Engineer Company here: https://news.vice.com/story/watch-national-guard-search-for-victims-of-sonoma-wildfires 

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