Wells '93 Helps Manage Intel Engineersby Patrick McAlister '10
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By middle school, Michael Wells '93 had his collegiate career figured out: "From sixth grade on I was going to be an engineer at Purdue," he said.
Even at the advent of his senior year of high school, Wells was still focused on attending Purdue that next year. However, after a fall visit and ample time for reflection, Wells finally understood what his family had already figured out: He'd be a perfect fit at Wabash.
"My sister, who is five years older than me visited here from Butler and knew then that I would probably fit in well here. For Christmas I got presents my dad had bought at the bookstore in October knowing I would go here. I think everybody knew before I did."
It was probably a good thing he went to Wabash too. A Wabash education afforded him the opportunity to develop a diverse academic palette, and Wells’ was indeed diverse – he was mathematics major, music and history double minor. "I hit all three divisions," he said with a laugh.
Although mathematics is a logical foundation for an engineering mind, music and psychology are not usually at the nexus of the development of design structures. Wells selected his minors with a barometer familiar to many Wabash men – simply focusing in on what he enjoyed.
"I had been a musician in bands and sang for years and so I just gravitated towards the music classes to fill out a distribution," he said, "and then I only needed two more to get a minor. Psychology, I just found interesting."
After his tri-division liberal arts education and a couple of other jobs, Wells landed at a place that could use a man of many skills. As project manager, Wells is responsible for the fluidity in the development of the highly sensitive technology at Intel.
"Engineers make great engineers," the mathematics major said. "They make really poor project managers. I've learned that to appreciate engineers, they have an artist mentality and want to create. They're very smart people - you're in a room with 600 Valedictorians and they really have creative minds. My job is to help manage and track the projects, steer the engineers, keep the goals and scope, manage requirements, and help the project finish on time and on budget."
"That's one of the public knowledge things I can discuss," he added with a laugh.
Wells did, however, allude to what type of microscopic precision a $10-12 billion profit margin can buy. He said that if a single layer of a microprocessor (called a wafer) was the size of the Gulf of Mexico, they couldn’t have a height variation in its design of more than a foot.
"The fact that we could do that is amazing," he said, "just amazing control of atoms, molecules and chemicals."
The pace of work at a company like Intel can be intense and the sheer amount of information a team works with can be mind boggling. A single project Wells worked on had over 140 terabytes of data. In this project Wells was responsible for making sure that this data was funneled to the other managers in real time, as to not stall the rest of the project.
"Chart’s and graphs are like heroin," he said with a sly grin. "In order to get the same effect you have to have more every week."
Even though he did not take the engineering path of an engineer, Wells' position as a project manager for Intel requires a mind opened to learning engineering - something his Wabash career has prepared him well for.
Wells has even parlayed his project management skills into another technological medium – video games. He’s the project manager for a video game startup company that is working on, among other things, a zombie video game.
"I love technology," he added with a smile. "I'm very much a computer geek."