Intel vice-president and Cork woman Margaret Burgraff tells Marjorie Brennan that you must sell yourself to succeed.
BIG data. The internet of things. The cloud. These buzz words are abstract concepts to most of us but they power the turbo-charged technological world we now live in, with almost every electronic transaction we carry out resulting in a data record being created and stored somewhere.
Technology giant Intel is one of the companies at the forefront of the move towards a device-centred society and driving this part of its operations is Cork woman Margaret Burgraff. She is visiting the city this week in her role as chair of the Industry Advisory Board at the Insight Centre for Data Analytics, a joint initiative between UCC, UCD, NUIG, and DCU, which was established in 2013 by Science Foundation Ireland.
In her position as vice president and general manager at Intel Services Division, Burgraff is a passionate advocate for technology and the benefits it can bring.
“As human beings we have been constantly evolving anyway and I think throughout the history of time people have always been concerned about machines taking jobs. I don’t think it is something we should be afraid of; our personal security and privacy are always things we are concerned about but a lot of data analytics research will actually lead to humans having longer and healthier lives. We are going to have huge sustaining issues with regards to food, water, and natural resources. All of this technology will lead to solutions to those problems,” she says.
Burgraff grew up in a family of six on a farm in Berrings, Co Cork, attending UCC and working in Apple in Cork before moving to the firm’s headquarters in Cupertino, California in 1998, as part of the launch of the first iMac. She rose quickly through the ranks, joining Intel as director of quality for the company’s phone and tablet products in 2011. In the US, she found a culture that was a lot more welcoming to an ambitious young woman with a desire to succeed.
“I’m Irish to the core and very proud of that but I noticed a huge difference when I went to the United States. I used to think these people are bragging about themselves, they’re talking about something that’s common sense and acting as though it’s rocket science. I realised, ‘this is American culture, and this is an American company, and if I’m to be successful, I’d better learn what I’m good at and I’d better be the one out there talking about it. If I don’t believe I’m good enough to lead a team, nobody’s going to follow me’. We do have a cultural thing in Ireland that it is not good to brag about yourself, so you have to wait for other people to identify you as being good.”
I tell her it reminds me of a common refrain from my youth about girls who were seen as too confident: “She’s full of herself.”
“Yes, I’ve heard through back channels that people have indicated that about me — too much success, who does she think she is, she grew up on that farm in Berrings, almost as if that’s where I should stay. But I don’t allow those negative forces hold me back.”
Burgraff, a mother of two young boys, is highly aware of the gender and diversity gap in technology and is strongly committed to Intel’s efforts to address this.
“When you look at women being in control of the finances and being the bigger consumers, especially for electronic purchases, it makes sense that we have more women’s voices in the room contributing to the solutions of the future.
“A lack of diversity in leadership in all roles, including politics, has led to far more testosterone-based decision making which hasn’t necessarily led to a world that has more empathy and compassion. We need to step up and take what is ours too. A lot of us, as females, we kind of sit back and wait to be asked to take a seat at the table rather than putting ourselves up there and leaning in to take it.”
Does Burgraff ever tire about her gender being a constant talking point?
“Actually, I see so many women struggle that it’s very important for me to keep shoving my neck out. I know when I do so it can lead to someone wishing I’d pull it back in, but it’s important now that I have a little bit more visibility that I do it for the next generation, so it’s not as hard for them. Being the only female in the room isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because you do have that visibility, and I wouldn’t be where I am today if I weren’t aware there were advantages and disadvantages.”
As a successful and high-profile figure in Silicon Valley, what advice would Burgraff have for any young men and women aspiring to a career in technology?
“First of all, have courage. Know what you want, what you don’t like, and be true to yourself. Always keep learning and don’t be afraid to ask for help from others — that’s the greatest form of flattery. Know what you’re good at and promote that. Keep challenging yourself — I still have that voice inside me about not succeeding sometimes, but I just turn down the volume.”
Burgraff is also eager to give something back to Ireland, and as well as her role as chair of the Industry Advisory Board at the Insight Centre for Data Analytics, she is on the board of the Irish Technology Leadership Group, which promotes connections between Ireland and Silicon Valley.
“I love my Irish roots and I feel a responsibility to reach back. Ireland has huge advantages — it’s small enough to test something but big enough to prove something. I see a lot of entrepreneurs coming out of Ireland.”
Does she ever see herself returning?
“I never saw myself moving out of Ireland to begin with. I am in a constant mode, even now as a fortysomething, of opening doors and creating opportunities for myself. I am open to any possible future. Who knows? I’m only just beginning. I’m not done yet.”
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