Intel Needs Great Technologists for Its Foundry Pivot

Intel faces sizable challenges in the years ahead. With longtime clients such as Apple shifting to their own customized processors, and worldwide supply-chain issues impeding its production, the company has decided to embrace a new strategy: Manufacturing chips for whomever has the cash.

That’s a radical change for Intel, which previously based its business on designing and selling its own chips to customers. Manufacturing chips to clients’ specifications requires ultra-expensive foundries that take years to build and perfect—and Intel plans on building two of them, at a cost of $20 billion dollars. Profitability will ultimately hinge on attracting enough customers, a challenging proposition when chip-foundry companies such as TSMC have already built up a massive business.

Considering those trials, Intel needs skilled technologists more than ever—both hardware and software people. But how much is it willing to pay software engineers? That’s a crucial question. For an answer, we can turn to levels.fyi, which crowdsources its compensation data; while this isn’t the most scientific way of determining how much a company’s engineers might earn, its data usually aligns with other sources such as Glassdoor.

At first glance, it seems that Intel pays its software engineers quite a bit. But let’s compare Intel’s compensation numbers to those at Nvidia, one of its major rivals: 

Intel and Nvidia have been at each other’s throats for some time, targeting rich verticals such as datacenters and the GPU market. As with Intel’s rising competition against foundries such as TSMC, victory isn’t just a matter of building factories or convincing clients to sign on; it’s about innovation, and that depends on technologist brainpower. Intel is surely paying many of its technologists much higher salaries than the levels.fyi numbers suggest, especially for those with highly specialized skills—but it seems that, in general, Nvidia might be paying its people more.

If Intel wants to survive its great strategic pivot, it will also need technologists who are skilled in customizing hardware and software to give foundry clients exactly what they want. That might require it poaching talent from other companies, an expensive proposition—but a good one for technologists who find themselves the target of competing (and lucrative) offers.