Name: Greg Siu
Greg is an independent semiconductor hardware consultant. He has been in this role for almost a year, having most recently come from Applied Materials where he was a Director of Mechanical Engineering.
Prior to that, Greg spent a number of years leading hardware engineering teams at Aixtron, Aviza Technology, and Novellus Systems.
Greg’s mechanical engineering expertise is focused on various aspects of product development and continuous improvement programs in the creation of chip manufacturing process tools,
Before I get into the questions and answers, let me share a bit about my experience doing my first interview.
I completely enjoyed talking to Greg, not only because he is a good friend, but because we talked about topics that we otherwise would not have. I learned more about Greg and I expanded my perspective in a number of management areas.
The problem is that the interview went too long. We talked for an hour and thirteen minutes! As a result, I have way too much material. I can’t possibly share everything – you will never read it all. I have reduced the interview down to the answers that I think will be most valuable.
The next time I do an interview, I will attempt to keep it under 30 minutes, and ideally closer to 15 minutes. Maybe this will allow me to share the full interview – all of the answers to the questions that I ask.
Now onto the interview with Greg!
What tools and tricks do you use to find work-life balance?
Greg took the question in a different direction than I had expected. He first talked about one major problem that he has tried to avoid that impacted his work-life balance.
“Looking at this from the negative, don’t wait until you consider yourself ‘done’ before you go home. This will mean that you are not going home until seven or eight”
We talked a bit more about this. It is a combination of Parkinson’s Law and prioritization. But is an easy trap that you can fall into.
We then got into an approach that is just the opposite.
“There are two approaches that I have taken. One is to set a time when you are going home – say 6:00. If you are diligent, this will force you to a stopping point as well as direct your attention to complete your more important tasks. The other is if you want to go home at 6:00, target 5:45, this forces me to focus with a greater sense of urgency and efficiently towards the end of a tiring day”
Greg has used these methods to force his focus, creating a sense of urgency that allowed him to get home at a reasonable time.
We continued the discussion and hit on something that I think is really important – that you do not operate with the same level of productivity and focus throughout the day.
“I try to schedule tasks requiring the most thought in the morning and meetings in the afternoon if possible. I also try to schedule tasks that require movement right after lunch when I tend to be sleepy.”
I do something very similar. I make sure that the first thing in the morning is not email. Instead, I work on things that take the most creativity.
How do you prioritize your work?
Greg jumped right into the approach that he uses to prioritize.
“It’s kind of the classical approach to prioritizing based on the task’s impact on business, operational, and group work efficiency. Tasks that directly integrate into the overall business goals carry the most weight.”
We then talked about his now contracting which is a completely different experience. He is there to help ensure that the team he is working with is successful.
“In my current role as a technical consultant, I have the luxury of cherry-picking the projects I work on so as a result, I do very little prioritization. I occasionally have to help guide my clients as they prioritize some of their own projects using the same business-oriented criteria.”
The company that Greg is contracting with is in China and is very young. The combination of the two is creating some prioritization challenges. They do not fully grasp the concept of minimally viable or acceptable. They want to work on something until it is complete.
“The young Chinese engineers did not reassess priorities as incremental progress reduces the overall impact of the project at hand. Many will try to complete each and every project goal even when their time could be better spent shifting on to a different project with higher business impact.”
Tell me about an example where you had to let someone go for underperforming.
Greg has not let someone go, he has worked through performance reviews and feedback to help a person to know that they should be moving on.
“Based on performance evaluations and structured performance improvement programs, underperformers typically would either leave the group or leave the company before termination procedures are initiated.”
We got into the details of one situation where someone was coming into work drunk. Even in this case, the lawyers were leery to move forward in letting the individual go.
“Even something as blatant as alcohol on their breath isn’t good enough.”
If you had to give advice to someone setting up a team in another country, what would it be?
I really love how the conversation got started.
“Cultural differences are pretty tough.”
We talked about the first time Greg had a team in India and the importance of having someone that can transcend the culture.
“I was lucky because when I was dealing with India – my main contact was a guy that worked for me for about 9 months here in the US before moving to India. We already knew each other well, we had no problems communicating and he helped a great deal by explaining some the nuances of the Indian culture to me and my nuances to the team.”
But there have been some challenges.
“I have fallen into the trap of assuming that the words I use to convey a message are the same message received by my colleague. Cultural differences lend themselves to different interpretations of the same words.”
One last thing, some advice.
“As painful as they are to write, meeting minutes are super important to minimize misunderstandings as you work across cultures.“
What was the most difficult transition that you made in your career?
This one was really easy for Greg!
“I would say moving from a small company to a large company. I started the first half of my career at large companies before spending the second half of my career in small companies. Returning again to a large company was very difficult for me.”
“Your sphere of influence is much smaller in a large company versus a small one. Because of the limited resources of a small company, job functions are much broader. I really enjoyed the variety of the broad job function and was surprised at how much I disliked the relatively narrow focus of my position when I moved to a large company.”
“It was extremely hard for me to enjoy a position with such narrow but detailed focus.”
Some of his comments on the differences were interesting.
“Because of the limited resources of a small company, things moved a little slower compared to a larger company.”
“With the right corporate priority, projects can move much quicker in a large company since there is a larger pool of specialized resources in which to draw from.”
“With broader small company responsibilities, there is the opportunity to learn over a much wider range of subjects.”
Early in Greg’s career, he went from being a member of a team to managing it. He had some interesting comments related to this.
“I was moving up from individual contributor to first-level manager within the same group.”
“Transitioning from being a friend and peer to having to manage these same coworkers was easy in some respects since I already had a good understanding of their personality traits, strengths, and weaknesses. The difficulty was to find the right balance between assertive management and being ‘one of the guys’.”
Do you have any book recommendations that you would like to share?
“I have read a few like the ‘One Minute Manager series. Most of them are common sense.”
What are the one or two things that you want to tell me that I didn’t ask?
I really like one additional piece of advice that Greg provided.
“I think it’s important to stress and value the relationship you have with the people under you.”