Inspiring Women: Renee James, Intel's New President

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James rose through the ranks over 25 years, starting as a technical assistant to become president of the chip maker.By Jessica Stillman (Editor, Women 2.0)

Are you slogging it out in a less than impressive seeming entry-level tech job and starting to despair that your efforts will ever lead you anywhere interesting? Then take a minute to reacquaint yourself with the career of Renee James.

Appointed President of Intel earlier this month and due to take the helm tomorrow, James spent 25 years with the company, working her way up from the far from glamorous sounding position of "technical assistant" to the company's famously hard-charging CEO Andy Grove (his motto: "Only the paranoid survive").

VentureBeat has a lengthy article charting her rise which is worth a read for those looking for the deep dive, but even a few highlights are enough to hearten newcomers to the tech industry who are worrying that their initial positions appear too humble, their tech skills insufficient or their resume dotted with failure. Writer Dean Takahashi explains:

What makes James’s career so interesting — and a stand out — is that unlike Intel’s early leaders, she wasn’t a chip engineer or manufacturing executive…. James served under Grove for a longer time than most technical assistants did, as she proved indispensable to him. James said that she learned a huge amount from Grove, and she took lots of notes on the things that he said that made an impression on her. Paul Otellini, the retiring CEO of Intel, also served as a technical assistant for Grove. The technical assistant job was one of those unsung positions that required a lot of wits. James had to pull together lots of Intel resources to set up, rehearse, and execute Grove’s major keynote speeches.

She was eventually given the more impressive title of “chief of staff.” During the dotcom era, she moved out on her own to set up an ill-fated business. She was in charge of Intel’s move into operating data centers that could be outsourced to other companies.

There are several possible takeaways here for younger women in the industry, including making the most of even lowly seeming positions, the importance of networking and powerful connections, and the oft repeated but still true fact that failure is a key aspect of success -- a failed venture may feel horrible but it's hardly the end of your career.

For Intel watchers the appointment offers different food for thought. On Network World, Andry Patrizio points out that James sits on important boards like VMWare and Vodafone, which might hold clues to Intel's future direction. "She understands the cloud," he writes, "and the hot new trend, the 'Internet of Things.'" The conclusion: "In some ways, she should be the CEO because these are all areas that require vision… That would have been something if Intel picked her, because then three of the largest firms in this industry – IBM, HP and Intel – would all be led by women. But for now she's the number two and really the one to watch."

Women 2.0 readers: What other high powered women in tech started in unglamorous ways?

Jessica Stillman is an editor at Women 2.0 and a freelance writer with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She writes a daily column for Inc.com and has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM and Brazen Careerist, among others. Follow her on Twitter at @entrylevelrebel.