Intel’s Jim Keller Leaves the Company for ‘Personal Reasons’

The Robert N. Boyce Building in Santa Clara, California, is the world headquarters for Intel Corporation. This photo is from Jan. 23, 2019. (Credit: Walden Kirsch/Intel Corporation)

Jim Keller, the designer behind AMD’s Zen and lead chip architect at Intel for the past two years, has left the company abruptly. Intel’s statement on the matter says only that Keller departed for “personal reasons,” and that he will serve as a consultant for six months following the transition.

Keller’s departure came as a surprise to many in the industry. Only last month, a glowing Fortune article declared that Intel was “betting its chips” on Keller. The same article notes that Jim has a tendency to join companies and do the initial work only to depart afterward, but his two-year tenure at Intel is still short, even by his standards. Keller spent approximately five years at AMD working on Zen, from 2012 – 2017. He’s been at Intel for just two.

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Jim Keller

Keller had previously described the appeal of working at Intel as allowing him to change the company on a larger scale than he’d ever done previously. But a ship the size and complexity of Intel’s is rather difficult to turn. New CPU architectures typically take 4-5 years to build, and Keller’s timeline at AMD fits that bill. His time at Intel comes up a bit short, though the document also notes that Keller will spend the next six months as a consultant to Intel to ease the transition.

This change appears to have been in the works for some time, given the way Intel is restructuring around it. Sundari Mitra will lead a newly created Engineering Group devoted to IP development, Gene Scuteri will head the Xeon and Networking Engineering Group, Daamon Hejmadi is re-taking over SoC and client development and will lead the Client Engineering Group, and Navid Shahriari will lead the Manufacturing and Product Engineering Group. The degree of positions and groups Intel is shuffling suggests the company had some time to make the changes in the first place.

There are rumors that Rocket Lake represents Intel’s first new CPU architecture since Skylake, but given the lead time on CPU designs, it isn’t clear how much Keller might have worked on the chip (assuming the rumors are true in the first place) or what Intel products he worked on. Unlike AMD, which made it explicit which chips Keller was working on for them, Intel never disclosed next-gen codenames or similar data.

It might be tempting to read this as a negative, but given Keller’s history, he may have just felt it was time to move on, or that he’d finished the work he wanted to do.

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