Pete Williams

Director of Engineering Processes

By Marjorie F. Eddington

Categories: Elijah and Elisha, Engineering

Pete Williams is Director of Engineering Processes for Silicon Valley's Applied Materials, the largest producer of semi-conductor manufacturing equipment in the world. Applied's equipment is displayed in the Tech Museum in San Jose, California, and in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. During our interview, he shared guidelines for successfully managing people. These principles, based on trust and respect, have their origin in God, as shown in Bible stories.

What are your chief responsibilities as Director of Engineering Processes at Applied?
I am in charge of product development processes and tools that we use to design and develop our product. Rather than designing from scratch, we strive to design from existing information, processes, parts, and modules that are easy to assemble, test, use and service. We use 3 dimensional computer aided design tools to help us develop new products and commercialize them for the market place. With all that information available, a product development team can very quickly take a customer specification (what a customer wants and needs) and turn it into a product.

What are the main qualities or characteristics that are required to do well in your job?
Because managers in tech companies and industry are being required to manage large matrix organizations, where projects are accomplished in collaborative environments, there are three principles which are critically important:

  1. Clearly identified goals and a plan to achieve them:
    1. what our customers need;
    2. how the team can best accomplish the goals.
  2. A set of values and guidelines -- an agreement on how the team will work together to get the job done, which includes:
    1. trust -- trust that the individuals in the group believe in what they're doing and that they're doing the right thing in the right way;
    2. respect -- respect that people will treat each other decently and fairly and work harmoniously together.
  3. Individuals with strong work ethics who:
    1. work hard, work aggressively to achieve the identified goals;
    2. show their dedication through the quality of their work.

But even with these standards and guidelines, problems still arise:

  1. Not everybody agrees with the goals, so as a manager, I have to understand each individual's perspective.
  2. Not everyone has the same ethics, values, or guidelines.
  3. Not each individual contributes at the same level, which requires sensitivity as a manager.

These three principles are not exclusive to Applied Materials, nor do they offer a technical solution. Rather, the ability to manage these three aspects in a dynamic environment is the key to making any team, project, or product successful.

You mentioned that problems arise when managing and working with a variety of people. How have you used the Bible to help you overcome such challenges and to work effectively with people?
I use the Bible daily to navigate through my everyday experiences and challenges. I pray to know that God is communicating not just to me but to everyone involved. Specifically, I go back to the three principles as I pray.

  1. I start by examining the goals: what are we doing and why.

Typically goals are defined by human opinion. But human opinion can be faulty. I have learned to turn to God and to see what God would have me do on a daily, weekly, yearly basis. I ask myself, "How am I understanding God's message and applying it as a leader in my company? How am I using what I'm learning from reading the Bible?" The answers translate into practical solutions.

There are so many people in the Bible who have found themselves in challenging situations. They had good relationships with God and relied on Him to help them. Their experiences provide a wide range of solutions to resolve challenges. God's advice or direction to them was always specific: he told them where to go, when to leave, what to do.

  1. Then I look at the guidelines for behavior and ethics and compare them to how I'm managing relationships.

Again, the Bible is filled with helpful examples. Elisha revealed his trust and confidence in God when Syria was trying to conquer Israel. When the Syrian army surrounded the city of Dothan, where Elisha and his servant were staying, Elisha's servant was afraid. But Elisha comforted him:

    Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them. And Elisha prayed, and said, Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha. (II Kings 6:16-17)

Elisha was confident, even before the battle started, that God had already solved the problem; it didn't matter how many Syrians surrounded them. I have been able to use this same sense of confidence when working in a competitive environment. Rather than competing, I trust in God and work for solutions, knowing that God provides me and the team with the right solution.

Another example reveals David's compassion. David had a few opportunities to kill Saul, who was trying to kill him. But he didn't (I Sam. 24), which taught Saul a lesson. David set a standard for relationships: even people who are after you to eliminate you cannot touch you if you are aligned with God.

In the third example, Jesus lays down the law for working with people when he answers the lawyer who was questioning him on what it means to "love . . . thy neighbour as thyself" (Luke 10:27). Jesus told the story of the "Good Samaritan" who took care of a robbed and beaten man even though the Samaritan did not know him. Jesus's disciples, for the most part, maintained this same standard for relationships that Jesus had taught them.

  1. Lastly, I try to be sensitive to the needs of individuals, to understand their levels of commitment, and to work with them where they are.

People have so many things going on in their lives that are not evident at work. Acknowledging that they have lives beyond work helps me understand how they can best serve the team and the company. Family is important, and if a child or relative of an employee is sick or needs help, I want to meet the needs of that employee and enable him or her to go home and care for that family member. This, in turn, benefits the company: it creates good relationships and lasting loyalty and commitment to the company; it has become an integral and supportive part of their lives.

Paul was so significant to the lives of the early Christians. He established a measure or standard of success for spreading Christianity, traveling to places where other disciples had never been. After he helped establish Christian groups, he continued to play an active management role in their development. Paul kept tabs on their progress and was very explicit with the Corinthians and others about what was right and what was wrong, how to treat each other and how to treat those who didn't believe in the same things they did. He demonstrated a high standard of ethics by managing individuals and teams with trust, respect, and compassion.

It sounds like you've had a lot of experience in dealing with challenges. What qualities have you developed that have enabled you to meet challenges with success?
Facing new challenges has been one of the core threads in my professional development. I have learned not to be afraid to try new things. I love challenges. If work were easy, it wouldn't be exciting. I see overcoming challenges as showing that I've grown. Overcoming challenges requires a knowledge of oneself. I don't know everything there is to know, but I trust that God will give me and everyone else involved all that we need to know to handle any situation. In the Bible, Solomon is put into a position where he didn't feel he was adequate. He understood, through self-knowledge, that he didn't have everything he needed to be king, so he asked God for greater wisdom. God recognized his humility and his sincerity and gave him wisdom and more than he had explicitly asked for.

Courage is also very important to meet challenges successfully. It took a lot of courage for Moses to trust God and lead the children of Israel to freedom. Moses felt incredibly inadequate. But the demonstrations of handling his staff as it turned into a serpent and the transformation of his hand after becoming leprous strengthened his courage. This same courage was expressed by the Hebrew boys — Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego — who faced lions' dens and fiery furnaces without harm because they obeyed God. Psalms 34 and 91 speak of courage and attest to God's care: "The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit" (Ps. 34:18). Jesus's disciples demonstrated courage when they were persecuted. I think Jesus had such trust in God that God's courage was transparent through him and those around him.

When I get into a situation where I'm a little bit scared, I look at the people in the Bible and realize that what I'm dealing with is nothing compared to what they faced. The end result of knowing yourself, expressing humility, having courage, and dealing compassionately with people is success. What I've come to realize is that God doesn't give people success so that they can be separate from God. Success is a part of God, a characteristic of God. We are truly successful only when we accomplish tasks through God.

That certainly puts success in God's hands. Any more thoughts on real success?
What's becoming more apparent to me is that the measure of success rests on how something is accomplished. Certainly practical results are required, but there are a lot of different ways to achieve such results. The best way to achieve a goal is to use the best means. You can make a product and get it out to the customer, but the real measure of success is determined by the answers to these questions:

  • What is the condition of the team: do they have a sense of accomplishment or progress?
  • Are they more capable, confident, stronger because of their efforts - have they grown?
  • Is the company better, more financially fit, a better place to work?

You seem to be touching on ethics. What role do ethics play in success?
The way that things are accomplished is as important as the end result. The process hasn't demonstrated ethical behavior, if the goals are not honest and sincere, or, for example, if the work of one individual has unnecessarily carried the weight of the team. Even though the product has been completed, neither the team nor the work place is better.

The devil's advocate would say, "So what? The product is accomplished."
But the problem with that is that there is always another product to make. The goal of the company is to grow, to become more profitable and more recognized. This requires not just a repeat performance but improved performances. If the objective has not been reached through sound means and methods, then the company will not be successful in the long run because success for a company is built on individual and team successes. The Babylon of Biblical times was the place to be for quite some time. But because it was built on a morally unsound foundation, it fell.

What has been the most important thing you've learned in your career?
That what people can accomplish isn't limited. Look at all the fantastic things people have accomplished in the Bible. They're things people can accomplish today.

About Pete Williams

After finishing his degree in Mechanical Engineering at San Jose State, Pete started his professional career in the aerospace industry, designing and launching spacecraft. Several years later, he moved to the semiconductor industry, designing and manufacturing equipment used to produce integrated circuits, starting as a Program Manager and working his way to Director of Engineering Processes at Applied Materials, the world's largest producer of semi-conductor manufacturing equipment. Pete also works closely with local university faculty — assisting with the development of engineering curriculum to meet specific industry needs. Pete is a dedicated church member, and he and his wife enjoy many outdoor activities with their two small children.

What did you think about working in the aerospace industry?
My job as a thermodynamics engineer working on spacecraft was a dream come true. I had always loved cars and spacecraft. It was the ultimate engineering dream -- getting to use all the latest and greatest tools for designing, crawling all over the spacecraft, spending hours testing, and then putting it on a rocket and blasting it into space. Who wouldn't love that?!

You had your dream job working in aerospace. What happened?
I was having a lot of fun, but the aerospace industry was experiencing large cut backs, and career growth was very limited. A manager I'd worked for at a previous job was working in an industry I didn't know anything about. He suggested I come over to Applied Materials. This required a lot of trust in God. After a lot of thinking and praying, it seemed like the right thing to do. It ended up providing a completely new dimension of growth for me. I learned to apply technical knowledge and experience I'd gained in aerospace to my new tasks, tackling large challenges -- whether it was product development, managing through industry ups and downs, or changing business processes.

Would you expand on the product Applied Materials creates?
Applied makes and sells the equipment that semiconductor companies such as IBM, Samsung, and Intel, among others, use to manufacture their chips. Our equipment is displayed in the Tech Museum in San Jose, California, and in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. The equipment is about the size of the car. There are lots of chips and processors, lots of metal parts that are used to handle the wafer, lots of software, and lots of robotics that make up our machines.