By Barb Darrow
July 2, 2015

Renee James, is ceding her title as president of Intel to pursue a CEO job somewhere else. This is interesting given James’ long tenure at the chip giant and the fact that she’s spearheading an effort to bring more women into engineering and tech roles at the company.

James joined Intel in 1987 as a product manager for the cash-cow 386 chip line and worked her way up the ladder to executive vice president of software and services before being named president in May, 2013 the same day Intel(INTC) installed Brian Krzanich, another company long-timer, as CEO, replacing Paul Otellini. She will stay at Intel through January, the company said in a statement.

James and Krzanich thus became Intel’s “two-in-a-box” leadership team. At the time of their appointments she told Oregon Live: “I work for Brian but the rest of the company works for Brian and I. We put the strategy together as a team.”

James, who served for four years as technical assistant to Intel’s famed CEO Andy Grove, had been considered by some to be a contender to take the CEO slot at that time, although most of her experience at Intel to that point had been in software.

When the CEO transition came, James did not yet have the requisite hardware experience to run Intel, according to Patrick Moorhead, president and principal analyst at research firm Moor Insights & Strategy.

“Software is important but if you don’t have hardware or fab experience, it’s tough. When the company’s single largest expense—in multiple billions of dollars—is in fab, you need to know about developing and selling hardware and you need some time in the seat for a while. And I think Intel was giving her that.”

Intel itself is navigating a tricky transition. It recently announced plans for layoffs, amid weaker PC sales projections for the coming year as consumers increasingly turn to mobile gadgets as their primary devices. Intel has also failed to build a compelling chip for the upcoming wave of battery-powered connected devices that are proliferating in the so-called Internet of things.

This leaves Intel focused on buying startups such as Basis or Recon as part of its wearables strategy, and it doubling down on the data center market where the information from these connected devices will be hosted. Intel is pushing hard to embed its newest chips in the massive data centers running the world’s cloud operations. Last year, it announced a chip designed to run Amazon Web Services computing instances, for example. It also agreed to purchase Altera, a custom-chip maker, for $16.7 billion last month.

Moorhead thinks that James already has an outside CEO job locked up, to be announced later. One thing is certain, people will be watching where James, who ranked 21st on Fortune’s Most Powerful Women in Business list last year, ends up.

Stacey Higginbotham contributed to this story.

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