Stephanie Winner designs computer chips for 3-D graphics in Apple Computer's Advanced Technology Group. These chips are used in some of today's most interesting applications such as movie special effects (like those in "Jurassic Park"), virtual reality, games, computer-aided design (such as for modeling molecules and designing industrial products), and medical imaging.
According to Winner, the design of a chip begins with a set of goals or problems to be solved. Sometimes the chip should be blazingly fast, other times incredibly inexpensive. Each goal constrains the solution but offers a challenge. "As computer and chip technology evolves," says Stephanie, "the variety of solutions changes, adding another dimension to the design task. The chip designer must evaluate the possible solutions and choose the best to implement." Each engineer has his or her own style, which is reflected in the chip's design; the more creative and clever the engineer, the better the design.
"I considered studying political science," says Stephanie, "but my father encouraged me to pursue electrical engineering because I did well in math and science, and he thought it would be easier for me to get a good job as an engineer." She also had other encouragement: When she was in the eighth grade, MIT contacted Stephanie through a program designed to encourage women to study engineering. Stephanie took every advanced math and science course offered by her high school in Traverse City, Michigan, and applied for admission to MIT. She started her studies in the fall of 1981.
She admits she didn't initially feel comfortable as an engineering student, but overcame those feelings early on. "At first, I was intimidated by overly confident classmates at MIT," she explains. "But I discovered that I often did as well or better than they did. I think I've succeeded because I'm a perfectionist and hold myself to high standards."
Stephanie is married and has three young daughters. Having children and a career presented a new challenge to her: "I don't work less, I just try to work more efficiently. We talk a lot at work about how to optimize a design, and now I find myself applying those same principles to my life!"