Alumnus Profile: Sunlin Chou, ’66

Reflections of a Master Engineer

Sunlin Chou

Almost forty three years have passed since I arrived at MIT as a freshman and foreign student from Singapore. I took up residence at the East Campus, where the buildings were then cloaked in ivy. Through my dormitory window I caught the sights and sounds of the early construction work on the Green Building.

Sunlin Chou obtained his BS, MS, and EE degrees from MIT in 1966, 1967, and 1968 respectively, and his PhD degree from Stanford University in 1971, all in electrical engineering. As an undergraduate, he received the Blonder-Tongue Foundation award for promise in the field of electronics.

Sunlin Chou obtained his BS, MS, and EE degrees from MIT in 1966, 1967, and 1968 respectively, and his PhD degree from Stanford University in 1971, all in electrical engineering. As an undergraduate, he received the Blonder-Tongue Foundation award for promise in the field of electronics.

I quickly became accustomed to life on campus. MIT had a virtually all-male student population then, but so did my secondary school in Singapore. My secondary school education had given me a solid technical foundation. At MIT learning had a different dimension — it was less about gathering factual knowledge or developing rote skills, and more about using general and systematic approaches to comprehend situations, anticipate possible outcomes, and devise solutions.

I found abundant diversity at MIT, not only in course offerings but also in styles of teaching. I enjoyed physics lab projects that gave me new experiences in building and testing devices such as vacuum diodes. For a while I considered physics an attractive major course to pursue. This changed as I took core courses in electrical engineering. These courses were superbly organized and taught by lecturers and instructors who obviously took great pains to prepare for their classes and to assign and review homework. Most of my learning came from doing homework, often during the quiet wee hours. The quality of MIT’s electrical engineering instruction enhanced my prior interest in this field and by my junior year it became my sole focus.

As expected, MIT was the place to experience and be inspired by rapid advancements in technology. In an early course on computer programming, my classmates and I were invited to watch in awe as a room-filling mainframe computer system attempted to assemble and execute a simple program we had submitted on punch cards, while the instructor reminded us of the high cost and limited availability of computer time. But before I graduated, I would manage to sneak into a computer lab with a friend at night and play Spacewar games on a PDP minicomputer, viewing the action on a round monitor screen.

At MIT I gained insights that were useful for my later professional career. A course on analog circuits made me appreciate design techniques that self-compensated for parameter variations, and this greatly influenced my subsequent product design work. A team project to build a calculator exposed me to both technical and organizational challenges and made me take my first steps to develop project coordination skills and to think about systems for managing complexity.

I have many fond memories of MIT, including the faculty and staff, classmates, and daily life on campus. But most of all, I value my MIT electrical engineering education for giving me the comprehensive framework and inspiration that would enable me to become a productive engineer and team leader.

In 1968 he started working as a semiconductor device engineer at the Fairchild Semiconductor R&D Laboratory. He joined Intel Corporation in 1971, and worked as a technical contributor or manager on several device modeling, memory design, and process development projects, before assuming responsibility for Intel’s process technology development effort. He led his organization to make major systemic improvements in R&D and manufacturing methods. These enabled Intel to develop and ramp into high volume production new generations of industry-leading integrated circuit technologies at two year intervals. He was senior vice president and general manager of Intel’s Technology and Manufacturing Group when he retired in 2005.

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