Illustration by TIME; reference image courtesy of Sandra Rivera

Sandra Rivera has worn many hats over the course of her 23-year career at Intel. Now, as chief of its Data Center and AI Group, she leads the company’s push to become one of the go-to makers of AI accelerator chips. The initiative is part of a turnaround effort after a series of what she calls “missteps” that set the company back in an increasingly competitive chip market.

Since she became chief of Intel’s Data Center, as well as its AI strategy and execution in 2021, Rivera has overseen the rollout of its Gaudi AI accelerator chips. The company hopes the Gaudi3, due to launch next year, will give rival Nvidia’s most powerful AI offering, the H100, a run for its money. Intel says the Gaudi2 chip, which launched in May 2022, outperforms Nvidia’s A100—widely seen as the most popular graphics processing unit (GPU) on the market. “The reception has been quite positive because the market wants alternatives to the market leader and they’re looking for something that has better price-performance,” Rivera says, referring to the amount of training that can be achieved with the accelerators per unit of cost.

Rivera must navigate a challenging geopolitical landscape as Intel looks to grow its market share around the world. While still the largest chipmaker in the U.S., it has been overtaken by rival Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. on a global scale. Intel has also lagged behind the dominant maker of AI accelerators, Nvidia. In July, Rivera traveled to Beijing to launch a lower-grade version of the Gaudi2, tweaked for the Chinese market to comply with U.S. export restrictions rolled out in October 2022. “There’s a lot of interest in that product,” she says. “There’s just a lot of interest in AI in China, period.”

A daughter of Colombian immigrants who grew up in New Jersey, Rivera credits much of her success to having a “different perspective and experience” than her Intel colleagues. She says she told herself early in her career, “You are not going to be in a majority, you will be remembered [for] how you showed up in that room because you’re so different from most of the other participants. So be remembered for something good.”

Correction, Sept. 8

The original version of this story misstated the name of the group Sandra Rivera leads. It is the Data Center and AI Group, not the AI Group and Data Center.

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