End of Semester – Still alive and kicking!

This week marked the end of a very intense semester in my graduate program. I had planned to just take Power Electronics and then a business or engineering management-type elective, but a course in advanced ASIC design topics was offered and I signed up. The course was split into two sections: SystemC modeling and then back-end physical design for ASICs. It turned out that both of courses were very intense, and trying to complete all of the course work on top of my full-time job was very challenging. I made it through it all though with solid grades. In the ASIC course, I learned a lot about ARM CPUs, especially the buses (AHB, AXB) that interface with peripheral devices, and I learned a lot about DDR memories too. SystemC was quite interesting, a very interesting way to model a system-on-chip (SoC). As a C++ programmer I really liked working with SystemC!  Most of all though, I thoroughly enjoyed the back-end design: placing standard cells, power/ground networks, clock-tree routing, and data signal wire routing. There are lots of algorithms going on in tools like Synopsys IC Compiler and Synopsys PrimeTime, the clustering and routing algorithms alone are fascinating for those interested in applications of algorithms.

Below is a screen capture of my clock-tree in an ARM CortexM0 design. It reminds me of a fractal in some ways! All in all it was a really useful course, and working with ASICs always makes me think about trying to find a job in the semiconductor industry…fascinating technology.

proj3_clock_tree

I plan to finish the program and “graduate” at the end of the next semester. I willl take a course in VLSI system design as well as a managerial accounting course. Yes, I am backing down and taking a business course! I learned my lesson this semester with two engineering courses, it was just so intense. VLSI will be a great course, and I think that an accounting course would at least be useful knowledge.

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A year of math

I wrapped up my year-long course sequence in communications system theory at NCSU. Previously all of my graduate level courses have been in circuit design, and while there has been some math, it was all very manageable. This year, however, in order to build a solid foundation for my studies in RF and wireless communications, I decided to take communications system theory, and its prerequisite, random variables and random processes. What a year it has been!

The Pros:

I definitely feel like I have a solid grasp of the fundamentals of communications systems, and I hope it will serve me well in future courses. I think I am in a good place for course in the fall on the topic of wireless communications systems, and I think I will be ready for advanced subjects like MIMO signal processing. I have no doubt the random variables and processes background will help with any technical subject where one must model randomness, and I have even been able to apply some of it to some projects at work. I also picked up some much needed Matlab skills this year too, and I feel very comfortable with Matlab simulation and analysis.

The Cons:

In the 10+ years since I finished my undergraduate degree, I had not realized how many math skills I had lost. The course material all made sense this year, but the homework problems were intense and painful at times. I am sure that if I was fresh off of a three-sequence course in Calculus and a linear algebra course that I would have been in better shape. In addition to a table of derivatives/integrals, a table of trigonometric identities, and a table of Euler’s identities ought to be in any electrical engineering graduate student’s immediate reach. On the modeling side, I did not gain any skills with Simulink, which is unfortunate as I had hoped we could have utilized it as a learning tool in the communications theory class. I suppose it will be something that I will need to pick up on my own, perhaps over the summer.

Summary:

It has been a rough academic year, but probably a necessary year, and I hope that I will be better prepared for future graduate work. This summer I need to make some decisions about the future (Ph.D. studies?)…