Name: Mike Waters
Year: Class of 2006
Hometown: Seattle, WA
Major: Computer Engineering, Electrical Engineering
I started my computer engineering degree (CE for short) at Hopkins back in 2002. I chose Hopkins for its highly regarded Electrical and Computer Engineering departments, financial aid (my ability to pay), and the distance from my parent’s house (2,768 miles – I drove across the country three times during my time at Hopkins!). Although I started with the intention of majoring in CE, I ended my career at Hopkins in 2006 with a double major in both EE (electrical engineering) and CE with minors in applied math & statistics, entrepreneurship & management, and mathematics.
Computer engineering is a strange degree. I’d describe CE in a sentence as half EE and half CS (computer science). Officially it belongs in the ECE Department but many of the course requirements are from the CS Department, Math Department, and other Engineering departments. In fact, to my knowledge there is no course that is strictly CE. This isn’t such a bad thing since you get to know students from other departments and have some freedom in choosing the classes for your major.
I was interested in both engineering and business so I started taking classes from the Entrepreneurship & Management Department my freshman year along with the standard math and physics fare of Hopkins engineers. I found this helped to balance my interest in technical work and my desire to pursue a career in business. I took one or two E&M classes each semester and finished the minor with more credits that necessary. I especially enjoyed the Business Law series and my intro course in Financial Accounting. CE requires a couple writing intensive classes so I used my business courses to knock them out.
The first two years of CE are mostly introductory courses like Circuits or Digital System Fundamentals but the higher-level courses are definitely the most fun and interesting; my favorites were the advanced labs. Yes, advanced labs are required, but I took as many as I could fit into my schedule. These are the courses where you get to apply your engineering knowledge to real world problems, even if they’re simplified for the sake of learning or have already been solved by someone else. The best lab in my opinion was the FPGA Synthesis Lab (go ahead and Google it). You get to work in the basement of the ECE building programming hardware to do what you want. The professor is great and some of the students even got jobs after showcasing their FPGA programming skills to prospective employers. This is one of those courses that most other college students never get to take. I followed it up with another, FPGA Projects Lab, which is a senior-only design lab. In this one you team up with one or two other students and complete one ridiculously hard project for the semester. That’s it! One assignment. For my project, we tackled the transmission of encrypted data over an optical link. Basically we programmed and built a hardware/software system that allowed us to type text into one computer, use a 64-bit maximal length linear feedback shift register (LFSR) to pseudo randomly encrypt it for security, and transmit the messages wirelessly on the fly across the room to another computer where we’d capture the optical data, decrypt it, and display it on the monitor. COOL! Courses like these let you practice all the theory that you learn in the classroom and find out if you know how to apply it. I believe this to be the best way to learn and greatly appreciate the opportunity to take more than my share of labs. They made me want to be an engineer.
During my final semester at Hopkins I had to decide whether to continue my schooling and pursue a master’s degree in engineering or to enter the workforce. I left the choice up to my ability to get a good job offer and applied to as many companies as I could think of and to grad schools at the same time. In the end I was recruited out of Hopkins before I even started my last round of finals. The decision was made, so I packed up my apartment into a rented trailer and drove back to Seattle.
I started my career as a software engineer for a global manufacturing company. They were headquartered in New York but had opened a satellite office just outside Seattle. My job was to build an engineering department in the new office. They chose me for the job because of my engineering background, my interest in business, and my experience with international people and places. (I spent one of my undergrad years studying engineering abroad in New Zealand – even engineers can study abroad!)
I was sent to Amsterdam for three months to attend a training session with the European sister company and was hiring my first employee after only four months! I’ve been working for two years now and have hired and fired dozens of people, built a new office building outside Seattle, and risen from an entry-level software engineer to general manager in charge of all North American operations. Work is going really well and I’m getting use out of my business minor as I’m managing every department in the company including sales, marketing, finance, production, and engineering. I think the best advice I could give to prospective CE majors would be to branch out and try other disciplines. It’s easy to get into one track or specialty but pursuing a well-rounded curriculum will serve you better after college. Try history, or a foreign language, or take a class on the extinction of the dinosaurs like I did, but most importantly, have fun.
Click here to access more information about the Computer Engineering Undergraduate Program of Study.
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