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Juan Felipe Gaviria's Interview with Ilker Atalay on Computer Engineering
March 19, 2003

Juan Felipe Gaviria Two days ago, I've received an e-mail from Juan Felipe Gaviria - a 19 year old Colombian from Florida who is already A+, NET+, Microsoft MCSA, and Cisco CCNA certified. He is willing to take computer engineering courses in the university. He was curious about whether this would be a suitable decision for him or not, and asked, if it would be possible for me to answer a couple of questions about computer engineering for him.

Since one of my missions in life is to encourage and support young people, I certainly accepted his request. Below are his questions and my answers:

JFG: What is a Computer Engineer for you ?

IA: A computer engineer supposed to apply his academic knowledge and practices on innovation and engineering aspects. He can work on highly qualified areas like computer architectures, digital control, robotics, computer vision etc. He should design and develop value added innovative products.

However, most of the computer engineers are employed as software developers nowadays. One doesn't need to be a computer engineer inorder to write code.

Computer engineers get numerous lectures on hardware, digital design, computer architectures, communications, microprocessors, algorithms, mathematics, discrete mathematics, linear algebra, probability, etc.

A computer engineer who is just writing code or doing things like system administration is undervalueing himself and that kind of things are not really associated with engineering. If you give enough training to someone with brains but from a different background, he can administor a Windows 2K Server too.

JFG: Do you like your job, If yes, why do you like it ?

IA: Well, as you have read on my web site, I have always been into electronics and computers since childhood. I like electronics and computer but I didn't have a chance to work as a hardware engineer here in Turkey. I have B.Sc and M.Sc degrees in computer engineering. My post graduate academic work was on image processing particularly. Image processing was quite interesting for me.

I like the idea of developing innovative products and carrying an entrepreneurial spirit. It's very thrilling and requires good team work :)

I have worked on various IT projects and I didn't like the idea of dedicating the rest of my life monitoring a network 7x24 with a pager beeping in the middle of the night :) As I said, this type of stuff doesn't require a computer engineer. I like to innovate and address real life problems.

JFG: Where will be the best place to work, why ?

IA: Well, this pretty much depends on what subject you would like to work on. Research and development kind of stuff is pretty good in US and Japan and in some places of Europe such as Grenoble and Cambridge. Whereever it is, according to me a good team is the most essential part.

JFG: What will be the best company to work for ?

IA: Again, this depends on the subject and your personal ambitions. If I were a hardware engineer I would like to work in Intel or Texas Instruments for example. If it's telecommunications; AT&T, QualComm or Nokia can be a good place to work. If it's enterprise software; IBM, Siebel and Oracle are viable alternatives. Also take a look at the 100 companies that will change the world :)

JFG: What kind of skills will I need inorder to get a good job ?

IA: This is also pretty much related to the subject and your targets. To name a few: You should have good analytical skills, be a good team player, you should have some hands on experience on some key topic, may be a B.Sc degree in computer engineering :) and a good rate cap.

You know, nowadays economies are stalled all around the world and there are so many unemployed people. 3-4 years ago, during the .com boom many developers or engineers were overpaid but now it is over :)

JFG: What is the average income that I can expect after graduating as a Computer Engineer ?

IA: Assuming that you willing be working in US, I guess 40-50K/year should be a good starter. My advice is do not choose a post just for money. Think broadly and try to sense what could be your possible advantages of working for that company by means of technology, work experience, team, trainings, global players and trends.

JFG: Where is a good place to study, remarkable institutes ?

IA: Well, almost every university will give you fundamental computer engineering education. A contemporary curriculum, research & development facilities, budget and social life are important factors to consider.

According to me, relations of the university with business environments and industry play a key role in getting a good job after graduating. If you are attending to MIT for example, last year you will get almost 3 or 4 job offers before you graduate. MIT, Cambridge, UCLA and Carnegie & Mellon are good examples.

JFG: What kind of specialization do you think is more needed in today’s world, why?

IA: Today, it's not enough to be a good engineer. You have to have a good business point of view too. If the business is not doing well, that you cant go on any further. You have to have some soft skills such as understanding business practices, customer centricity, marketing, effects of globalization.

By means of technology; Wireless telecommunications and services, biotechnology, nanotechnology, alternative energy, next generation human computer interfaces, computer vision, virtual workspaces, team collaboration, VoIP, streaming technologies, semantic web, knowledge management, mesh networks and grid gaming are particularly hot subjects.

JFG: Where do you see the Computer Engineer career in the future ?

IA: I think very core businesses will need computer engineers in the future because nowadays acquiring a new technology is much easier. Computer engineers will be required especially for hardware design, communications infrastructures and embedded systems.

Convenional software development is getting easier every day due to improved tools which make life much easier for many developers. For example, you just click 3-4 times in VS.NET to have an up and running web form. You don't have to know the http protocol, CGI stuff etc. However, protocol stack developers still will be heavily demanded.

JFG: Which country is more advanced among the others when talking about technology, why ?

IA: US is leading the rest of the world by means of innovation, dissemination and generating value from technology on an overall basis. However, some specific areas like GSM are very well developed in Europe too. Today, Nokia is selling 40% of the world's mobile phones.

You can't advance in technology without having well educated researchers, a strategic plan, money, a potential market and a relatively stable economy. You know US is the world's single largest economy with $7.5 trillion market cap. Combined economies of all Europe is $8 trillion.

Many key technological advances in US were achieved through military concerns such as the Internet itself. Also, US is a very hybrid place. It doesn't have deep historical roots. What it has is deep pockets :) If there is a good researcher on the otherside of the world, pay him enough and bring him to the States.

Europe is willing to close the gap and lead US and Japan by means of research and development. In March 2000, the Lisbon European Council set out a 10 year strategy to make the EU the world’s most dynamic and competitive economy.

There are work programmes like European Union 6th Framework Programme, Eureka and action plans like eEurope, eEurope+ for uniting and improving research & development efforts and to make Europe the most competitive economy respectively.

JFG: What do you think about the technology language taking over our day-to-day language ?

IA: If you mean alternative means of communications like email, icq, sms etc well yes, they have significant impact. They lower costs and make the world smaller. It's lot easier to get information now than it used to be 10 years ago. This also has a down side. We consume more energy and finish environmental resources faster. Getting used to communicating by means of email and icq etc instead of hearing someone's voice or visiting him may also weaken the bonds between friends.

JFG: What kind of job opportunities has a Computer Engineer ?

IA: You will see posts like programmer, developer, analyst, tester, software engineer, software architect, project manager, embedded systems programmer, hardware designer, product manager, business analyst, system admin, dba, network admin, etc most of which are not fully related to computer engineering.

JFG: Do you see any down side to the Computer Engineer career ?

IA: I guess the most significant downside is that you can be a very asocial person without even noticing that you have been one, thanks God, I have enough hobbies :) If you spend 16 hours in front of the computer you don't have much time to go out and to entertain yourself.

This is a kind of egg & chicken dilemma. It's not quite easy to understand what is going on behind the scenes so you have to spend a lot of time on reading, practicing, coding, drafting and prototyping. Since technology never stops, you have to do that continously. This sucks from time to time :)

If you say that you like dancing merengue out 3 or 4 times a week instead of messing with a computer, than think twice before starting your engineering career.

© 2003 Ilker Atalay
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