Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Back to school

I've started taking classes as part of the Embedded Systems Engineering certificate offered through UC Irvine Extension. Just last week I finished up my first course in the certificate program. It was the requisite software engineering course that I imagine every such program has. Overall, the course was fairly dull, and I can't say I got much out of it.

The deliverables for the course consisted of a five question multiple choice quiz every week, and four larger assignments. Two of these assignments were research papers, which were little more than book reports based on our assigned reading. The other two assignments were demonstrations of the Hatley-Pirbhai Methodology (HPM). HPM is mostly just a repackaged waterfall workflow, but with a requirements document following a specific structure. None of these were particularly interesting, challenging or fun.

Although the course was rather disappointing on the whole, I can't say I got nothing out of it. Much of the required reading had very little to do with software engineering and instead was more a survey of common hardware found in embedded systems. Not having an extensive background in hardware, there was a lot of new information for me. I now have a much better appreciation for things like system bus protocols, and the details of how DMA works. This was also my first exposure to a digital signal processor architecture, when previously I only was familiar with MIPS and x86 type instruction sets.

Unfortunately, I only got to read about all this, and not actually get my hands dirty, but that's going to change. My second class* starts up this week, which is an intro to embedded programming, and my dev board just arrived in the mail. I haven't had a chance to play with it very much, but I can already tell this class is going to be much better than the last. The AVR board we are using has fun blinky LEDs, but sadly no piezo buzzer to annoy the roommates with.

* You may think it's odd to have the first class in a curriculum to be software engineering, and you would be right. My "first" and "second" classes should have been reversed in order. I ended up taking them out of order because I started the program at an odd time with regards to class schedules. In the end, I think this will turn out for the best. I have accidentally eaten my vegetables first, which means now there's nothing left for me but dessert.

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