Why I Became a Computer Engineer

R's lego coffee shop

R’s lego coffee shop (Photo credit: sazbean)

Maybe it was the Matchbox cars, Transformers and Legos I played with as a kid.  Maybe it was hanging around the high school physics lab waiting for my father, who was a physics teacher (later switching to computer science).  Maybe it was the fact that we had a computer at home for as long as I remember. I know all of these contributed. Engineering is a creative, problem-solving field that attracted me.

Not surprisingly, being from the Detroit area, I wanted to work on cars.  I did an engineering internship in high school at Ford.  I applied and got into the University of Michigan’s College of Engineering with every intension of declaring for mechanical engineering.

Advanced placement (AP) credits can be both a blessing and a curse.  I had enough college credit coming into UM to be a sophomore, which meant I had to declare majors my first semester.  Unfortunately, I listened to the freshman advisors and took too many credits.  My GPA was ok, but not enough to get into the highly competitive mechanical engineering department.

Bummer.

Electrical engineers still get to work on cars, right?  I declared EE and quickly became overwhelmed with the advanced math required to understand the electrical charge on non-regular shapes.  My brain just didn’t think that way.

Remembering my fondness for computers growing up and how much I liked programming, I quickly switched to Computer Engineering.  I had a great advisor who recommended only taking as many classes as I felt I could properly manage (not loading up my schedule to graduate in 4 years).  Once I was in the computer engineering classes (which included cool classes like robotics, artificial intelligence and chip design), I felt like I was in the right place.  The courses weren’t easy, but I did find them interesting and understandable.

Two classes really stood out — even now, many years later — my Software Engineering class taught by a professor we dubbed “The Technopriest” because we spent class time discussing current tech news and the Computer Organization course that was taught by a super nice professor who clearly explained how the hardware and software interface.  The Computer Organization class has been invaluable in terms of understanding why software may not be acting the way you might expect due to what’s going on at the hardware level. Software engineering was fun, not only because of the wacky professor, but also because we got to work all semester in teams on an application that we created, designed and coded.  It was my first real experience with creating an application from scratch based on what we wanted to do, instead of just a programming exercise from a book.  I was hooked.

Why did I become a Computer Engineer? It wasn’t what I originally set out to do, but it has always felt “right”.  Whenever I get a chance to program, I get a thrill of figuring out a problem, coming up with a solution and putting it into place.  Engineering is a discipline of creation, logic and problem solving.  The skills I’ve learned have been applicable to not only management roles, but also marketing.

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