- Dave Blevins
After working many years as an electrical engineer, and later a product marketing manager at an information security firm, Dave Blevins found himself at a professional crossroads. While his background was in design automation tools for programmable logic, Blevins knew his true passion was working hands-on with hardware. That’s why, when he picked up a UCSC Extension catalog in 2014, he was delighted to discover the Embedded Systems certificate program. Within two quarters, he had completed six courses and soon thereafter was transitioning into a new position as an embedded systems field applications engineer for a major electronic components distributor.
What inspired your change in careers?
I am an electrical engineer, but had not done hard-core engineering for many years. I had been hired by an information security company to be a product marketing manager but after a year or so, I decided that it was not my cup of tea. I had been playing around with embedded computer hardware for years as a hobby, and had picked up the skills that enthusiasts use to build robots and other interesting gizmos. At some point I realized, “If I’m doing this on my own time, why not get paid for it?” When I noticed that UCSC Extension offered an Embedded Systems program, I decided that this could be an avenue to get back to hands-on engineering. It would also great to add to my resume.
What courses stood out to you?
In general, the quality of the courses was very high. “Digital Design with FPGA” in particular was very hard and really fulfilling; it was my favorite class. “Embedded Systems Hardware Architecture, Introduction” was an entry-level course, and even though I had already been playing around with products at a hobbyist level, it was still enjoyable. I took two C programming courses online, which were tremendous, because I had more time to get the homework done. The “C Programming, Advanced” class was quite difficult, and it would have been hard for me to keep up with the homework if it weren’t for the flexible schedule of an online class. I will add that I got straight A’s for the first time in my life, which I'm quite proud of (I worked hard for every one!).
What kinds of projects did you complete?
In my “Embedded Firmware Essentials” course, we got to break out into teams. My team's final project used the Mbed development board, which incorporates an NXP ARM Cortex-based microcontroller. One of my team members had just taken Extension’s class on iOS application development in the previous quarter; he wrote an app to interact with the Mbed board and associated sensors as well as a Bluetooth Low Energy transceiver that talked to the iPhone. Our design incorporated the Mbed board, a temperature sensor, a bendable resistive strip, a two-digit numerical display, and the BLE module. I put most of the hardware together, and he did most of the software.
On the last day of class, we got to demonstrate our design to the other students, and we also got to see the amazing projects that the other teams had dreamt up.
How have you applied your new skills to work?
I’m now doing exactly what I wanted to do at this stage of my career. I’m pretty sure the Embedded Systems certificate was very helpful in showing my hiring manager my initiative and interest in making this fairly drastic career change. I had a really great combination of classes; they cover the field pretty well, from my perspective. I’d wanted to learn C programming for 20 years, but never got past a certain point (or, I should say, “pointers”); now that I have taken those two courses and have that recent programming recent experience, it has helped a lot. Those courses, plus “Digital Design with FPGA” and “Embedded Firmware Essentials” are the most applicable courses to what I’m doing now. But I should add that the “High-Efficiency Switching Power Supply Design” course, and also the “Embedded System Hardware Architectures” course were worthwhile in rounding out this educational experience.
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