VLSI Courses Help Hardware Engineer Navigate the “Gigahertz World”


- Frederick Kilner, VLSI Engineering Alumnus

Term : February, 2013
Department : Engineering
Program : VLSI Engineering

It’s not every day that students can verify their own computer hardware design in class. Fred Kilner, a 2012 graduate of the Very Large Scale Integration (VLSI) Engineering Certificate program at UCSC Extension, got to do just that while completing a project for the course “SystemVerilog for ASIC and FPGA Design.” Kilner coded a “space invaders” game system, which he implemented in an FPGA board and then made it work with a computer.

 “When you get new hardware, you want to play with it,” Kilner says. “Of course the first thing I did was write a video game!” Although it’s not a typical use for the professional-level VLSI skills taught at Extension, it made the course a fun experience. “That’s the initial thing that gets you into computers—games. A computer hobby can turn into a pretty good career,” he said.

Initially, Kilner was interested in Extension’s VLSI courses because his job wasn’t exposing him to logic design or test.

“I took my first SystemVerilog course because I knew that was what most companies were starting to use,” he says. “I wanted to learn about it and use some current tools.” He mentioned Synopsys VCS as an example.

The beauty, he says, in using SystemVerilog for coding systems, is that design engineers can run tests on new designs to see if they work before going forward with an implementation.

“The simulator will check when you are violating the assertions,” he says. “Assertions are special syntax for describing the way things relate to one another. The assertions are right there in the code, in the logic design. Learning SystemVerilog makes it easier to make the design work.”

 Kilner soon realized the benefits of obtaining an Extension certificate. To him, it meant more than adding another credential to his resume. It was about learning applicable skills that he could use to design his own projects. Like many engineers, he recognizes the need to stay current with the latest advances in hardware and computer programming.

“It used to be that megahertz was considered a really high speed. We’re living in a Gigahertz world now,” he says. “It’s important to pay attention. There are lots of signal issues that come up at really high speeds. When you are running a chip or a board there is a lot of cross-talk. Everything is much harder. Every part of the cable, every part of the system, must be much more precise.”

Kilner is up for the challenge. Since completing his certificate in 2012, he has started developing his own projects using programmable logic devices. “There’s an unlimited number of fun things to do with FPGAs it seems,” he noted. What will you do with the ability to program an FPGA board? Extension’s program is a fast way to get up to speed and find out.

Visit our VLSI Engineering program page to learn more about UCSC Extension’s unique offerings. Browse upcoming VLSI courses.

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