Venezuelan electrical engineer shifts to embedded systems design

After completing his undergraduate degree in electrical engineering from the Central University of Venezuela, Juan Escobedo Contreras set his sights on Silicon Valley, mecca of hardware design. When one of his friends shared a UCSC Extension catalog with him, Contreras couldn’t think of a better place to immerse himself in design and programming fundamentals. He relocated to California in early 2014 and enrolled in Extension’s Embedded Systems certificate program.

What attracted you to UCSC Extension?

I wanted to get involved with new technology, and see what’s in use here in the valley. As an electrical engineer I always wanted to work in Silicon Valley—all the inventions and cutting-edge technology is developed here. I found out that Extension is located in the heart of Silicon Valley, and that I’d be able to live in the valley and check out all the big companies. That especially caught my attention.

What skills did you want to learn?

I wanted to learn RTL coding and Verilog, and also a lot of communication protocols like PCIe and Ethernet. The courses here also offered other skills that I wanted to learn, like how to program FPGAs and ASICs.

What kinds of projects did you complete?

We did a really cool project for the Real-time Embedded Systems Programming, Introduction course. I used some of the knowledge from my Digital Design with FPGA course to interface one board that had a microcontroller with another that had an arm controller. I designed a UART (universal asynchronous receiver/transmitter) interface from scratch and did the Verilog code and synchronization. Basically, I created a way for two different devices to communicate with each other. It was two months of theoretical process, and a third month to complete the project, which I had to present.

What were your instructors like?

I know that many of my professors work with renowned companies—Tesla, Lockheed Martin, Xilinx, etc. The professors were excellent, practical, and focused on how you actually use and apply the information. They emphasized learning what’s going on behind the scene—and that’s what we’ll remember, instead of just memorizing information.

What advice do you have for aspiring hardware designers and engineers?

Two very useful topics in today’s job market are real-time operating systems (RTOS) and FPGA. RTOS is a high-demand skill and programming in FPGA is very popular. As an electrical engineer, I had no problem making the transition from my college to the courses here.

What’s your dream job?

I’d like to be part of a design team here that does something that improves the world.

Escobedo completed the Embedded Systems Certificate in late 2014 and headed to the University of Central Florida in fall 2015 for a graduate engineering program.

Visit our Embedded Systems program page to learn more UCSC Extension’s unique offerings and our International Program page to learn more about services for international students.


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