Electrical Engineer launches embedded systems career

Dave Blevins completed the Embedded Systems certificate program at UCSC Extension.

“If I’m doing this on my own time, why not get paid for it?”

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.

His background was in design automation tools for programmable logic, but 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 was transitioning into a new position as an embedded systems field applications engineer for a major electronic components distributor.

Inspired to change careers

What inspired his change in career?

“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,” Blevins says. “At some point I realized, ‘If I’m doing this on my own time, why not get paid for it?'”

Once he discovered the UCSC Extension Embedded Systems program, he decided that this could be an avenue to get back to hands-on engineering.

“It would also great to add to my resume,” he says.

“In general, the quality of the courses was very high,” he says, noting in particular that he enjoyed “Embedded Systems Hardware Architecture, Introduction,” an entry-level course and the challenges of his favorite course, “Digital Design with FPGA.” He also took two C programming courses online, including “C Programming, Advanced” class, which was quite difficult.

“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,” Blevins says. “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!

Hands-on course projects

The program incorporated numerous hands-on projects.

In “Embedded Firmware Essentials” Blevins’ final team project used the Mbed development board, which incorporated an NXP ARM Cortex-based microcontroller. One of his team members had just taken Extension’s class on iOS application development and 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. The final design incorporated the Mbed board, a temperature sensor, a bendable resistive strip, a two-digit numerical display, and the BLE module. Blevins 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,” Blevins says.

The impact of new skills

He appreciated the breadth of courses and the opportunity to study C programming, a long-held goal.

“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, “High-Efficiency Switching Power Supply Design” and “Embedded System Hardware Architectures” were also worthwhile in rounding out his educational experience.

The best result is that Blevins was soon working in the field.

“I’m now doing exactly what I wanted to do at this stage of my career,” he says. “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.”

Latest Update

Last we heard Blevins was working as a developer support engineer for Particle.io.

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