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Career Story: Principal Engineer At A Custom Computer Chip Company

Principal Engineer At A Custom Computer Chip Company

Job Title: Principal Engineer

Type of Company: My company designs custom computer chips to be used in products that capture, manipulate and display video.

Education: BS in Computer Engineering, Tufts University

Previous Experience: Worked in ASIc Verification

Job Tasks: I am primarily responsible for verifying that the chip being designed by my company will work as desired. Most computer chips are initially designed as software in a language called verilog. The verification involves writing programs that, when combined with the design, run as if it were a real chip. These simulations attempt to test all of the interactions that the chip will have (either with other chips or the software on the actual design) and check that the chip behaves as expected.

The process begins with getting a written description of what the chip will be expected to do. The verification team then uses that document to determine what needs to be tested and how the programs are going to be written to make sure the design works. Once the verilog design and the verification tests are written they are simulated together. When discrepancies are found the program's execution is analyzed and either the chip design or the verification program is modified. This process continues until all of the tests pass.

The entire process usually takes anywhere between 6 months and 2 years. Once the verification is complete a different department takes the verilog design and converts it so that the chip can be made.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: I like that I have a lot of independence in determining how I do my work and that when I working chip comes back I know I had a important role in making my company a success. I do not like that many of my days are repetitive and that the product of my work is not something that is readily appreciated by people outside of my profession.

Job Tips:
1. Be prepared to not know what you are doing for the first 6-12 months of your job.

2. Try to work with the people that seem to know what they are doing, you can learn the most by emulating other successful people.

3. Be prepared to work harder than everyone else for your first couple of years, this is the time when you can learn the most and set yourself on the right track.

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