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Josh Tromp's Interview with Ilker Atalay on Computer Engineering
March 10, 2005

A couple of days ago, I've received an e-mail from Josh Tromp, who is currently a student at Muskego High School. He had questions about computer engineering and he asked for an interview.

Since one of my missions in life is to encourage and support young people, I certainly accepted his request. Below are his questions and my answers:

JT: On a typical day in this position, what do you do ?

IA: I'm running my own business at the moment which is very briefy the development of an imaging product. Since I'm the partner of the company, my daily work is not limited to just technology development although my principle role is the management of product development activities.

On a typical day, I spend some time reading e-mails, newsgroups and magazines related to commercial and technological issues. I follow market trends and spend sometime for business development and marketing activities.

I make research and spend time on product development. I lead the product development team so that the product under development will meet our initial requirements. From time to time I make recommendations based on my research to the design team. I listen to the feedbacks from the design team and try to facilitate their work whenever I can. This sometimes involves ordering IC samples and design tools or product samples.

Since we are also selling a similar product that we are developing, I get involved in post sales customer support and product installation activities if there is a need for my presence. I also keep our company website upto date since I have programming skills :)

I usually work 11-14hs a day depending on the load. When I get back home, I do things that should be done in tranquility.

JT: What training or education is required for this type of work ?

IA: If you are meaning "computer engineering" by this type of work, I should say computer engineering is a dicipline more than just a work description. It may involve hardware design, software development, algorithm design and etc.

I would like to emphasize the difference between IT related work and computer engineering. Most IT related work like database engineering or system administration doesn't require being a computer engineer.

According to my idea, working on these fields as a computer engineer is an overkill. Someone graduated from mathematics or physics can also run a database given the right trainings. A computer engineer should be involved in engineering activities like product design and technology development.

By means of education, you should attend to a computer engineering class in a university to be a computer engineer. For IT related work this is not necessary. Some other engineering dicipline that would help you get analytical thinking could be sufficient. You can get the other skills by attending to private trainings like SQL server administration.

JT: What part of your job do you find most satisfying & most challenging ?

IA: I have worked on software development for years and since my childhood, starting with BASIC on a Commodore 64K machine. Software development was satisfying at those times, early in the university and during the first years of my professional work in IT companies.

But later, I have realized that I could write virtually in any programming language whether it was assembly language, basic, pascal, c, asp, php, java, lisp or perl. The key was the project itself. If the project I was working on was challenging and promising, than I was happy and satisfied :) If not, software development became tedious after a while.

I was not deeply satisfied by IT related work like database administration, system administration or network administration and never worked under these titles in a company although I have some solid knowledge and experience on some of these fields.

What I find satisfying and challenging is product and systems development. To see people use my products or systems. To create innovative solutions. This is the most challenging part for me.

JT: How did you get your job ?

IA: I have worked in 4 different IT companies during 1994-2001. For some of those positions I have consulted the company directly. For others, I have applied to their recruitment ads from newspapers. Since 2001, I'm running my own ventures. Seems that I've a kind of entrepreneurial spirit :)

What entry level jobs are best for learning as much as possible ?

IA: Interships are important. Try to get interns from good companies where you could get as much as you can. But, do not forget to give something back as well. You can get permanent positions in those companies right after you are graduated if they were happy with your work. Also, you can practice some topics in your spare times based on the dicipline you are willing to work on or based on your interests.

JT: Is there a demand for people in computer engineering ?

IA: Yes, there is an increasing demand for people in computer engineering. Also, there is an increasing demand for IT related work. Most companies are outsourcing this kind of work or they are prefering to work with freelance or project based employees to lower theis costs. There is always demand for added value.

JT: What special advice would you give a person entering this field ?

IA: Well, this is a tough and demanding field. It's no easy job. Keep this in mind. If you don't love it, you can't do it :). Also, try to select a good university that is strong on this field academically, by means of infrastructure and with its ties in the industry.

JT: How do you see jobs in computer engineering changing in the future ?

IA: Pay less for more. More efficient ways of doing work. More innovation. Decentralized production and work spaces. Lots of outsourcing. Need fo niche areas. Higher competition.

JT: What are the salary ranges for various levels in this field ?

IA: It depends on your work experience and expertise. Can be from 40K to upwards in USA. Some companies especially startups, give stock options. When you get to managerial positions, some companies give you incentives like bonuses and company cars. A senior computer engineer will make around 80K-100K in the States. If you are very specialized on some area, you can make 150K and upwards.

JT: What are some dislikes you have about the job ?

IA: The most important thing is that most people (or employers) do not understand the difference between a computer engineer and IT staff.

JT: What are some qualities you need to be a computer engineer and what are the basic pre-requisites for jobs in this field ?

IA: Being good at mathematics, being patient, analytical thinking, being a self starter, ability to work in teams and alone. Ability to make research. Being highly motivated. This is an inter-diciplinary field. Involves electric and electronics, physics and mathematics as well.

Additionally, companies will ask for certain work experience. For entry level posts, this will not be so tight. Once again, pay enough attention to your internships!

JT: What kind of computer equipment do you deal with ?

IA: I use a laptop and some servers for daily work.

JT: What kind of training companies offer to people entering this job ?

IA: It depends on the position you are applying to. If it is IT related rather than a computer engineering job, you could get database admin courses, system admin courses, network admin courses and other technical ones.

For managerial positions you could get training for project management, time management and leadership skills.

Also, you may get training on the vertical markets that the company has expertise such as finance for non-financers.

JT: From your perspective, what are the problems you see working in this field ?

IA: Once again the worst thing is that most people do not understand the difference between a computer engineer and IT staff. Also, nowadays companies are very keen on keeping costs lower so they are looking for cheaper alternatives both by means of employees and outsourcing. This means that we have to work harder to get the same money.

Also, there is usually a big gap at how technical people and business people see matters. Depending on the situation this can be a nightmare.

JT: If you could start over, would you choose the same career path for yourself, why?

IA: Probably yes. I have always been interested in electronics and computers since my childhood. Additionally, I would try to get some education on industrial design. It's never too late, I may start soon :) One thing I would do differently might be to start my own business earlier.

JT: What type of customers do you deal with ?

IA: I deal with internal and external customers. Internal customers are the other departments in the company. External customers are the ones that keep the company up and running :) We have to keep both customers happy at all times. However, customer is not always right. The most important issue is how you handle the disputes.

© 2005 Ilker Atalay
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