Electrical and computer engineering is a broad field encompassing many areas of study. It offers the widest range of career possibilities. ECE sits at the core of most technical advances made today — fields include information technology, biomedical, alternative energy and much more. ECE is truly the engine that powers the technology of the 21st century.
As a student in The Edward S. Rogers Sr. Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering (ECE) at the University of Toronto, you can choose your own path. The first two years of study will cover the foundation required for the choices you can make in your third and fourth years. In the upper two years of your four-year bachelor’s degree, you must choose four areas of interest, and two areas to focus in depth.
ECE offers depth in a wide range of courses that will open doors to almost any career you can imagine. Create your own mix of qualifications by choosing to go deep in two of these areas:
Area 1: Photonics & Semiconductor Physics
Photonics is the study of how to generate, detect and manipulate light. One of the most important applications of photonics today is fibre-optic communications. The incredibly large data capacity of optical fibres and the very high-speed optoelectronic components form the backbone to our long-distance telecommunications networks. Without optical fiber networks, we would not have the Internet or emails, and long-distance phone calls would be slow and expensive. Engineers with a photonics background can find careers in optical communications and other emerging technologies.
Students who pursue depth in photonics generalist courses gain a cursory exposure to photonics and optical communications. In addition, students will take a broad selection of courses in electronics, electromagnetics, and communications.
Courses with a photonics research focus prepare students for graduate work in photonics. In advanced studies, graduate students can invent new devices, such as optical switches, lasers and photon sources, communication protocols (e.g. quantum cryptography), and information processing techniques (e.g. quantum information processing).
Courses in microwave photonics address the field of microwave photonics, where microwave frequency signals are converted to light and then processed optically. This is to achieve certain functionality that would otherwise be too cumbersome. Applications include the steering of radiation in state-of-the-art antennas and the distribution of radio frequency signals over optical fibers, to feed and receive signals from remote antennas in a wireless communication system.
Courses in optical electronics gear students toward optoelectronic device engineering. Compared to the photonics generalist and optical communications foci, students take more advanced photonics courses for devices. The study of electronic device physics is important because of the need to design very high speed circuitry and optoelectronic components (i.e., devices that convert electrons to photons, or vice versa).
Courses in optical communications gear students toward systems level study of optical networks. The core photonics courses are combined with core courses in digital and wireless communication as well as signal processing.
Area 2: Electromagnetics & Energy Systems
Depth courses in electromagnetics are designed to provide the student with a strong foundation in the theory and application of electromagnetic waves. Students will learn how electromagnetic waves can be used in electronic circuits, optical communication systems, medical imaging systems and wireless communication systems. With the addition of a course on partial differential equations, this focus will give students an excellent foundation for further graduate studies in the area of electromagnetics.
Students have the option to concentrate on courses in RF microwave hardware. With the ever-increasing need to transmit, transfer and process larger pieces of data, many electrical systems are forced to operate at higher frequencies. As this happens there is a need for engineers who understand the issues involved with the design of circuits and devices at these frequencies. Radio frequency (RF) and microwave hardware engineers have the ability to carry out these designs in the 300 MHz – 300 GHz range, which must take into account the electromagnetic characteristics of the circuit. These courses are designed to provide students with a strong foundation in this area, which includes the theory and application of electromagnetic waves with an emphasis on hardware. Graduates are ready to work in the communication and chip design and fabrication industries, like Intel, AMD, IBM, Motorola, and many others.
Students can also choose to concentrate on RF wireless systems. Courses are designed to provide students with a strong foundation in this area, which includes the application of electromagnetic waves with an emphasis on how systems behave. Popular applications include cell phone design, the creation and support of wireless communication systems, and high-frequency chip design. Companies like Intel, AMD, IBM, Motorola and FreeScale Semiconductors employ graduates with these specializations.
There are three areas of focus within the Energy Systems field:
The high-power energy systems area studies the efficient creation and use of energy as it is applied to high-power applications like utility systems, transportation systems, wind farms, hydro electricity generation and solar power farms, to name a few. These courses study energy at a systems level. Students will learn how energy is generated and transmitted efficiently to the homes, businesses and industries connected to energy grids. Students also learn about motor drives and power electronics.
Organizations like Hydro One, OPG, TTC and alternate energy companies that utilize wind and solar power employ graduates with this knowledge.
Low-power energy systems involve power supplies to a wide range of systems, from laptops and cell phones to hybrid vehicles. It is important to create efficient, cheap and long-lasting energy supplies for the products we use and rely on. One goal is to create things that can run longer on less energy. In this area students will learn how to create these energy systems and also how to design power supplies for systems like highly efficient lighting systems like LEDs and the new florescent lights. These lights use less power than traditional incandescent light bulbs and each employs a small, built-in power supply so that the light utilizes energy more efficiently.
Careers include IC design, the aerospace industry, the auto sector, transportation systems, and the computer industry. Companies like AMD, Toshiba, Intel, Samsung, and many others employ these engineers.
The control and energy systems area targets the emerging demand for systems engineers working in the area of highly distributed power systems. The emphasis of these courses is on systems-level analysis and design of large-scale systems, rather than on component-level analysis. Emphasis is also placed on the interplay between control principles and energy systems, to confront one of the fundamental challenges today: how to regulate and render stable, an increasingly decentralized adaptive power grid. Students in this stream will first acquire knowledge in fundamentals: probability and random processes, field and waves and electronics. Communication systems, signal processing and computer networks are studies as enabling technologies in the power industry.
Prospective careers for this stream graduates include all aspects of large scale power generation and distribution and alternate energy systems, such as wind and solar power.
Area 3: Digital & Analog Electronics
Students who choose to focus on digital electronics study how networks of semiconductor devices such as transistors perform signal-processing tasks. Examples of such tasks include generating and amplifying speech or music, TV broadcasting and displaying, cell phone and satellite communications. Students learn how to design sophisticated electronic microchips to perform these tasks in a variety of electronic systems.
The digital nature of electronic signals offers a convenient, compact and noise-free representation of information. Digital signals can be easily stored in an electronic memory and can be easily understood by digital microprocessors. Examples of engineering problems in digital electronics are: how to efficiently perform arithmetic operations with digital signals on a microprocessor, how to communicate data without losing information and how to design a reusable reconfigurable digital processor.
Students who choose to seek depth in analog electronics also learn how networks of semiconductor devices such as transistors perform signal-processing tasks.
The analog nature of electronic signals is of importance as the real world is analog, and because in modern microchips even digital circuits exhibit analog behaviour. Examples of engineering problems in analog electronics are: how to efficiently represent an analog signal such as an image recorded by a digital camera in a digital format so that it can be stored in a digital memory or processed by a microprocessor; how to send large amounts of information such as high-definition video data from one microchip to another quickly; how to send data such as a text message to a cell phone wirelessly in the presence of interference; and how to design a pacemaker or neural implant to function inside a human body.
Career choices are abundant in locations around the world. Commonly advertised positions include: digital electronics engineer, digital circuit design engineer and digital integrated circuit design engineer. Some major employers are Intel, AMD, Xilinx, Altera, Analog Devices, Micron, and National Semiconductor.
Area 4: Systems Control, Communications & Signal Processing
Systems Control & Mechatronics
Courses in systems control provide a broad training in all aspects of systems design and control. Depth in this area emphasizes the systems view and the student is exposed to 'system principles' through a sequence of three control courses. In-depth study of computer engineering principles makes possible the embedding of computer control in smart products. In addition, the student is exposed to a spectrum of systems-oriented disciplines including: robotics, systems biology, communications, digital signal processing, large scale energy systems and computer systems. These courses are suited to those interested in the workings of entire engineering systems with many possible applications.
Systems control engineers are sought after in a wide array of industries: aerospace, robotics, power/energy, communication, software, automotive, computer games, entertainment and film, petroleum, pulp and paper, transportation, manufacturing, finance and risk management, biomedical and medical imaging, among others.
Mechatronics is related to the systems control area, and includes knowledge of robotics and electronics. It involves the creation of embedded systems. Mechatronics evolved out of the Japanese automotive industry in the 1970s but has come to include many consumer goods that incorporate embedded systems. Embedded systems are found in many of the products used widely, and a good example would be a “smart” seat in a car. A smart seat would have its own sensors and ability to remember your setting and automatically adjust itself to your specifications.
Graduates with a mechatronics background are necessary in a wide range of industries, including the automotive sector, robotics, electronics, aerospace, and the manufacturing sector.
Communications & Signal Processing
There are three areas of focus within this field:
The communications engineer is concerned with the efficient and reliable transmission of information over noisy channels. Such channels arise in many applications, e.g., cellular radio systems, satellite broadcasting systems, magnetic or optical recording systems (disks and DVDs), fibre-optic or coaxial cable systems, etc. Companies that hire communications engineers include communications equipment manufacturers such as RIM, Qualcomm, Motorola, Nokia, and Ericsson.
The network engineer is concerned with the design of protocols and algorithms that permit efficient utilization and efficient access to communications infrastructure such as the Internet, cellular radio networks, the telephone network, etc. Network security, packet switching, Internet protocols, local-area networking, peer-to-peer file sharing schemes, and many more topics are all part of this huge field. Companies like RIM, Bell Canada, Telus, AT&T, Verizon all operate enormous networks, and many Fortune 500 companies have private network systems of their own and require graduates with network engineering skills.
Area 5: Computer Hardware & Computer Networks
Students in the computer hardware area will learn the basics of digital design at the gate and system/architectural level. Most people will spend their entire lives no more than one metre away from some type of digital system — laptop, cell phone, tablet, iPod, GPS, auto, controllers, etc. Digital hardware surrounds us all and affords us many emerging opportunities. Students in this area will study computer hardware, computer architecture, VLSI systems and digital systems design.
Employers include OEM Silicon, Intel, Gennum, PMC-Sierra, AMD/ATI, Altera, Xilinx and many start-ups.
Area 6: Computer Software
In the computer software area students learn the basics of operating system structures, memory management, compilers, middleware, etc. Computers today are designed in conjunction with compiler technology and almost all make use of an operating system — this includes laptops, cell phones and other mobile devices. Students will also study the basics of data structures, programming languages, databases, security, and software engineering.
Potential employers include Intel, AMD, ARM, Microsoft, IBM, ATI, Cisco, Oracle, Sun and many startup companies.