Featured Engineer

Interview with Dr. Vijay Madisetti

Dr. Vijay Madisetti

Interview with Dr. Vijay Madisetti - Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology

Can you give us a little background about yourself?

I am a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Georgia Tech. I obtained my B.Tech in Electronics and Electrical Communications Engineering from Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kharagpur, India in 1984 and my PhD in Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences (EECS) from University of California at Berkeley in 1989. I always loved to teach and work on research, since my father (a professor at the IIT) and grandfather were both teachers.

Why did you choose Electronics and Electrical Communications Engineering and when did you start?

The world was much different in the late 70s and early 80s, when even long distance telephone calls and credit cards were pretty much non-existent, and it would mobile phones did not exist. Being stuck in a remote university town in India, I used to spend my time listening to short wave radio (BBC and Voice of America (VoA), and was fascinated by electronics and computers. Electronics and Electrical Communications combine mathematics, physics, materials, and circuit theory to create life-changing products and services, and it has continued to fascinate me to this day.

Can you tell us about your work at Georgia Institute of Technology?

My work at Georgia Tech over the past three decades has been focused on three main areas. In the first decade (in the early 90s), I worked in the area of “virtual prototyping” of complex hardware/software systems, where the entire design was carried from concept to the field through use of executable models. This saved cost and improved the design time, and this technique is now routinely used in both the commercial and defense industry, but at that time it was considered slow, expensive and unreliable. In the second decade (2000-2010), I focused my work in the area of embedded systems, where I studied and contributed technology in the area of system-level prototyping, software code generation, and System-on-Chip design tools and electronic packaging. In the third decade (starting in 2010), I have been focused on distributed computing systems, especially Cloud Computing and Internet of Things (IoT). My main contributions to electrical and computer engineering and sciences have been to develop early technologies in the area of virtual prototyping and in system-level design, and more recently in providing a strong academic foundation to the areas of cloud computing and IoT. I have also introduced new courses at the undergraduate and graduate level in these areas at Georgia Tech.

One of your research interests is Digital Signal Processing. Can you please tell us more about it?

Digital Signal Processing is concerned with the theoretical and practical aspects of information-bearing signals in digital form, and using computers or special purpose hardware (chips) to extract that information or transform it in useful ways. Whether it is LTE (4G) mobile phones, medical MRI techniques, or missile guidance systems, DSP plays a big role in such advanced applications. I was fortunate to work at Georgia Tech, since it boasts one of the largest and best recognized programs in DSP and its faculty were pioneers in this area since the early 1970s.

You authored or edited several books. Which one is your favorite?

Since I consider myself a life-long student and teacher, I love books. I have over a thousand books in hard copy format and several hundred in electronic form. I have found that the best way to teach anyone something is to pursue research in a particular area and then write a book on that topic. Writing a book is both a humbling experience and also an enlightening one. It teaches one to appreciate the contributions of the thousands of engineers who work day and night, often unrecognized, to bring new solutions to engineering problems. It is also enlightening in that it helps one to develop a “big picture” view of a particular field of study. This is quite different from writing a research paper for several reasons. In a research paper one tries to show they are smart and writing about something new and different from other engineers, and there is little effort in bringing understanding to the field as a whole.

I like my first book, VLSI Digital Signal Processors, because it was the first book in a rapidly growing area of technology directly impacting consumer and military electronics. It also taught me how to write books and what worked and what did not work.

You received awards and recognitions. What were your secrets that lead you in achieving those awards and recognitions?

It is great feeling to be recognized by one’s peers for contributions, but everyone realizes that awards require a combination of luck, having the right connections, and being there at the right time. The key to qualifying for these awards however is to continue making technical contributions in a consistent manner and in a tangible form – books, papers, patents, and products. I have urged my students to continuously contribute in these tangible forms to the electrical engineering profession. Too often engineers are lost in the grind of daily life, promise of easy money, or “solving management crises” that they neglect the importance of making technical contributions in a tangible form. I emphasize the word “tangible”, because this is how your peers recognize and appreciate your worth. With the internet, it is much easier for a wider group of peers to become aware of your tangible contributions. Today’s young engineers should use this to their benefit. Finally, life is a journey, and it is important to be nice and helpful to as many colleagues as possible, while on this journey.

What are you currently working on?

My current interests are in the area of Internet of Things (IoT), Cloud Computing, and Software-Defined Networking.

What are your favorite hardware tools that you use?

My favorite tools are those related to synthesis and simulation using VHDL. Some of the recent tools I use and teach about in my classes include Catapult from Mentor Graphics (and now Calypto) for chip design and also system-level EDA tools from Synopsis and Cadence.

What are your favorite software tools that you use?

My favorite software tools involve those that allow reverse engineering of existing and legacy software systems.

Do you have any hobbies outside of work?

My hobby has been restoring old cars, primarily from Germany. My current focus is a Porsche 912 (1969) that continues to require a lot of work. I also like to run, though I have been guilty of slacking recently. I also enjoy spending time with my wife and our son, Raj, a high school sophomore, and taking caring for our dogs.

What do you like best about being a professor at Georgia Institute of Technology?

The best part of being a professor is being able to teach the brightest young minds that come here to study, and also be able to work on exciting new areas of research. The ability to teach and learn is exciting and is the recipe for being “young” in the mind and heart. It also helps that Georgia Tech, a top notch public university, is run by a progressive leadership that emphasize the qualities of good teaching, research, and diversity.

As a professor, what words of encouragement would you give to your students?

As a professor, my advice to new students is that the key to success in engineering is persistence, time management, and diligence. Be diligent in studying what is required of you, persist until you learn it, manage time effectively and plan always ahead. Be able to identify both what is urgent and what is important, and attend to them appropriately. There is also a difference between being an outstanding student (being able to learn) and being a good researcher (being able to produce results). Productive students realize the difference and plan accordingly. Finally, use the Internet to your advantage – to learn, to teach, and to live a productive life.

Is there anything you’d like to say to young people to encourage them to pursue Engineering?

Yes, study math and sciences even if they may initially look challenging, and focus on those areas of engineering that support your attitude, aptitudes, and expectations from life.

Engineering is one of the few careers that allow you to solve society’s problems and make a good living, either as your own boss or working within a team.

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