Featured Engineer

Interview with Shiv Biddanda

Shiv Biddanda

Shiv Biddanda - Graduate Student, School of ECE, Purdue University

How did you get into electronics/ engineering and when did you start?

I developed an interest in computers during my teens and my high school had a very science focused academic curriculum. The freshman engineering program at Purdue definitely had a positive impact and after several seminars and classes I finally knew that ECE was the right fit for me.

What are your favorite hardware tools that you use?

I haven’t had a lot of hardware related projects recently but the oscilloscope definitely stands out as one tool I have used a lot in the past.

What are your favorite software tools that you use?

I’m a big fan of many open source software tools. Some of the standouts are Eclipse, Wireshark (great debugging tool for network applications) and gVim (text editor).

What is the hardest/trickiest bug you have ever fixed?

A year ago, I took an embedded systems class and we took up a project to wirelessly control a Roomba (one of those vacuum robots) and capture video that could also be monitored remotely.

We used a Bluetooth module custom-made for the Roomba and it seemed like something extremely simple to use. Once the Roomba and the BT module were programmed to the same baudrate, data transfer and communication would be enabled.

The documentation was quite short and claimed that the baudrate for the BT module could be programmed and it had to be done via the Roomba. However, the two devices never worked together. After days of testing, failure as well as calls to customer service, we could not figure out what the problem was.

A lot of credit goes to my teammate in figuring this out and after another long night of debugging we ended with the conclusion that the baudrate for that particular module was hardwired at 9600 and could not be changed. What made this bug hard to find was that every time the Roomba was switched off its programmed baud rate of 9600 was reset to another default value hence ruining communication to the Bluetooth module. In the end, to get around this, we had to perform a set of four awkward steps every time we ran a demo. This will always stick out as one of the trickiest bugs I have ever encountered.

What is on your bookshelf?

Pattern Classification (Duda, Hart, Stork), Introduction to Algorithms (CLRS). I also have a few programming ebooks from the O’Reilly series. Currently reading “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish” by Rashmi Bansal. Some other recent reads are “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell and “Cutting for Stone” by Abraham Verghese.

Do you have any tricks up your sleeve? (special way to analyze circuits, special process you use to make something, etc.)

I am a search engine junkie and use several of them, be it major sites or even Google scholar or Purdue’s library catalog when performing research to tackle a problem. One source is never enough and with so much information out there, it is important that you are up to speed on new work and best practices. I definitely believe that staying current and making use of the vast resources on the internet can be a huge plus when working on an engineering project.

What has been your favorite project?

More recently, I worked on a project called Assimi, a visual text search engine which was fun because I could exercise a lot of freedom in terms of design and implementation. Assimi was based off of another visualization research project at Purdue and allows for searching content on Project Rhea by navigating through relevant results visually instead of scrolling through pages of results. The graphing engine used Prefuse a Java library and the frontend web interface was written in PHP.

What are you currently working on?

I am doing research on a text highlighting algorithm for my Master’s Thesis project. I also work for the Project Rhea development team headed by Prof. Mimi Boutin. Project Rhea is an online learning website maintained by students, used to create, share or discuss education-related material.

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