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NY-Computer-Engineer

Computer Engineering Prep

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Hi all,

It was suggested that I describe my experience in selecting, preparing for, and ultimately passing the "Electrical: Computer Engineering" PE examination.

To start, I had not originally planned to take the Computer Engineering exam.  Although my undergraduate degree, along with my first 10 years of experience were in the computer engineering field (working as a junior computer engineer while I completed the last two years of my Bachelor's degree), I switched over to Software Engineering around the same time I started my Master's in Computer Science and worked in the field for the next 18 years.

One of the first things I did was order the Software Engineering practice exam (which is not provided by NCEES but by IEEE).  After getting it and trying to complete the 50 questions, I became quite frustrated and wondered if trying for a PE was really in the cards for me.  That test seemed to have nothing to do with what I had been doing for previous 18 years, and it seemed I was going to have a terrible experience trying to learn all the obscure terminology, and memorize the named of hundred of PHD's who had written books and created white papers on the various SE topics.  For example, I had no idea that there were four different experts in the sub-field of software change management, each of which I would have had to learn about and memorize their works.  Also, that pseudo computer language I would have had to learn was ridiculous.  I was very disappointed and was thinking about giving up the whole idea - even though I had spent the previous two years getting myself back up to speed on engineering basics (and math) again in order to pass the FE in Electrical & Computers.

Then, I got the idea to look into other PE disciplines to determine if success with another discipline was more of a reality for me.  Which led to me ordering the practice Exam for the Computer Engineering test from NCEES.

It was a miracle.  When I took that practice examination 'cold' I got a score of 60 :D  There were several areas I realized that I needed to bone-up on,  which included:  Hamming Codes, Floating Point Binary Number formats (single and double precision), some of the more obscure communications protocols, Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGA's - which were not around when I earned my CE Bachelor's Degree), Boolean Logic and Karnaugh Maps, Real-Time & Embedded Systems, and the internal transistor circuits that made up common logic gates and flip-flops.  All formable subjects but clearly doable, since I had some dated experience on all of those subjects except FPGA's, or the Verilog / VHDL hardware descriptor languages used to program them.

I then laid out a detailed study plan covering all those topics, plus refresh my knowledge on other common CE theory (such as computer architecture models, and cache memory - as used in some of the newer RISC microprocessors such ARM).  Unfortunately, my plan could not include attending a review course, since there are so few of us taking this particular PE exam, therefore no training is available - Unless I decided to go back and take some undergraduate courses for a couple of years (although I found a way to do something similar as described below).  PPI does have a Reference Manual for Computer Engineering (which I of course purchased) and utilized as the initial outline for my study plan.

Things execution of my study plan started out very well, until I realized I needed many more reference and text books - a lot of them.  The PPI manual just did not go into the depth I needed (which was one of the gripes in the Amazon reviews about that manual that I ignored when I purchased it).  The undergraduate texts that I still had stored away, were about 25 years old, and others that I may have been able to use, had long ago been given away to co-workers who were still in school.  I did some research, and followed the suggestion of someone in a YouTube who said the text books used in creating many of the PE questions were about five years old.  So I got my credit card out, went on Amazon, and started looking for good candidate text books.

I wound up purchasing:

  1. the 4th Edition of the "Electronic Engineers' Handbook" (the most expensive and least useful book during the exam);
  2. the 2nd Edition of "Digital Design and Computer Architecture" (moderately priced - $60 - and the most useful book - both during Study and at the exam);
  3. the ARM edition of "Computer Organization and Design" (about the same moderate price as #2, but useful only for Floating Point and Hamming Code study and reference);
  4. the 3rd Edition of "Essentials of 'Software Engineering'" (which was low cost but also the least used);
  5. the 5th Edition of "Computer Networks - A systems approach" (quite useful during my study, however the Index is poor, so I found it difficult to use during the test - I now realize I should have read that book through cover-to-cover), and finally; and,
  6. the 4th Edition "Real-Time Systems Design and Analysis" ( another book that was expensive, and one I should have read cover-to-cover since the Index was somewhat limited).  A lesson learned here was that I should have purchased many of these books much earlier in my study program.

I also found some excellent material on YouTube.  In particular, the lectures by Professor Bruce Land of Cornell University, who recorded all of his Computer Engineering lectures for over two years of his classes.  That is where I learned about FPGA's and some of the new concepts in Computer Engineering that were not part of the program I took while earning my Bachelor's in CE so many moons ago.  I believe I watched more than 50 of his lectures, and some of them two or three times (at approximately 50 mins each, you can imagine how much time I invested there).  He also inspired me to buy a Terasic FPGA development board - 'DE1-Standard' (which cost about $200 on Ebay and the software is free from Altera), providing me the opportunity of creating FPGA hardware logic using Verilog.

Finally, and I believe most importantly, I created my own 'Reference Manual' (sort of a Cheat Book. or a set of Cheat Sheets), which I had spiral-bound at Staples with vinyl covers.  I included many tables and some Wiki information to help me quickly get to some important material during the exam as quickly as I possible.  It came out to be over 60 pages, and I believe it helped me correctly answer at least a dozen questions (combined morning and afternoon portions of the test).  It included all of those areas I mentioned earlier as topics I needed to study (based on the CE practice exam0.  For example, I had the layouts of 7-bit, 16-bit, 32-bit and 64-bit 'hamming codes' in tabular form (some of which was contained in reference text book #3, but other details from online articles).

Anyway, this write-up has probably gone on too long already.  I just wanted to describe what worked for me in dealing with one of the 'Lesser' taken PE exams, which someone out there may find useful.  I will gladly expand on anything I've mentioned, except for giving away any specific questions I actually encountered during my exam.

BTW, If anyone is interested in the 'Test Taking' methodology I use, just leave me a response to this thread and I will add.

 

Edited by NY-Computer-Engineer
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Thank you for posting this; I just passed the Computer Engineering exam as well, and my experience with the CERM was almost exactly the same. I went through it for about a month and then started looking around for tips about the exam; I stumbled upon other blog posts that made me reconsider my reference choices.

I also used the 2nd edition of Digital Design and Computer Architecture, which was absolutely invaluable for the exam I took.

I will say though, although the CERM is incomplete, it did still prove useful, especially for electronics/transistor concepts. As I've been working mostly with industrial control systems since I graduated college, I don't get a lot of exposure to the low-level electronics concepts anymore. The reference manual gave me a great review on these subjects.

Wish I would have found your post first! It certainly would have proven useful for me. Cheers!

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On ‎12‎/‎8‎/‎2018 at 11:33 PM, ChebyshevII said:

Thank you for posting this; I just passed the Computer Engineering exam as well, and my experience with the CERM was almost exactly the same. I went through it for about a month and then started looking around for tips about the exam; I stumbled upon other blog posts that made me reconsider my reference choices.

I also used the 2nd edition of Digital Design and Computer Architecture, which was absolutely invaluable for the exam I took.

I will say though, although the CERM is incomplete, it did still prove useful, especially for electronics/transistor concepts. As I've been working mostly with industrial control systems since I graduated college, I don't get a lot of exposure to the low-level electronics concepts anymore. The reference manual gave me a great review on these subjects.

Wish I would have found your post first! It certainly would have proven useful for me. Cheers!

Congratulations ChebyshevII :D

Welcome to the club - the club of PE's part of the least certified group of EE's.

One thing that did result is my renewed interest in the hardware and firmware design fields.  I bought a Terasic DE-10 design board as part of my preparation for the exam, and I just finished building an experimenters box with it's multiple power supplies/adapters and multiple bread boarding options on a large Plexiglas top cover.  Now I am almost done assembling a new high performance desktop PC (Intel i7 8700 6-core chip, 16gig Memory, SSD and M.2 drives) where I will be installing multiple operating systems and doing some Verilog/VHDL designs.  I just need an increased budget to take that all where I would like to get it.

Edited by NY-Computer-Engineer
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