This article is inspired by an excellent question I received from a curious reader: "What is a day in the life of a computer engineer like?" I will give you an idea of my average day, but let me first throw in the obligatory "my opinions are my own, and not that of my employer." Also, how my day plays out is a function of who I work for, where I live, and my personal preferences. Therefore, my day may look very different from others in the same profession.
Let me start with a little background information about my day job. I live in Austin, TX and work as a verification engineer for Intel Corporation. (Yes, I rather enjoy sharing my name with the city I live in. There are ample photo opportunities, and breaking the ice with new people is always easy). Intel is the world's largest semiconductor chip maker and is well-known for their computer processors. The Intel facility in Austin primarily designs and tests low-power Intel Atom processors as well as Atom-based platforms for tablets and phones. The team I am on writes computer programs to test if the design of a processor is correct or not. As you can guess, I spend a lot of my time writing and running computer programs.
I will get into the details of why I do what I do in another article. It's really fascinating. But for now I'll just tell you what my day entails. So here's an average day:
7:15 AM: After breakfast, I open up the laptop Intel gave me and start working. I start my day from home for a couple of reasons. First of all, some of the tests I run take several hours. So the sooner I start the test, the sooner it will get done. Secondly, traffic on my route to work is pretty thick around 7:30 AM. It makes more sense for me to work from home and then drive in at 8:30 rather than sit in traffic all morning. This is fairly common around here depending on where people live and what routes they have to take to work. Intel wants people to be productive, not stuck in traffic.
8:30 AM: Around this time I leave for work. I bring my laptop, lunch, and workout gear with me. Intel recently moved to a new building here in Austin TX that has an exercise facility and a great cafeteria.
8:50 AM: I arrive at work. I settle in and see if I have any emails that I need to respond to immediately. Then I go grab the interns (we happen to have a couple of them on our team right now) and we head to the cafeteria. All 1200 employees get free fruit, coffee, and fountain pop, so the interns and I go get some fruit and coffee to start off the day. This also gives us a chance to catch up on what they are working on and what questions they have that I might be able to answer.
9:15 AM: I typically spend this time in the morning following up on all of my tasks. How did my tests turn out? Do I need to write more code or fix something that didn't work? Do I need to ask somebody a question? I typically interact with anywhere from 5 to 10 other engineers on any given day, some in person and some virtually (Intel has many locations across the US and the world). I have a desk that can be raised, so I try to start the morning off standing. I also usually eat a snack in here somewhere.
12:00 PM: I head down to the exercise facility and change into workout clothes. Some days I participate in the fitness classes they offer, and other days I go out for a run. I do yoga once a week because I'm terribly inflexible and it makes my wife and mom happy. (Happy wife = happy life). Some days are really busy so I don't work out over the lunch hour.
1:00 PM: I shower, get dressed, and then go eat lunch in the cafeteria. They serve a delicious variety of food for lunch, but I typically bring a packed lunch to save money. Maybe when I get my student loans paid off I'll indulge more often.
1:30 PM - 4:50 PM: More code writing, test running, problem solving, interacting with others. Every day is different. I usually spend some time with the interns in the afternoon to answer their questions and see what they can teach me. If there are any tests that I can run, I go ahead and start them so that they can finish by later in the evening. Again, I try to do some standing at my desk and I eat afternoon snack.
5:15 PM: I'm home! Time to hang out with the wife, work on my startup, eat supper, play guitar, hang out with friends, etc etc. After moving down here, my wife and I started brewing beer for fun. It's like a fun chemistry experiment that you can eventually drink. (And you hope it turns out OK, otherwise you're stuck with 48 bottles of skunky beer). So many evenings in the hot Texas heat include responsibly enjoying a cold homebrew.
8:30 PM: Oftentimes I log in again at some point in the evening to see if I need to run any tests. If I start the tests before bed, they can run all night and I'll be able to check up on them at work the next morning. Some nights this doesn't take long, other nights it takes longer. It depends on the demands of work at that moment in time.
Weekends: I usually log in a bit over the weekend to keep my tasks moving forward, especially as deadlines approach. Some weekends require more time, other weekends are completely free. It's a byproduct of the natural ebb and flow of a project lifecycle.
So that is an average day and weekend for a young computer engineer in Austin TX. What do you think? Please send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org!