WILLIAM LEE: as presented by Spark Arena

Welcome back to the electrical blog, and you guys are in for a real treat today! I had a chat with electrical engineering messiah William Lee about all things electrical: why he chose the subject, how he found his experiences working in the industry, and of course – the most pressing scoop – the inspiration behind those essay-length Piazza posts. Obviously, this is a man who needs no introduction (unless he wrote one preceding the lecture notes himself), so I guess before we jump right into it, there’s only one thing left to say:

Hope this Helps! 🙂

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William’s area of expertise is signal processing, which is heavily reliant on mathematics.

Starting with the obvious question – what led you towards Electrical Engineering?

William: When I started Electrical, I didn’t really know it was what I wanted to do. At first, I was originally more interested in a math degree – I’m actually a math person, if you haven’t realised up to now. The reason I got into Electrical was because I couldn’t get into Engineering Science, as if I did that, I couldn’t conjoint with math. But I actually wanted to pursue a “math” degree, one way or another. So, I ended up going with Electrical because 101 was great. But it’s not until I got into it, that I realised the diverse field that Electrical could offer.

What was your experience like working in an industry internship?

William: What I ended up doing for an internship at the end of my second year was I went overseas back to Taiwan, where I was at a research institute. There, I was assigned to two things, the first project being a facial recognition system. Like how Google blurs out faces on its street view, I was tasked with something similar; that given an arbitrary scene/frame, whether it was possible to detect the faces and blur them out. Without going into too much detail, you actually know everything, from what you’ve learnt in Part I and Part II, to do that. This is part of the Electrical Engineering field of signal processing, which is largely mathematically related. And it’s not really until then that I realised Electrical Engineering actually largely aligns with my interests, which is mathematics.

The other thing I was involved with, which is also sort of like Google Maps, was if you wanted to go from A to B, how do you figure out the shortest path along the map of how to get to there? And again, it’s really just everything you’ve learnt from first and second year in C and MATLAB. It was definitely a good experience, BUT it wasn’t until then that I realised I hated programming (laughs). Not because I can’t do it, just because it was a pain, going through figuring out all the errors and stuff.

Do you have any advice for students who are nervous of their eventual transition into industry?

I would say it’s about being proactive – don’t think you don’t know enough yet, because you’ll be amazed at how much you know by the end of your second year. You actually already know a lot towards tackling real-world problems.

A difficult test always hits some students harder than others!

A question for a bit of fun – what’s the hardest test you’ve ever written?

William: (nervously laughs) What metric are we measuring this on?

Brian: Let’s say average-wise, or on the basis of Piazza feedback.

William: Well, I could tell you that average wise, the lowest one I’ve probably written would have been one of the Part IV papers (I’m not going to tell you which!). I think the average (out of 100%) was around 30 or 40. I think that was because it was the first time I had actually written an assessment, and coming in with my mentality of what I wanted the student to get out [of the test], it was an expectation that was perhaps too high.

Looking deeper into the Electrical Engineering degree, some students will be wondering about the possibilities for Part IV projects. Can you tell us a little bit about what your project was like?

William: What I did in my Part IV project was a signature biometric system. Biometric is a way of recognizing who you are from something that is inherently yours eg. your speech, your fingerprint, your retina. In this case, we decided to investigate whether human signature can be used to identify who you are. In other words, if I were to sign my signature, compared to if someone tried to mimic my signature, [the aim was] to develop a system that could recognize the imposter from the genuine signatory.

It was quite an interesting endeavour with many sleepless nights, and we never really got it to work until the day before the exhibition (which is unfortunately typical of many Part IV Projects). That’s not to say it was hard – there were a lot of factors. A lot of times, you’re so hung up on other courses; you’ve got your systems week, tests due, all of which meant we didn’t have a lot of time (until the end) to get it set up and running. Other cases, it simply just failed without us knowing why! We already had our first prototype long before, but it just stopped working, and it wasn’t until the final day that we got it working again.

I wanted to finish with a question I get asked commonly. Students often tell me they enjoy your teaching and the content, however they are often disheartened by performing poorly in assessments. Do you think this should discourage students towards picking Electrical?

William: Well, I guess this comes down to ‘what is the rationale?’ behind why I write the test or the assessment in the way that I do.

To me personally, the biggest issue I see in students nowadays is their lack of ability to consolidate their understanding towards building or discovering something new. There’s an inherent mindset in thinking that whenever they’re presented with an unfamiliar problem, they’ll think ‘this is out of my reach’. This surprises me, because what we’re teaching at the university is the fundamentals. Anything else you’ve learnt is on top of these fundamentals, yet for some reason, you don’t think you have enough.

Traditionally, electrical has been labelled as ‘difficult’ because we’re a bit more “down to earth”, in the sense that while we understand Part I is a course where we are trying to foster interest and ‘market’ what electrical could be, at the same time we need to prepare enough of the fundamentals for those who are interested to succeed. Now, that may be a bit different to other [Part I] courses, where the whole emphasis is to promote the attractive nature of the course itself, rather than preparing them for what is actually coming.

And it’s a bit unfortunate, because in order for you to ‘understand’ electrical engineering as a whole, it really contains a lot of fundamental concepts that you need to grasp first. So, it is a seemingly ‘complex’ but ultimately fundamentally coherent subject, however any lack of one concept means you can’t understand the whole picture. If you’re up for the challenge, then I guess this is the right specialization for you. But there’s no point in hiding the complexity behind it.

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I hope you guys enjoyed this insightful interview I did with William! A huge thank you to him for generously giving up his time. We managed to unpack a lot in our chat and I’m really happy with how this turned out. I hope you find this information helpful in providing some insight into our Electrical Engineering degree.

Also, apologies for the two-month hiatus; I have been busy with university life as you will find out in my final blog, which I hope to be up soon. I promise it will be information, information, information about my second-year project/courses, Electrical Engineering pathways, and my parting thoughts on Electrical as a specialization. In the meantime, the other bloggers have been putting out lots of great content so keep an eye (and an open mind) on that too! Until next time 😊.

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