Breaking down the job description: The Signal Processing Engineer

One of the ancient and most stringent branches of communication requiring years and years of practice for expertise and dedication, being a Signal Processing Engineer, however, is a provincial word compared to the other known ones. Here we get to you, the second article of the series, ‘Breaking down the job description’ as we explore the profile of a Signal processing engineer. This is indeed one of the most versatile jobs in the industry

Who is a Signal Processing Engineer?

A signal processing engineer’s life revolves around extracting and processing the information embedded in the signals. A signal’s information content is usually present in its frequency. Frequency analysis of the signals using different types of the mathematical tools like Fourier transform, Laplace transform, The Fast Fourier Transform has enabled digital signal processing to form the crux of the current buzzwords like Computer Vision and Machine Learning.

Previously, Signal processing engineers dealt with the different kinds of math tools, complex hand calculations, massive systems called filters which were built using passive components, providing substandard accuracy. At present, the same person is not only expected to have a deep analysis of the behavior of various phenomena but also become an architect for his own algorithms. Efficient use of signals arises from executing crisp algorithms, with succinct steps and real-time outputs. He/ she has to develop the steps required and also design the processor which acts like the machine. A DSP architect needs to be prudential to provide the specifications, have the design and simulate the system pre-hand before the fabrication. The algorithm required for the extraction needs to be coded in software packages.

So, to have a stronghold and think out of the box, rigorous turmoil is required. But rest assured, the fruits borne will be delicious. To think is to become. Envisioning about a future of playing and enjoying with energy that is so ubiquitous, is half the job done.

As mentioned, signal processing forms the crux of all the new age buzzwords. Hence, a DSP engineer can have a cross-domain functionality in fields of image processing, speech processing,(which are essentially the sub-categories of signal processing), pattern recognition, chip designing, radio frequency designs, biomedical signal processing, space and military applications including satellite and mobile communications.

Every communication strata utilize signal processing in one of its mutations.

Qualification of the Signal Processing Engineer?
  1. A degree in Communications Engineering or Mathematics: The primary step in the qualification is to successfully obtain a degree or complete some recognized course in the field of Electronics and communication or Mathematics or variants like Electrical or Instrumentation engineering, which offer courses on Signal Processing.
  2. Even before you start pursuing them, there are some fundamentals you will have to know in order to pursue these courses. You should have sound knowledge in integral and differential calculus, Cartesian and 3-D geometry.

A standard signal processing course framework consists of the following-
  1. Signals and Systems
  2. Digital Signal Processing
  3. Digital Speech Processing
  4. Digital Image Processing, etc.
  5. The specialization courses are Statistical Signal processing or Advanced Digital Signal Processing. Involvement of digital communication, Radiofrequency signal processing, and communication systems with DSP emerge in the specialization stage.

A few books to learn these courses are by the famous authors, Oppenheim,Proakis. Other interesting books include Digital Signal Processing by Ramesh Babu.

Also, there is useful video lecture series on youtube for Discrete Time Signal Processing by Ekeeda which is worth checking out to get started on that subject.

Qualification in the architecture of systems

A signal processing engineer is expected to know the basics of system architecture and IC design, catering to their needs. However, he/she need not know how to code in any HDL language(like Verilog or VHDL). It is sufficient to know the requirements and circuital connections. The basic course in Digital Signal Processors can sumptuously cover the fundamentals of the above.

Super Specializations in the field:

The vastness of signal processing opens its floodgates to the infinite drops of opportunities. With the basics intact, the agility and perseverance to rise up to the occasion and quote algorithms defines the droplet that can be used to quench the thirst. A super specialization with a Master of Science in the subcategories like Image, Speech processing is potentially challenging. A cross-specialization in Computer Vision, Machine Learning or Biomedical Imaging leads us to the meandering depths of buzzwords of the campus. With a bachelors in Signal processing, the crossover is easy to grasp and will be highly rewarding. The crossover can also be learned via online means through various courses available spanning across different websites, modeling different projects and inferring useful data from them.

Skills Required

A signal processing engineer is expected to know not as much coding as a software engineer, but more software packages compared to them.
Basics of C/ C++: The basics of programming at the elementary level is essential. Knowledge of fundamentals like control statements, looping statements, and data types is important.
MATLAB: The MATrix LABoratory, aptly named so, is the altar of this profile. Essentially, it an important tool for any electronics and signal processing engineer. Having the speed of calculation approximately equal to the clock speed of the computer used, and a plethora of functions call for its instant success. Apart from the basic functions, MATLAB also provides toolboxes for all needs.

Qualities Required

All said and done, a little more is needed to make one perfect for this profile. Analytical abilities, perseverance, patience, hard work, and creativity is vital. It is absolutely essential for the killer instinct to swerve towards the cause. The cause is not easy. Astride with obstacles, often one find themselves giving up, with years of hard work surmounting to mundane nothingness.

But however, the key to success remains winning the losing game. It is definitely not easy elementary math, but the beauty lies in the way it operates through us every day. How the sine and cosine waves rule the roost. How the circle is one the most engaging shapes of the world. Algorithms after algorithms may fail, but that just tingles a little more creativity, propelling us towards the best of our efforts.

Job Positions a Signal Processing Engineer can occupy;
  1. Space Scientist (With Organizations like NASA, ISRO, ESA, SpaceX)
  2. Defense Engineer (With defense organizations within the resident country)
  3. Machine learning Engineer
  4. Computer Vision Engineer
  5. Research scientist
  6. Digital Signal Processing Engineer (With top hardware-based companies like Texas Instruments, Samsung, Analog Devices, Intel etc)
I would like to call Signal Processing an ART. Like painting, music, and dancing, it requires passion before years of practice.
Source : This article was originally published in The Research Nest by Vijayalakshmi Swaminathan 


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