photo of chris with his board

Chris Maldonado-Salido – Class of 2024

In his own words – interviewed Spring Quarter 2024

  • Hometown: Santa Maria, CA
  • Year: Senior
  • Favorite ECE Course: Integrated Circuit Design and Fabrication II (ECE 120B), Dr. Ilan Ben-Yaacov 
  • Senior "Capstone" Project: Production Solder Jig for Quantum Computer Wiring Sponsored by Google Quantum AI
  • Student Organization Memberships: Los Ingenieros – UCSB Chapter of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE)
  • Last Book Read: Endure by Cameron Hanes
  • Interesting aside about you: I’m a first-generation college student who flunked all math and science classes in high school. Anything is possible with drive and tenacity.

Chris’ Favorite

  • Hobbies: Distance running, weight training, philosophy, billiards, poker, and cooking
  • Band / Performer: J. Cole and Vince Staples
  • TV Show: South Park, Breaking Bad, and The Vince Staples Show
  • Movie: Saw I
  • Book / Author: Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
  • Activity: Strenuous hikes (I’m hiking Mount Whitney as a celebration for my graduation)
  • Sport: Basketball
  • Geeky Possession: Prop 12” silicon wafer with integrated circuits

Favorite things about

  • ECE Department: My favorite things about the UCSB ECE Department are the faculty and the student community. The faculty in the ECE department is not only world-class but also comprised of high-caliber individuals who deeply care about your success and well-being. Build relationships with them—it’ll hold you accountable and enable them to help you more effectively. Once you're in your junior year, class sizes reduce significantly, allowing you to get to know the majority of people in your major. The core curriculum will become challenging, but throughout, you’ll develop a strong sense of community as everyone can empathize with the beautiful struggles of the major.
  • UCSB: One of my favorite aspects of UCSB is its work hard, play hard lifestyle. During your time here, you’ll experience a yin-yang balance of late-night study sessions and hangouts with your best friends. I absolutely loved this aspect of college. The location of the campus is also unbeatable. I finished class for the day, programmed my FPGA at the beach, and walked to Isla Vista to pick up my Wing Stop that I pre-ordered through the app. There are not many places in the world where you can conveniently do that in the same hour. Lastly, the environment in Isla Vista is incredibly vibrant—the streets are always buzzing with life and social interaction. You will have no regrets coming here!
  • Santa Barbara: As a big foodie, one of my favorite things about Santa Barbara is the dining scene. There are tons of amazing restaurants to try in Santa Barbara! Some of my top picks include South Coast Deli, Finney’s Crafthouse, Jeannine's, and Zaytoon. There are plenty of other things to do too. While you’re here, embrace the fact that the Santa Barbara area is one of the most sought-after places to live—for perspective, Oprah Winfrey's main residence is here. You have the opportunity to go to college in this incredible location. It’s almost impossible to take that for granted!

Chris’ most memorable moments that happened each year 

  • Freshman Year: I transferred to UCSB from a community college (Allan Hancock College) and entered at the sophomore level, my admission and acceptance of the offer were the highlights of what would have been my freshman year. I eagerly anticipated starting at UCSB and conducted extensive research on the curriculum. I even began preparing ahead of time, knowing that one of my first courses, Introduction to Electromagnetic Fields and Waves (ECE 134), would be immensely challenging. Doing this boosted my confidence in my ability to succeed and set the foundation for my academic success at the university.
  • Sophomore Year: I feel intense nostalgia when I think about the first week I moved into university housing at the San Joaquin Villages. Simply put, I have not had that much fun in my entire life. I got to know some amazing people, some of which are my best friends here at UCSB. I expect this experience will be common for many incoming students whether they are freshmen or transfers. 
  • Junior Year: I will never forget the feeling of accomplishment when the NMOS transistors I fabricated in UCSB’s teaching cleanroom for my final project in ECE 120A, Integrated Circuit Design and Fabrication I, successfully worked. I knew that I wanted to be an electrical engineer, but this was the year I truly discovered my passion for it—and I haven’t looked back since.
  • Senior Year: As I wrap up my senior year this last spring quarter, senioritis is in full swing. My friends and I reflect on the many unforgettable memories from these ever-so-fleeting years and feel a sense of urgency to pack our last weeks at UCSB with as many fun activities as possible. The sweet taste of victory is near as we prepare to move on to the next chapter in our lives. This year's Deltopia—an event you'll indubitably become familiar with—has been the most memorable moment. We celebrated our final quarter together, all the sacrifices and hard work we’ve put in throughout the years, and the bright future ahead of us. What a time it has been!

Chris and Electrical Engineering

Why EE as a major? I’ve found that many people don’t stop to think about the complexity of the technology that surrounds them. They accept its advancements without fully appreciating one of the strongest driving forces behind them: Electrical Engineering. Ever since I was a kid, I've been fascinated by electronics. I wondered how computers were made, video games were developed, and telephones communicated. This curiosity stayed with me throughout my life, and when the opportunity to attend college arose, I decided to dedicate myself to understanding the answers to my questions by pursuing a degree in electrical engineering.

Why did you select UCSB's EE program? At the time I selected UCSB's EE program, I knew I wanted to be an electrical engineer, but I wasn't exactly sure what I wanted to specialize in or do in my career. One thing I was certain about was that UCSB would be the perfect place to figure that out. With its ideal weather year-round, location by the ocean, and a thriving community of students and places to explore, the decision to attend UCSB was one of the easiest I’ve ever made.

How did you hear about UCSB's EE program? I learned about UCSB’s EE program through my own research. Truthfully, I was sold on attending before even discovering how exceptional the program was. One really cool fact that stood out during my research was UCSB's Nobel Prize in Physics, awarded to Professor Shuji Nakamura for his groundbreaking work in developing the blue LED. This revolutionary technology has fundamentally changed the world of electronics, enhancing everything from energy efficiency to display technologies. And you get to study at the campus where this work was done. How awesome is that?!

Prospective students and parents often ask, what can you do with an EE degree? The possibilities for electrical engineers are limitless, given the integral role they play in our increasingly digital world. With an EE degree, you’ll gain a versatile skill set that equips you with the critical thinking and problem-solving skills necessary to address engineering challenges in cutting-edge domains such as quantum computing, the development of next-generation devices, and autonomous vehicle technology. There is no better time than now to pursue a career as an electrical engineer.

The Curriculum

What have you learned that has surprised you the most so far?  What I have learned in my curriculum that has surprised me the most is the complex fabrication process of semiconductor devices and integrated circuits. Do a quick Google search on how the chips found in your everyday electronics are fabricated. It. Will. Blow. Your. Mind. Being able to explain this to people feels like a superpower!

What has your experience been like taking the Math and Physics core classes? These classes will be hard, but you'll look back one day and laugh at how easy the material actually was compared to what you will be doing later. They’re all about practice. Lots and lots of excruciating practice. Don’t give up. Things will become more exciting later, but you must first develop a baseline for problem solving that will carry you through the remainder of the curriculum. Don’t compare yourself to others. You might not do as well as you’d like, but don’t let that discourage you from pursuing the major. Be honest with yourself in your preparation. Your class performance is a part of a feedback loop that senses the effectiveness of the academic systems you have in place. Constantly reflect and reevaluate until you become undeniable and you will succeed.

What has been your most challenging but rewarding course? 

Circuits and Electronics I (ECE 137A) was by far the most challenging but rewarding course I have taken. I didn’t find the class material—analog circuit design—particularly difficult; in fact, I really enjoyed it. However, the lab portion of this class—and the following—was definitely something else. Only those who have lived through the experience in the Electronics Laboratory on the fifth floor of Harold Frank Hall can understand the struggle and what it took to complete the lab project in this class. The feeling of relief when you test your final soldered circuit with an oscilloscope and see that you have reasonable gain on your amplifier is unforgettable. I overcame the challenges in these classes because I was prepared to give everything I had to achieve my dream of becoming an electrical engineer. This isn’t meant to scare anyone; the class was manageable, but it will definitely test you like no other.

Are there any specific classes that you are looking forward to? 
This spring, I'm completing the final coursework required to obtain my certificate of technology management. The last course I need and that I’m most looking forward to is TMP 127: Managing Technology Organizations, taught by Professor Anne Shaw-Hey—one of the most influential professors I've had the privilege of meeting here at UCSB. I recommend the UCSB Technology Management Program (TMP) to everyone! As an engineer, this program distinguishes you from your peers. It makes you highly attractive to employers because you possess both technical skills and a fundamental understanding of business. Here’s a little more about the program:

The Program provides driven, innovative, and entrepreneurial students with a solid foundation in business principles and professional skills vital to their success after graduation. By welcoming students from all majors on campus, TMP adds vitality and diversity to its team-oriented and project-based curriculum. Students work under the guidance of dedicated faculty, practicing professionals, and experienced mentors. They are introduced to state-of-the-art business methods, strategies for successful technology commercialization, new venture creation, and best practices for fostering innovation. 

Talk about your Senior Capstone (ECE 188 ABC) experience so far: My EE capstone project is titled "Production Solder Jig for Quantum Computer Wiring." It is an embedded systems design project sponsored by Google Quantum AI, which is located in Santa Barbara. This project aims to automate a key process in wiring next-generation quantum computers. Upon completion, it will significantly enhance the productivity of the soldering process and save a substantial amount of time for engineers at Google. The solder jig is essentially a mounting device for two flex PCBs. Our job is to automate power delivery to a cartridge heater responsible for heating the jig to a required specification during the solder reflow process and to precisely regulate the system temperature throughout the job duration. To achieve this, we are utilizing an STM32 development board for prototyping, a PID control algorithm that we implemented in the firmware of our MCU, thermocouples, ADCs, a solid-state relay, and a few other components. We have made significant progress and are now in the process of designing our custom PCB as well as creating a plug-and-play web server hosted user interface for our end product. This has taken a lot of hard work to achieve, but it has been some of the most rewarding work I have ever done. None of us on my capstone team had the experience to tackle this project initially. We had to put in long hours to develop our knowledge and skill set to be able to succeed. You learn how to work in a high-functioning team and what it takes to solve real-world problems. You'll also have the privilege of connecting with some awesome mentors at your sponsoring company. Overall, this has been one of my favorite academic experiences.

What area do you want to specialize in? I aim to specialize in Very-Large-Scale Integration (VLSI), particularly in the design of digital systems and integrated circuits. This area of electrical engineering is fascinating to me due to its complexity and the constant push for innovation. You're likely familiar with Moore's Law; specializing in VLSI provides the framework to not only sustain this trend but also to exceed what was once considered impossible. My career aspiration is to become a chip designer. With the chip industry thriving and poised for long-term prosperity, I see this as an exciting and promising path.

Have you done an internship? I've completed two internships during my pursuit of an electrical engineering degree. My first internship was with UCSD Engineers for Exploration in La Jolla, CA, where I served as an electrical engineering research intern. Here, I contributed to the Smartfin initiative, which tackles climate change by integrating sensors into surfboard fins to collect crucial coastal oceanic data. This initiative helps fill the gaps left by traditional data collection methods. My responsibilities included enhancing sensor data processing, using spectral analysis to determine wave height, and implementing a Kalman Filter to reduce noise. My other internship was with the Department of Defense, where I worked as a radar systems engineering intern. The work I did was really exciting, but it’s classified, so I’m not allowed to discuss the details. Internships teach you why employers look for internship experiences in entry-level candidates. You’ll develop skills you likely wouldn’t in your courses that are required to succeed as an engineer in the real world. These skills usually involve programming and complicated software used in industry workflows.

Have you had any on-campus research opportunities at UCSB? I took a graduate-level course, ECE 225, with Kaustav Banerjee—one of my favorite professors at UCSB—on High-Speed Digital IC Design. This class included a 10-week independent research project on VLSI technologies, during which I had the opportunity to explore cryogenic electronics and emerging interconnect technologies. Materials behave unusually at extremely low temperatures. How do we characterize these behaviors? I investigated the resistivity models and fundamental physics of conventional metals at cryogenic temperatures, ranging from 10 mK to 4K. While these concepts are relatively straightforward at room temperatures, they become complex as temperatures decrease. The beauty of research lies in its ability to extend learning beyond the traditional curriculum, allowing you to apply the knowledge gained in core classes to solve contemporary problems. Learning how to research is an essential skill for an electrical engineer, whether you decide to pursue a graduate degree or enter industry right away. Committing to a career in electrical engineering means embracing lifelong learning due to the field's constantly evolving nature. UCSB offers the opportunity to develop strong research skills!

Have you had any honors at UCSB? I've been honored to receive several scholarships that have significantly aided my academic journey. Through the ESTEEM – Enhancing Success in Transfer Education for Engineering Majors Scholarship Program issued by UCSB College of Engineering, I was awarded $30,000. This program supports academically talented, low-income engineering students at UCSB, enabling me to reduce my work commitments and focus fully on my aspirations of becoming an electrical engineer. Additionally, I received the Harold Frank Scholarship from UCSB Technology Management, which supports students with strong academic records in the College of Engineering who are active in the Technology Management Program. This scholarship covers the costs of my undergraduate certificate in Technology Management. A word of advice: Thanks to these scholarships, I will be graduating college debt-free. Apply to every opportunity you possibly can—there will be many!

Preparation from High School to College

What prepared you the most for studying engineering in college? In all areas of life, do the things that you don’t want to do but you know that they’ll benefit you. Be disciplined and sharpen your work ethic.

Are there any classes that you suggest EE students take before entering UCSB? The typical advice you might receive is to take advanced placement courses in high school, especially in math and physics. While this is beneficial, it's not necessary for success; I didn't follow that path myself. However, it can certainly give you a head start over some of your peers. What I recommend instead is exposing yourself to working with electronics as early as possible—wiring circuits, soldering, programming microcontrollers, etc. Don't worry too much about the theoretical details at this stage. Instead, follow online tutorials and make it a fun hobby; you’ll have plenty of time to delve into and appreciate the details later. If you enjoy this, you’ll know electrical engineering is a good path for you, and therefore you'll know the time commitment will be worthwhile. Also, I’d recommend learning how to program really well. Starting with Python is a good choice; consider purchasing a course on Udemy. I wish I had focused more on this earlier because programming is one of the most valuable skills for electrical engineers, and most jobs require or prefer programming knowledge.

Any additional experiences that you would like to share with students to help them prepare for college? The best advice I can provide for succeeding in college is to develop your time management skills and organizational systems, read the material ahead of lecture time, attend all your classes (emphasis on technical ones), sit in the front, ask questions, build relationships with your professors (network), start your assignments early, exercise often, get a hobby, form a solid group of friends in your major, have friends outside of your major, join at least one organization, get involved in research, get an internship, and remember to find balance and have fun.

photo of chris and friends in graduation gown at the top of Half Dome at Yosemite

Student Life at UCSB

What is campus life like for EE students? Campus life for EE students at UCSB is challenging yet enriching. The campus will be your second home; given your heavy workload, you will spend a lot of time there, but your experience will be enhanced by the vibrant campus culture. Conveniently, the ECE department's building, Harold Frank Hall, is located right next to the beach—a strategic choice, likely intended to help stressed-out students and faculty unwind easily after a hard day's work. One last note on campus life: bike safely.

What is the social scene like on campus, in Isla Vista, and off-campus like for EE students? There is no doubt in my mind that you will have A LOT of fun regardless of whether you’re in EE or another major! Maybe a little less fun if you’re in EE, but the payoff will be worth it… This place is awesome, and a quick walk in Isla Vista, aka “IV” — a community next to the UCSB campus — any given night will show you how active the social scene is here.

Describe your housing experience frosh to present: Truthfully, housing at UCSB can be stressful if you decide to live off-campus in Isla Vista instead of the university-owned apartments—I can’t speak on dorm life since I transferred here. My advice is that you and your group apply for university housing even if you don’t plan on living there, just to have the added security (if everyone gets it, you can opt to live together). If you choose the off-campus housing route, I’d recommend starting your search as early as the fall quarter of the year before you plan to move in. It is insanely competitive and cutthroat, but definitely worth the experience. If you go the university-owned route, that’s great! I loved my university housing experience just as much as my off-campus housing experience. It’s more affordable, and the community is as thriving as it is in IV. Additionally, you don't need to worry about security deposits, furnishing your apartment, greater move-out stress, or finding subleases for your IV year-long housing contract if you plan not to take summer classes or get an internship. I lived in the university-owned San Joaquin Villages and on 66 Block of Sabado Tarde Rd. I had the time of my life living in both of these places and think it's worth experiencing both!

After Graduation

What are your “big picture” plans/aspirations after graduation? My plans after graduation are to work in the tech industry for a few years as a hardware engineer, specializing in design verification, validation, or test engineering. Then, I intend to return for a Master’s degree in ECE, secure a position at a top company as an ASIC designer or FPGA engineer, and demonstrate my potential to advance into higher-level management positions—potentially obtaining my MBA if they fund it. After gaining a wealth of experience and achieving financial stability, I plan to exercise my entrepreneurial spirit by exploring opportunities at a promising tech startup.