Samantha Archer, ECE and Math, Class of 2020
Position: Hardware Engineer, NVIDIA
Tell us about your job! How do you arrive where you are?
I am a hardware engineer at NVIDIA. I work on synthesis, which is a step in the process of designing computer chips. Synthesis bridges the initial, more abstract phase of designing a chip and the physical design—all of this occurs before a chip is a fabricated. I was always interested in hardware, and I was lucky to land an internship at NVIDIA on the Place and Route team the summer before my senior year at Duke. When I returned as a full-time engineer, I decided I wanted to learn something new, so I switched teams and ended up working on synthesis.
How did the skills you learned at Duke prepare you for this role?
I learned much about the chip design process at Duke, however, I didn’t take any classes on synthesis in particular. Most of my synthesis learning has occurred on the job. In my design classes, however, I developed strong communication and teamwork skills. I also learned how to ask for productive feedback. These soft skills have been equally important to any technical skills I’ve developed at Duke and as an engineer.
Above all else, though, my participation in DTech—Duke Technology Scholars—is what prepared me the most for the workforce, particularly as a woman working in tech. Through relationships with my peers and through industry mentorship, DTech taught me how to navigate the industry, speak up for myself, and communicate my ideas.
"If you’re interested in a class or a subject, don’t be afraid to go out of your comfort zone."
Why did you choose Duke?
I toured Duke, and it was love at first sight. The engineering school particularly piqued my interest. I remember on the tour they told us about E-Ball, and I thought that made the engineering school sound like a great balance of academics and amusement.
I was interested in everything Duke had to offer. Duke engineering students can explore subjects outside of engineering. During my time as an undergrad, I participated in Duke Engage and studied abroad in Sydney, Australia. I pursued my academic interests outside of class by being a TA, volunteering with FEMMES+, and doing undergraduate research with Dr. Daniel Sorin and Dr. Robert Calderbank. Our research focused a data encoding project, using mathematical techniques to protect data from errors in memory systems.
What was your favorite class at Duke?
My favorite class was ECE 350, Digital Systems, which was a deeper dive into circuit design and the process of designing computers. As someone who likes hardware, I found the material really engaging. Towards the end of the semester, you complete a bigger, more technical design project. Earlier in the course, you design a processor, and for the final project, you deploy the processor to create a project of your choice. My partner and I designed a Tetris game that we built from scratch, and along with it, we designed a footpad, Dance Dance Revolution-style. So, it was Tetris that you played with your feet. I had such a great experience in this class, and I wound up being a TA for ECE 350 for the rest of my time at Duke.
What advice do you have for engineering students who are just beginning at Duke, and finding their way?
If you’re interested in a class or a subject, don’t be afraid to go out of your comfort zone. On the one hand, you might really enjoy it—I loved all the classes I took in history, humanities, and public policy. On the other hand, if you don’t like something, trying something and realizing it’s not for you is just as valuable of an experience.
And, have fun!