Life in Electrical & Computer Engineering

A Waterloo Engineering Student Blog

ECE Lifehacks (Part II)

Earlier, Nikhil wrote a post about the courses you will be taking in 1A ECE. As the term comes to an end, you might wonder what 1B ECE has in store for you. So, similar to what Nikhil wrote last term, ECE Lifehacks Part II!

Discrete Mathematics (ECE 103) – Thought ECE 105 was tough? Well this course will destroy your soul before you even submit your soul transfer form in 2A. This course is heavy on proofs, and you will learn stuff such as number theory (divisibility,euclidean algorithm, extended euclidean algorithm, chinese remainder theorem, mathematical induction, congruences, fermat’s little theorem), combinations and permutations, probability (pigeonhole principle, discrete probability). In each of these units, there will be proofs, and you will be required to use what you learnt to prove stuff on midterms, finals, and assignments. Now, don’t be mistaken: these proofs aren’t like the same proofs that you have done in high school (e.g. trig proofs): these proofs are a lot  SIGNIFICANTLY harder than those.  On the final, more than half of the exam is straight up proofs, and they aren’t similar to the proofs that you have seen in the assignments. Overall, the course is interesting because you get to learn the math of cryptography  and how the graph theory are used in computer science (PS: Graph theory will be heavily used in ECE 250, which is your Algorithms and Data Structures course in 2A, so learn it well), but the proofs just makes you hate the course  a lot.

Physics II (ECE 106) – Picking up from where you left off in ECE 105 (and to some extent, ECE 140), the entire course focuses on electricity and magnetism. This will also be the last mandatory physics course for Computer Engineering students (Electrical Engineering students still have a couple more…). If you took AP Physics C in high school, most of this course will also be review. In ECE 105, you were exempted from using integration because not everybody at that time knew what integration was. Now that you have completed MATH 117, you are expected to know how to use integration, as the exams and quizzes requires you to use them. Don’t worry, you will be given an integral table so you don’t need to memorize stuff. There are assignments, but they are not mandatory (still do them though! The quiz questions comes from these assignment questions!) It follows the same trend as ECE 105 (really hard midterm, hard-ish final). The first half is all about electricity (specifically, coulombs law, electric field, Gauss’ Law, electrical potential energy, potential difference, capacitance and dielectrics, the general Ohm’s Law (no, its not V = IR, it’s J = σ E. Yes, we have been lied to this entire time), resistivity) and the second half is all about magnetism (magnetic field and magnetic forces, Biot-Savart Law, Lenz Law, Faraday’s Law of Induction, inductors, mutual inductance). You will also learn the theory about first-order (RL and RC circuits) and second-order circuits (RLC circuits), which will be the stepping stone to what you need to know for some of ECE 240 in 2A (Electronic Circuits I). Note that there is now a lab component to ECE 106, which follows the same lab procedures as ECE 140. I had a bad physics prof, so I heavily relied on youtube videos such as this AP Physics teacher who basically taught 90% of the course. Hopefully this helps you too.

Digital Circuits and Systems (ECE 124) – This will be your first hardware course in ECE. Unlike the stuff that you have done in ECE 140, this course is focused on boolean algebra, digital logic circuits and how it relates to latches and flip flops, multiplexers, de-multiplexers, encoders, decoders, adders, binary (signed numbers, 2’s compliment), and analysis of synchronous sequential circuits and asynchronous sequential circuits. Synchronous and asynchronous sequential circuits form a great portion of the course, and they heavily rely on what you learnt before that (latches and flip flops), so its important that you quickly learn the material well before you reach these two topics. You will also get exposure to coding in VHDL. Unlike what you have been exposed to in ECE 140, labs in ECE 124 requires you to program a circuit board known as a FPGA (field-programmable gate array), which maps the pins internally to build the circuit. This is how it is done in the real world: before releasing the boolean circuit out for manufacturing, companies would first test their circuit by programming the FPGA and test for any flaws and fix them accordingly.

Engineering Design with Embedded Systems (ECE 155) – Despite the catchy course name, this entire course is more about software testing and the software life cycle. You will learn about software testing, debugging, planning, computational decision making, code coverage, code reviews, and some other stuff. You will learn how to develop basic mobile applications for android, and how to use the built-in sensors to complete objectives in your lab. You will be required to code in Java, which is similar to C#. The labs are not related to what you learn in the lectures, and the code you are presented in the lectures are rarely ever used in the labs. I found it really boring. I eventually just skipped the lectures and read the transcripts on my own because my prof basically regurgitated what was written on the transcripts in the lectures. Overall, it was ok.

Calculus II (MATH 119) – Obviously, a continuation of MATH 117. The first half is entirely about approximation (taylor polynomials, interpolating polynomials, approximating integrals, series tests, power series, and the big O). The second half is multivariable calculus. If you recall from MATH 117 or even high school calculus, you did optimization problems, some of which has two variables that you need to take into consideration, and you need to find another expression that you can use so that you can differentiate over a single variable. In multivariable calculus, that is not required. You will learn partial derivatives, differentials, chain rule (they are similar idea to what you have learnt in single variable calculus, but different when you compute the derivatives), Lagrange multipliers, double and triple integrals over rectangular and non-rectangular region, and how to convert the non-rectangular regions into a rectangular region by changing the coordinate system. The problems can be tricky on midterms and finals, so the more practice you do, the better. Again, learn the math well, some of the mathematical background for ECE 250 will come from this course, as well as MATH 117.

Overall, I felt like that 1B was a lot more intense than 1A, as in 1A, some of the material came straight from high school. And the fact that you now go from one mandatory lab in 1A to three mandatory labs in 1B, things can get hectic pretty quickly. Good luck in 1B!

David Vuong


  1. Hello there, my name is Ethan Tang, 2A ECE as of point of posting. I been through 1B and let me tell you, it is tough. I personally know 2 of the profs that you guys will get in Winter 2015.

    For ECE 106 – Firas Mansour. If you think physics was easy in 1A, you are deadly wrong because he will make it hard and he will shove it into your face. His lectures are detailed but you have to put thought into it because he is not straight forward with what he teaches. Usually, he would actually play tricks on the lecture and give you false information for you to think if what he is doing is right or not. He also tends to pick on people at the front or go on tangents but those times are actually good time to think about what you are learning and digest it. Pretty much, be very careful and don’t just mindlessly copy. Also, his exams are hard so be prepared for it. It will require a lot of thinking and understanding of the course material.

    ECE 124 – Andrew Kennings. Luckily you are getting him for ECE 124. Unluckily you are getting him after us and well, no means to brag but we were his favorite class (he even said when he visited us in ECE 240). Now, Kennings is FAST, he is straight to the point with the material but he does give some motivation to make you understand why we are doing this. In class, do take down everything he writes on the board because it is details and complete with information. His exams though do require some thinking but he will make you think and apply. Also, you guys will not get a midterm but rather 2 quizzes worth 10% each about a week or two before your midterm week. The reason he did this varies but for us, it was because he wanted to go on a vacation during midterm week and reading week.

    • David Vuong

      December 11, 2014 at 10:56 am

      Thank’s for your comment, Ethan! I’m sure the 8-streams going into 1B in the Winter will appreciate it!
      – David

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