Matthew Nicely graduated from the UAH ECE department with his Masters in Electrical Engineering in 2014 and later with his PhD in Computer Engineering in 2019. He studied part-time while working full-time at Redstone arsenal. Throughout his coursework and research, Matthew primarily focused on GPU algorithms and optimizations. Upon graduation, he joined NVIDIA, a company renowned for their work in AI, graphics and industrial digitization. Matthew currently works as a Deep Learning Compiler Product Manager and is responsible for the strategic planning, development, feature roadmaps, and life cycles of various NVIDIA products. He specifically works with CUTLASS and cuDNN, both of which are used for matrix multiplication in deep learning neural networks. In a recent interview with Dr. Aleksandar Milenkovic, Chair of the ECE Department, Matthew gave some valuable insights regarding how his time in the department affected his career in the industry and what advice he would give current and prospective UAH students in the program.

Reflecting on your time at the university, what were some of the most valuable experiences you had in the ECE programs?

Personally, the most valuable experiences I had were with classes that had a lot of coding. At the grad school level, it seems to be more real-life and hands-on with professors. You’re less just going through the coursework and more working through problem solving skills.

Can you share a project or piece of research you worked on during your studies that had a significant impact on your career path?

Probably the most beneficial research to my career was for my dissertation. It required restructuring a historically serial algorithm to run in a parallel manner. That in tandem with learning several optimization techniques and profiling tools set me up for success at NVIDIA.

What specific skills or knowledge did you gain from the ECE programs that you've found most beneficial in your career?

Everything I learned in my parallel programming and architecture courses was directly applicable to my career. The majority of large-scale applications in the real-world are heterogeneous, so whether it’s OpenACC, OpenMP, CUDA, OpenCL or POSIX, understanding the nuances of parallel programming is what’s important.

How did the program prepare you for the challenges you've faced in the tech industry?

I think UAH Grad School does a great job tying together academics and industry. Nearly everything I learned while taking classes at night, I was able to apply the next day at work.

How has your degree in ECE contributed to your successes and achievements in your career?

My degree has enabled me to set myself apart from other applicants and it opened doors that wouldn’t be there otherwise. Even in the world of product management, my degrees provide a technical advantage.

What advice would you give to current students who are pursuing a degree in ECE and aspire to follow a similar career path as yours?

Take advantage of open-source environments (e.g., Github) and help others on online forums to get eyes on your skills. Putting your code on the web is a great way to allow interviewers to get a better understanding of what you’re capable of.

Looking back, is there anything you wish you had done differently during your time in the program?

I wish I would have collaborated more with my peers. Some of this was limited by the fact that I was working and going to school full-time, but I find now in industry that I’m able to learn more in a collective group. More importantly, I don’t need to reinvent the wheel and can apply what someone else has already learned.

Based on your professional experience, what future trends in ECE do you think students should be preparing for now?

Students should be learning how to efficiently use AI to make themselves more productive.

How do you stay current with technological advancements and continue learning in your field?

A lot of reading and YouTube. The field of AI, especially Generative AI, is moving so fast I like to start with YouTube channels that offer a good breakdown of new research papers and techniques. This helps me get up to speed fast and I can always circle back as a technique becomes more popular. I will also reach out to authors if I have specific questions or if I would like to collaborate on future work.

Is there any feedback or suggestions you would like to offer to the ECE department to better prepare future students for their careers?

Anyway you can add hands-on programming to the curriculum, please do.

Any final thoughts or messages you'd like to share with prospective students considering a degree in ECE from our university?

In my opinion, degrees are one of those things that you get out as much as you put in. Teachers have a limited amount of time to explain and cover a lot of material. Take advantage of office hours to ask questions and better understand the material. Don’t be afraid to ask, “Why do I care”? Getting a degree requires a lot of time that could be focused on learning a new skill or spending time with family. If you’re struggling to understand why something is important, then ask. You might end up learning that the topic is more applicable to your day-to-day job than you ever imagined.

Matthew, thank you very much for your time. The ECE department is proud of your accomplishments and grateful for your continued support.