Exploring Tradeoffs in Computer Engineering | CpE Laws and Professional Practice

Objective: In this activity, you will explore the concept of tradeoffs in computer engineering. This will help you understand the intricate decision-making processes in this field.

*Take note:
The objective of this activity isn’t about finding the ‘correct’ answer—since the best solution often depends on the specific context and constraints. The aim is to familiarize yourself with the kind of complex decisions that computer engineers must frequently make and to develop your ability to think critically about these challenges.

Materials You’ll Need:

  1. Pen and paper for note-taking
  2. A computer with internet access for research

Activity Steps:

  1. Research and Brainstorming: Your instructor will assign you one of the tradeoff areas: software, hardware, or ethics. Research the assigned tradeoff area and brainstorm as many specific tradeoffs as you can. List them down on your paper.
  2. Crafting a Case Study: Choose two tradeoffs from your list. For each one, create a hypothetical case study that illustrates this tradeoff in a real-world situation. For instance, if you were assigned the software category, you could create a case study about a software development project under tight deadlines, demonstrating how time constraints might impact code quality.
  3. Proposing Solutions: For each case study, propose two different solutions that balance the tradeoff in unique ways. Explain the potential advantages and disadvantages of each solution, as well as any long-term implications.
  4. Reflection: Reflect on the solutions you proposed. Consider the potential effects of your decisions on stakeholders (e.g., users, clients, team members). Write a brief reflection on the challenges you faced while balancing these tradeoffs and the lessons you’ve learned through this exercise.

Case studies

Case Study 1: Efficiency vs. Readability (Software)

You’re working on an application that involves complex algorithms. You’ve written a code that is highly efficient, running at fast speeds and using minimal memory. However, your peers are finding it hard to understand your code, slowing down the code review process and causing potential difficulties for future maintenance.

Case Study 2: Time vs. Quality (Software)

You’re part of a team developing a mobile app for a client. The client has set a strict deadline to align with a marketing campaign. To meet this deadline, the team is considering skipping some non-critical testing stages, which might result in lower quality software.

Case Study 3: Performance vs. Security (Software)

Your team is creating a high-speed trading system where every millisecond counts. However, the methods to achieve the highest speed could potentially expose the system to security risks. The team is debating whether to compromise on speed to ensure the highest possible security levels.

Case Study 4: Cost vs. Performance (Hardware)

You’re designing a new smartphone model. High-end components could make your device faster and more powerful, but they would also increase manufacturing costs and the final price of the product, potentially making it less affordable for many customers.

Case Study 5: Power Consumption vs. Performance (Hardware)

You’re developing a wearable fitness device. A high-performance processor could support more features and better user experience, but it would also drain the device’s battery more quickly, decreasing the time between charges and possibly inconveniencing users.

Case Study 6: Privacy vs. Functionality (Ethics)

You’re developing a personalized news app that uses machine learning algorithms to recommend articles based on users’ reading habits. To make accurate recommendations, the app needs access to users’ reading history, but some users might be uncomfortable sharing this data due to privacy concerns.

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