Taking a byte out of Apple


 A 2020 graduate of George Mason’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering Iranian-born Farnoud Farahmand works for tech giant Apple in Silicon Valley doing a job he hadn’t thought about as an undergrad or even a grad student. Farahmand’s journey to California covered more miles than an American pioneer’s and his attitude mirrored the same qualities of curiosity, grit, and determination as those of Western settlers. 

ECE Alumus Farnoud Farhamand now works in Silicon Valley
Farnoud Farahmand works on site at Apple in Silicon Valley three days a week. 
Photo provided.

Farahmand said he chose Mason because he had family living in Virginia and found George Mason a good match for his goals, and his interest in digital design and embedded systems. “Mason had a good program. I saw there were some specializations in digital design and that was a great fit for me,” he said. Farahmand credits his PhD advisor, Professor Krzysztof (Kris) Gaj for teaching him the value of teamwork and nurturing his burgeoning curiosity.  

“What I learned from Dr. Gaj was to be dedicated, do the hard work, and keep learning different topics. We used to have very long weekly meetings with him instead of meeting with each of his students in separately, he pulled us all together in one room at the same time,” said Farahmand. Sitting in long meetings with labmates, he learned about related topics and said that experience led him to his internships with Google. 

Before the internship, Farahmand was focused on hardware implementation, but other people were working on side-channel analysis, and applied to Google online. “The thing is you don't know the positions. The job descriptions are very general when you apply for internships at Google. “The internship was mostly related to side-channel analysis but because I was in those meetings with Dr. Gaj and others for 2-3 years, I learned all these topics and then when I went for an interview when they asked all these questions, I was ready to answer.”  

Farahmand’s advises current students to stay curious and don’t be afraid to learn about a different topic; take every chance you can to learn something new and different. “If I wanted to just focus on what I worked on from the beginning, which was doing digital design and implementing ciphers in hardware, then I maybe I wouldn’t have had the confidence for my internship interviews,” he said. 

Farahmand thought that after interning successfully at Google he would be a good fit and applied for a job. Covid’s trajectory and downturn in the tech industry caused a detour that led him elsewhere. When he interviewed for a permanent position with Google, he said everything went well but at the height of the pandemic, the company wasn’t hiring. While he waited for Google’s hiring freeze to thaw, Apple came through with an offer. 

That detour, and Farahmand’s new job, led to an opportunity in still another topic. The new job deals with modeling power based on the features that will be added in future generations of Apple electronics.  

Farahmand had never worked on power optimization in his research but through his internship experience with side-channel analysis, its relationship to evaluating the power consumption of a chip, and power analysis and simulations, the hiring committee made the connection and offered him the position. 

“It was a very good fit for the position and now that I’m working on it. I really like it. One thing that I see from students and for myself as well, we know very famous topics like digital design, verification, and physical design. These are very well-known positions, but sometimes there are available positions in good companies. We don't search for them, so we don't find them.” By keeping his options open, and looking for jobs in unexpected areas Farahmand discovered an unexpected path to success.