Hardware design verification is an extremely exciting field. The field requires knowledge spanning multiple disciplines: software development, hardware implementation, and (in my case) computer/graphics systems.
My job at Qualcomm is also extremely challenging, we are at the forefront of all the above.
At school, I wasn't interested so much in academics or research as I was building things. I spent a substantial amount of time working on overly ambitious projects.
The best example of that, perhaps, was my digital VLSI circuits class where I spent more time playing with tools to generate GDS-II from RTL than focusing on the class assignment which was to design and layout a custom digital cell.
In my undergraduate computer graphics class, I went way beyond the defacto rendered-with-OpenGL textured cube or simple ray tracer. I wrote my own scene graph, associated rendering engine, and custom Python-based Blender3D export plugin. Not only that, but I took it a step further and wrote some custom shaders in ARB assembly language. This was before there were high-level shader languages.
Fast forward to grad school. I had taken a keen interest in computer architecture. The thought and opportunity to understand these systems from the ground up was (and still is) very exciting for me.
As you can imagine, I wasn't interested so much in research as I was in hacking. I spent a substantial amount of time building my own multiprocessor system-on-a-chip from the ground up and prototyped it on an FPGA.
The final product was documented in my thesis and in two conference papers. Granted, my contributions weren't ground breaking, but in retrospec, it was a very rewarding experience.
Over the past few years, I haven't tinkered so much. I worked. I lived. I got married. I am still learning about work-life balance. But, the bug to tinker is still in me.
This long winded rant to say that I have recently been researching FPGA prototype boards to purchase and settled on this one the other day. Besides cost, I was motivated by the availability of Ethernet ports and PCIe connector. I/O is an area of system design that I know next to nothing about.
I do not plan to make any commitments regarding my tinkering, but it is a part of me that I hope to resurrect.