Electrical Engineering 20N — Structure and Interpretation of Systems and Signals (4 Units)

Course Overview


This course introduces signals and systems, filters, and ultimately builds up to an introduction of Fourier analysis from an electrical engineering perspective.


  • Math 1B
  • Math 54 is often recommended, but not required

Moreover, some of the topics on filtering and basic systems can be more intuitively understood if you have taken EE40, but taking EE20N before EE40 would allow you to have a better understanding of the theory behind analog filters.

Topics Covered

  • Complex exponentials
  • Continuous and Discrete Time Signals
  • Systems
  • LTI Systems
  • Convolution
  • Filters
  • Frequency
  • Frequency Response
  • Sampling/Aliasing
  • Fourier Series and Transforms


Course Work

  • Problem sets
  • Lab exercises every week
  • Two midterms (Recently there have been three with Babak, but in exchange there is no final)
  • One final

With Babak, there are only a few, but large problem sets. Additionally, there are 3 pop quizzes held in lecture. With other professors, there have been weekly problem sets.

Time Commitment

There are 3 hours of lecture, 1 hour of discussion, and 3 hours of lab per week.

In recent years, labs are done in MATLAB and are doable within the 3 hour lab time.

With Babak, the workload is impacted when he assigns one of the problem sets, as each can take approximately 5 - 10 hours to complete.

HKN Tips

Get a homework group! Working through the problem sets together will reinforce your understanding of the course, and ensure you keep up with the material. Additionally, the problems are often quite challenging, so it is to your advantage to work in groups.

Choosing the Course


Electrical Engineering

When to take

If you are considering focusing on Communications, Networks, and Systems (known as Option II), take this class as early as possible.

Otherwise, it is advisable to take EE20 around the time you take Math 54, as many concepts between the two overlap and reinforce each other.

What next?

EE120: Signals and Systems, is a direct sequel to EE20.

After EE120, you will be able to take EE121 (Introduction to Digital Communication Systems -- also requires EE126), EE123 (Digital Signal Processing), EE128 (Feedback Control), and EE145B (Image Processing and Reconstruction Tomography).

Usefulness for Research or Internships

By itself, this class is unlikely to get you jobs, internships, or research. Rather, this class is a stepping stone for other classes that will help you secure industry or research experience.

Additional Comments

The difficulty of this class varies widely with students--for some, it's quite laid-back, for others, it becomes quickly overwhelming. Because it's the first signals class most students take, it might feel as if a lot of new concepts are explored in this class, but it's really not that bad! The class mainly focuses on a few properties of systems (which you can think of as functions) and transformations of those systems (plugging those functions into other functions). If you get those down pat, you're solid. If you're shaky on any of them, or you don't understand the big picture behind the concepts, you should definitely talk with your GSI or professor before things get out of hand.