Meet Matt Biron - coder extraordinare

Matt is one of the coding wizards behind VisSim. He is currently working on VisSim peripheral support for the Texas Instruments ARM Cortex M3. Where you see a USB port, say, on a phone charger or in a computer, Matt Biron sees a puzzle. It is tricky enough to program the peripherals found on todays microprocessors, but it is even trickier to create a simple graphical interface that gives users the flexibility and power to do what they want, and then automatically generate the proper code based on the configuration and connectivity of the MCU blocks.

Matt explains it like this: “TI contacts Peter, the CEO, when they have new chips and they say, ‘Hey, can you make it easier to develop code for this?’ They remain in close contact with us to make sure that when they release the chips, we have a good interface to use.”

There’s a reason the developers need VisSim software to give them a platform for their work: starting from scratch is a complicated process. Biron has worked on two chips so far, each accompanied by a 2,000 page document describing its function.

His job begins with reading the documents to see how the subsystems on the chips work and how best to interface to them.

Instead of reading thousands of pages and worrying about which bits to set, people working on the TI chips can use VisSim’s graphical interface to achieve their goals and create consumer-level devices. As Biron explains, “When you’re looking at our product, you make a diagram, and then that diagram automatically generates the code to program the chip,” saving time and effort.

“The chip that I’m working on right now is called ARM Cortex, and the peripheral is CAN, it’s a controller area network. I’m teaching VisSim how to generate code to configure and use CAN on the ARM right now,” says Biron. “These are microprocessors that you can use anywhere. You could be using it in your car, you could be using it in your computer, you could be using it in a smartphone, whatever device you want. After we configure the VisSim blocks to program the chips, developers can use VisSim to make the chip do whatever they want the chip to do.”

Generating C code to program a device like I2C or CAN is difficult but Biron enjoys the challenge. “It is like building a giant 5,000 piece, 3-D puzzle, except you have to build it in your head because you can’t actually see it,” he says. “And so, as long as you know what you’re doing, it’s just a ton of little sub-problems that are just fun for you to do. They’re very logic-based. And once it finally gets done, it feels great, of course.”