With the increase in popularity of IoT or the Internet of Things, robotics, autonomous driving, embedded engineering skills as well as low-level firmware are starting to be more and more important, especially in the United States and Europe. Writing an embedded software will require a different set of skills for application software development or enterprise. In this article, we will take a look at six important questions you wanted to know when it comes to embedded engineers, but too afraid to ask.
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What is an embedded system?
Embedded systems are computers with dedicated functions within a larger electrical or mechanical system. It often performs a pre-defined task with a very specific requirement. An embedded system can be the tiny electronic chip or a microprocessor that is found in the CPU or central processing unit of a computer, which calculates and compute the commands.
It can also be a microcontroller-based (usually a system on a chip or SoC) containing a logic unit, an Input/Output Peripherals or a memory slot. Either way, there’s an integrated Circuit or IC at the center of the product that’s designed to carry out all the necessary computations for real-time operations.
Can you give some examples of an embedded system?
As mentioned above, think of an embedded system as an electronic device that will assist the users to solve specific problems. Microwave ovens, coffee machines, mobile phones, refrigerators, air conditioning, remote controls and traffic lights are all examples of an embedded system. There are a lot of embedded systems in cars like the airbags, the Satellite Navigation system and the anti-lock brakes. You can find more information on websites of companies like Softeq about embedded systems.
What do these embedded engineers do?
An embedded engineer usually has control over both the software and the hardware designs. It requires an in-depth knowledge of the nooks and crannies of embedded architectures.
Embedded engineers should have at least basic knowledge of electrical engineering or computer science and have full command of embedded architecture. The most common and useful language that is is by all embedded engineers is either C or C++.
Experts suggest that to think of these engineers in five main roles: embedded OS engineers, firmware engineers for a microcontroller, embedded network engineers, embedded tech experts and embedded app engineer. Each of these roles has its own certain specialties, but generally speaking, the main skills include:
C/C++: hardware related C programming is the foundation of embedded engineering. It includes knowledge of the processor as well as the compiler behind the scenes.
Basic understanding of the operating system: every embedded developer need programming experience in embedded Linux or other embedded operating systems.
Knowledge of basic assembly language: engineers should at least be competent in assembly language like x86 or ARM.
Other skills required include:
Basic or advanced electronics: engineers use logic analyzers, multimeter as well as oscilloscopes for debugging the system.
Algorithms: sort, search or b-trees.
Design patterns: Observer, factory or singleton.
Microprocessor Basics: registers interrupt processing or assembly code.
There are other skills that are needed, but these are the most basic ones.
What is the difference between software engineers and embedded engineers?
Like all software engineers, the embedded engineer debug, code, write and test the corresponding documentation. But unlike software engineers, an embedded engineer work largely with computer hardware, and sometimes needs to configure or develop a custom OS or operating system that is unique to the memory map and the hardware of the device. An Embedded engineer should also consider their safety.
For example, the system in charge of the car’s braking system should not fail. You need to consider that a typical embedded system is an exceedingly custom device. It is not a standard platform where there are tons of pre-written code that developers can drop in and write a few lines of the glue code. A lot of embedded firmware is customized. It means that on a usually embedded project, a huge percentage of the codes used are new codes, meaning more developers are needed and more development time.
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How does the Internet of Things or LoT related to the embedded system?
A lot of IoT or Internet of Things products is embedded devices that are connected online. Internet of Things fans imagines a world where cloud resources as well as the internet process massive amounts of data that are collected by the device and use these data to improve the device and the services.
With the progress of the IoT, a lot of firmware engineers that are connected to micro-controller and specializes in C/C++ programming knows various assembly languages, and most if not all of them are experts at designing simple devices. Sooner or later, these engineers will be in demand in every industry.