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What Does an Embedded Software Engineer Actually Do?

What Does an Embedded Software Engineer Actually Do?

At OSI Engineering, we help companies find the right engineers and help engineers find great careers. In some situations, an employer knows they need an engineer, but they are not sure what kind of engineer will fit their needs. Part of hiring the right person to meet a need requires a full understanding of the type of training and experience necessary to fill the role.

OSI Engineering can guide employers on what kind of engineer will work best for their needsby starting aconversation with an overview of the project. Once we have a feel for the employer’s needs, we can make recommendations  about what kind of training, knowledge, or experience will work best.

For employers, having a baseline understanding of the various engineering roles can be extremely helpful, especially in today’s ever-changing technology environment. Here, we provide a brief overview of what an embedded software engineer does and how they might contribute to an employer’s team.

What is an Embedded Software Engineer?

Embedded software is any first layer of code that runs on a device. Working on embedded software requires not only an understanding of code but also requires a deeper level of understanding of the actual hardware on which the code operates. Embedded software engineers must also understand how chip datasheets relate to the code.

In general, embedded software is self-contained and only runs a single program. As a result, an embedded software engineer’s major role is often to determine the smallest number of drivers that the hardware needs to run the software.

Embedded software is everywhere; it is on far more devices than computers or phones. Even a toaster can have embedded software. Anything that has underlying software to function likely has embedded software.

The embedded software engineer creates this code. Their roles often overlap with software engineering and electrical engineering. This unique interaction makes embedded software engineers more focused on how the code interacts with the device than the code or the device itself.

Embedded software engineers’ roles are becoming even more important as companies work toward “smarter” devices—from wearable technologies to advanced healthcare technology to smart cars and rocket ships. Any “smart” device requires embedded software to function properly.

What Does an Embedded Software Engineer Do?

An embedded software engineer might touch any part of the embedded software. They might actually write the code or affect any other part of the design and development. They might also assist with testing and maintenance of the system once it has been deployed.

After the design and implementation phases, embedded software upgrades are a huge part of an embedded software engineer’s role. While most embedded software engineers deal with the software (rather than the hardware), they need to understand the interaction between the hardware and the software to be successful.

An embedded software engineer is sometimes used interchangeably with an embedded systems engineer, but the roles are slightly different. The software engineer will focus on the software, while the systems engineer’s position is a bit more comprehensive. This role might oversee the construction of the entire system, which often includes both software programming and hardware development.

What Are the Top Skills of an Embedded Software Engineer?

An embedded software engineer requires “hard skills,” training, experience, and several “soft skills” to be a successful project team member.

Hard Skills and Experience

The specific skills and experience necessary will vary based on the level of expertise required in the job. That is, an entry-level embedded software engineer is going to have a different level of expertise compared to a senior or principal engineer. At a high level, however, necessary hard skills and experience will generally include:

  • Bachelor’s degree in engineering or computer science
  • Programming experience with C++, C, or both
  • General experience with troubleshooting, debugging, and embedded software development, including real-time operating systems

The main difference between senior and principal engineers is the overall level and years of experience.

Soft Skills for Embedded Software Engineers

Embedded software engineers often work as members of a team, so soft skills are especially important in this role. Soft skills will often make the difference between finding the right fit and finding someone who may not be as passionate or dedicated in a particular role.

Examples of soft skills for embedded software engineers often include:

  • Good verbal and written communication skills
  • Passionate about technology
  • Problem solver with an eye toward analytics
  • General team player mentality, including high social competencies
  • Balancing practicality and perfection
  • Willingness to grow and improve

Every position is different, and every team has varying needs. A soft skill that is critical for one team might not be as important in the next.

What Is the Job Outlook for an Embedded Software Engineer?

In general, COVID-19 took a toll on the roles of embedded software engineers. In mid-2020, job postings for this type of job dropped by 30%.

Companies reacted to COVID-19 in this way because of the uncertainty involved. Many businesses instituted hiring freezes or cut back on their staff to adjust for concerns with profits. Some companies also canceled ongoing service contracts with companies that provided third-party embedded engineering services as well, making matters a bit worse.

As of May 2021, however, software positions seem to be back on the rise. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the overarching category of “Software Developers, Quality Assurance Analysts, and Testers” (where embedded software engineers fall in the BLS statistics) is expected to grow 25% through 2031. This prediction is “much faster” than the average of all occupations.

Finding the Right Embedded Software Engineer for Your Team

OSI Engineering knows the embedded software engineering market. We can help employees and employers find the right match with one another.

Finding a good fit is the best way to have a productive employee and a good employer—and OSI Engineering can facilitate that relationship. Learn more about our services by contacting a member of our team. Use our online contact form to reach a member of our team or call: 408-550-2800.