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Can’t seem to land the ideal candidate for an embedded software engineer? Finding a front-end engineer to build a beautiful user interface or backend engineer to manage your databases and servers can be easy – but software engineers are sometimes elusive due to their high level of technical knowledge and expertise. Before we get to the times that you need a skilled embedded software engineer, let’s define a few key terms.

What is an Embedded Software Engineer?

Embedded software engineering is the process of using software engineering to control devices and machines different from traditional computers. Merging software engineering with non-computer devices forms embedded systems: microprocessor-based computer hardware systems with software that is designed to perform a specific task. The embedded software engineer’s role is to tailor the specific hardware that the program needs to run on.

Nearly every device made with circuit boards and computer chips has these components arranged into a system that runs embedded software. Though you might not realize it, embedded software systems are a part of everyday life. They can be found all throughout technology in the consumer, industrial, aerospace, medical, automotive, commercial, telecom, and military sectors. Popular uses of embedded systems include:

  • Consumer electronics: Timing and automation systems found in smart home devices
  • Automotive technology: Traffic control systems found in traffic lights
  • Medical science: Image processing systems in medical imaging equipment.
  • Manufacturing science: Motion detection systems in security cameras.
  • Aviation: Fly-by-wire control systems in the aircraft.

What is the difference between firmware and embedded software?

These terms are often used interchangeably, but the truth is that there is a different skill set between firmware engineers and embedded software engineers.

  • Firmware: Minimalistic operating system that provides the instruction for the device’s basic control, monitoring, and data manipulation functions. Firmware is usually developed along with the device’s hardware (the physical components that the device requires to function).
  • Embedded software: Software used for a specific function that contributes to the device’s purpose. After the hardware and firmware are finalized, embedded software applications are developed to execute functions within the finished system.

Remember: All firmware is embedded software, but not all embedded software is firmware.

So what does an embedded software engineer actually do?

Most job postings entail:

  • Designing and implementing software of embedded devices and systems
  • Designing, developing, coding, testing and debugging system software
  • Analyzing and enhancing efficiency, stability and scalability of the system resources

Now that we have the basic terms defined, let’s take a closer look at the situations when you definitely need the skill and expertise of an embedded software engineer.

1) When you need a software developer with knowledge of hardware.

What makes embedded software engineers stand out from standard software engineers is their knowledge of hardware. Embedded software engineers write code to utilize the hardware in the best possible way, with functionality and efficiency in mind. On the other hand, a software developer works on applications independently from the hardware they run on – mostly because they don’t need to know anything about the hardware their program would execute on. When creating embedded systems, knowledge of both hardware and software is absolutely essential to the core of the product.

2) When you need system control in addition to algorithm and data processing.

Embedded software development focuses on controlling and managing the system with the ultimate aim of reaching the hardware’s full potential for user benefit. Engineers in this sector use the algorithm and data in the embedded software to control the hardware in a more efficient fashion.

A non-embedded computer software program revolves around algorithm and data independent of the hardware. To perform a program, a computer program needs to store data, retrieve data, move data, process data, and perform computations on this data. It does this using data structures – named locations that can be used to store and organize data. When a program computes something numerically or logically, that is its algorithm – a collection of steps used to solve a particular problem. Any software from banking or retail to simple PC based softwares like Word or PowerPoint work with these principles. Knowledge of algorithms, data structures, and hardware are all core skills of an embedded software engineer.

3) When a project needs master resource management and allocation

A huge element of an embedded software engineer’s job is to deal with various constraints. They need to determine how much of the hardware resources that the embedded system uses, which includes RAM, ROM, and CPU cycles. Identifying the most important tasks and weighing the pros and cons accordingly is critical in this field.

4) High-stakes applications in hard real-time.

Hard-real time means that the system must successfully respond to real-world stimuli on fixed deadlines, every time, otherwise the entire system fails. Examples of such a system include anti-lock brakes, pacemakers, or aircraft control systems. If catastrophe could result from a failure of the system, that is considered a hard real-time system.

For instance, imagine a chemical plant process control system that absolutely must respond to a sensor within 100 milliseconds, otherwise the plant explodes and spews toxic chemicals into the air while obliterating millions of dollars worth of equipment in the process. The high-stakes nature of some of these systems require absolute precision and success in every iteration. Of course, not every system has such restrictive deadlines, and many can allow failures. (For example, a Bluetooth speaker losing its input stream after 200 milliseconds and failing to play music.) Still, embedded software engineers are qualified to navigate the hardware and software of these complex systems.

Whatever project your company is managing or implementing, an embedded software engineer adds multifaceted knowledge to any team.

Do You Need an Embedded Software Engineer?

At OSI Engineering, we’re first and foremost engineers. We can put ourselves in the shoes of you, the candidates. We match professional software engineers, test engineers, full stack engineers, and many more to exciting projects with global companies and startups. Our technical knowledge of industry-specific technology streamlines the process to provide the ‘right’ software engineer with the ‘right’ technical expertise to add value with minimal ramp-up time. To speak to a member of the team, call (408) 715-3346 or use this contact form.