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10 skills embedded engineers need now

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10 skills embedded engineers need


now
From getting familiar with open source software to developing apps,
industry professionals are urging embedded engineers to get out of
their comfort zone and acquire new skills to stay relevant.
Back in the early days of embedded in the 1980s, the guy (and it
was mostly guys then) who designed the mixed signal circuits, the
guy who connected the microcontroller, the guy who wrote a bunch
of low-level assembly code, and the guy who got the prototype out
the doorwell, it was all the same guy.
One engineer pretty much did it all.

Then, as embedded systems became bigger and more


complexmillions of lines of code now ship with devices-embedded skill sets became partitioned by discipline: hardware
developer, firmware developer, software developer.

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In many big companies that is still the case. But the pendulum
appears to be swinging back, as more and more companies are
consolidating engineering roles, looking for developers who are
fluent in both hardware and software, and trying to accomplish
more with less. Certainly a bigger percent of engineers say they
work on both hardware software, as compared to the group that
only does one or the other.
Given that its not possible to keep up with everything
embedded, how do you make sure that the new skills you acquire
are the most relevant?
EE Times turned to nine embedded professionals and a recruiter
and asked them to tell us what they think are the most important
things engineers should learn now.
Though opinions differed on the specific skills that are most
important, they all agreed on one thing all engineers should do:
Never stop learning.

Join over 2,000 technical professionals and embedded systems


hardware, software, and firmware developers at ESC Boston May
6-7, 2015 and learn about the latest techniques and tips for
reducing time, cost, and complexity in the embedded development
process.
Passes for the ESC Boston 2015 Technical Conference are

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available at the conferences official site with discounted


advance pricing until May 1, 2015. Make sure to follow updates
about ESC Bostons other talks, programs, and
announcements via the Destination ESC blog on embedded.com
and social media accounts Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and
Google+.
The Embedded Systems Conference and EE Times are owned by
UBM Canon.
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1. Learn the technologies that make the Internet possible.
By and large, if you can do mixed signal design and code in C or
C++, you are pretty much good to go in the embedded world. In
fact, just knowing how to write code in C or C++ may be enough in
many cases.
But I would advocate that learning the technologies that make the
Internet possible is a big plus for an engineers career. As a matter
of fact, I am currently working on several initiatives that involve
embedding a virtual XML into embedded systems. We are using
this technology to allow for autonomous meta-data transaction
processing with disparate devices communicating--using different
low-level standard and proprietary protocols to affect a network
abstraction layer.
I suppose that one can think of this as the Plug and Play model
for small devices on the Internet.

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Source: Ken Wada


Title & Company: President, Aurium Technologies, an independent
product design and consulting firm
What I do: I have 30 years experience in the field. Now I architect
and design products and systems for various high-tech industries. I
am unique in that Im split between being a generalist and a
hardcore theoretical type.
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2. You've got a search engine. Know how to use it.
Dont waste your time reinventing the wheel, take advantage of all
of the open source stuff that is out there. I suspect that someone
else has already written just about any piece of code you could
ever want.
There are exceptions, of course, when you're doing things like
bleeding-edge research. But most of us work to solve everyday
problems. So take advantage of all of the code and all the brilliant
folks available via the Internet.
Don't sit in your cubbyhole trying to puzzle through the issue
(unless that's your "thing"). You should become a member of the
community. Help folks out when you can, and they'll likely do the
same. Open source is a wonderfully powerful tool that only works if
people cooperate.

Source: Michael Anderson:


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Title & Company: Chief Scientist, The PTR Group


What I do: Ive been an engineer for 35 years. I describe myself as
a software guy who can read schematics. I work on low-level
development primarily--porting operating systems, device drivers,
kernel-level work, etc. That understanding now helps me as a
systems architect who can see how a whole project fits together.
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3. Learn something new outside of your comfort zone.
Although spending some time chasing the latest fad is useful and
fun, the biggest benefits come from either deepening or expanding
your domain of expertise. Challenge yourself to learn something
outside your comfort zone such as hardware, your company's or
customers' domain expertise, or project management.
At the same time, focus on improving your fundamental skills and
inherent strengths. Work hard to develop a political sense that will
help you understand the motivations of the people around you.
Engineering is fundamentally a human endeavor, and the key is to
maintain that balance. Too many young engineers focus too
heavily on people or too heavily on engineering. I know that it is not
easy, but you really benefit by working on both sets of skills.

Source: Matt Liberty


Title & Company: Founder of Jetperch LLC, a company that
provides DSP and embedded software consulting services

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What I do: Ive been an engineer for 18 years. I think of myself as a


generalist who understands the business of engineering and
systems engineering while still being skilled at embedded software
and DSP algorithm development.
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4. Become experienced with a real time operating system.
Engineers who learn a formal structured development processes
while working with a real time operating system (RTOS) are in high
demand today and command bigger salaries. Thats because they
have acquired the necessary discipline to develop any kind of
safety critical product and they also understand the idea of
concurrency: Given that at any given point the CPU can be called
to run a different task, they know how to make sure that the
resource they are currently using is not going to be trampled on. In
short, they know how to protect resources from other tasks using
the service unexpectedly, while maintaining performance.
So I would encourage engineers who are working with smaller
devices who had not worked with an RTOS to get some hands-on
development experience--whether its VxWorks or Green Hills
INTEGRITYor Micriums C/OS. I am also starting to see a call for a
lot of embedded Linux. Thats because Linux (in general) is a very
scalable operating system. You can strip it down to the bare
operation for timing and scheduling and then load it on to whatever
hardware you want and do kernel development for greater
optimization and control.

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Source: Henry Wintz


Title & Company: Solutions Manager for the Embedded Industry
Practice at Randstad Technologies, an engineering and
employment hiring services firm
What I do: Simply put, Im in the business of making things
happen.

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5. Diversify your skills and move up the stack.
If you are still working barebones or on smaller MCUs, I advise
taking a Linux driver class. It will make it easier to move to Android
later. Andalthough there is possibly less value--if you are used to
working on large systems, try working barebones.
Move up the stack: Make a mobile app or learn some back-end
server stuff. It will give you a new vocabulary and perspective.
And become familiar with open source hardware. The projects I did
8 years ago required me to spin my own HW and so on, so I could
not focus on the algorithm development. Today, there are plenty of
off-the-shelf boards that allow me to focus on the hard, unique stuff.
Sure, it can make me feel like my whole existence of firmware has
been nullified and in many ways the fun of board bring up has been
taken away from me, but sometimes, we have to focus on the end
game. Unfortunately, this means I meet fewer and fewer people

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with those particular skills, and those who do are literally a dying
breed.

Source: Jen Costillo


Title & Company: Consultant, Rebelbot
What I do: Ive been an engineer for almost 20 years. I consider
myself a jack-of-all-trades, in that I have experience in so many
different areas. Ive worked as low as a circuit designer and as high
as making apps on Android or Windows. Ive also worked in broad
tech support and as an R&D engineer.
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6. Know your software well but always tinker with the newest
processors.
It is good to know a few languages, some people recommend
learning one new language a year. However, while pure software
engineers need to learn languages to fit specific needs, embedded
engineers need to learn chips. A deep understanding of C or C++ is
critical but the newest trendy language is not as important as the
newest, trendy processor technology.
Its important to know about processors, thats just the nature of
embedded. Because we have resource-limited systems, we need to
understand those resources we have available. A new and nifty
language like Go might be incredibly powerful, but its very likely
that it doesnt run in our resource-limited environment.

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In the end, you should acquire lots of shallow breadth and a few
areas of deep depth. Keeping current is important but learning all
you can about a few areas makes you an expert.

Source: Elecia White


Title & Company: Embedded Software Engineer, Embedded.fm
What I do: I have been an embedded software engineer for over 15
years. I did normal (server) software before. I've done some
management over the years but I enjoy the hands-on technical
aspects more.
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7. Get comfortable with open source software.
There are literally thousands of software packages that customers
want integrated into their systems, so this is an area where all
embedded engineers need to feel comfortable.
I would also stress that you should avoid pigeonholing yourself into
one area, as the skills you have will almost inevitably become
obsolete and/or prevent growth.
And make sure that you understand both hardware and software;
engineers who know both are the most valuable.

Source: Rob Oshana

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Title & Company: Distinguished Member of Technical Staff and


Director of Global Software R&D for Digital Networking, Freescale
Semiconductor
What I do: I have been an engineer for 31 years. I was educated
as a EE, but I have been doing software engineering most of my
career.
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8. Develop a systems engineering mindset.
Its critical for embedded engineers to have a systems orientation. I
have seen a number of projects suffer because things like a clear
defined requirement baseline, verification strategy and a plan for
demonstrating compliance was not considered these early enough
in the project. And every engineer should acquire good project
management skills as you will be asked to commit to achieving
deadlines. Having the ability to sensibly explain the risk in terms of
technical and project risk will serve you well in your career.

Source: Adam Taylor


Title & Company: Chief Engineer Electrical Systems, E2V
What I do: I have been an engineer for 15 years. If I had to
pigeonhole myself I would say that I am a high-reliability embedded
system specialist. However, I have been very lucky in my career
and have had the opportunity to design for a number of
applications.

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9. Become skilled at expressing yourself (both in words and
graphics).
Engineers of all types need to be able to effectively express
thoughts and ideas and often the best way to do that is graphically.
Too often I have asked junior engineers to explain a concept, only
to cringe as they ramble on without being able to focus on exactly
what it is that they are trying to explain.
We used to use flow charts to explain concepts. Maybe those are
somewhat obsolete today, but every engineer should have as a
fundamental skill the ability to use block diagrams, state machine
diagrams, pictures or clouds or light boxes or whatever tool can aid
in conveying concepts. Particularly if they are trying to explain how
something works.
Can you imagine trying to explain to a developer who is writing the
software for a controller how the machine works using a text-based
document?
Mindmapping is one of my favorite techniques for capturing and
visually organizing my idea and thoughts. I use iThoughts, a
mindmapping app for the iPad, almost every day.

Source: Jean LaBrosse


Title & Company: President, Micrum
What I do: I am an EE by training and I have a masters in computer
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science. As an engineer, I like to look at things that are complicated


and simplify them.

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10. Learn wireless connectivity.
The one thing I would recommend embedded engineers learn in
the next 1-3 years is wireless connectivity, specifically wifi and/or
Bluetooth low energy (BLE).
The primary (and sometimes only) way to interact with embedded
devices is moving to the end user's smart phones, at least in
consumer electronics. Consumer electronics companies know that
a smart phone is a much better user experience than most
embedded systems can hope to provide on their own. And other
industries and product categories are figuring it out too.
Our embedded systems are going to need to to talk to an app on a
smart phone or an internet-based service in order to do anything communicate with the user, get firmware updates, troubleshoot
problems, etc.
It might be going a bit too far to say that wifi and BLE will soon be
as common as the UART is today, but it's not too far fetched, and
it's a good tool to have in your toolbox.

Source: Chris Svec


Title & Company: Senior Principal Software Engineer, iRobot
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What I do: Ive been an engineer for 13 years. I think of myself as a


low level embedded engineer. I like living at the
hardware/software interface. But Im also a big picture kind of guy,
which means that I need to understand the full context of the
product Im working on to really enjoy my work.

Join over 2,000 technical professionals and embedded systems


hardware, software, and firmware developers at ESC Boston May
6-7, 2015 and learn about the latest techniques and tips for
reducing time, cost, and complexity in the embedded development
process.
Passes for the ESC Boston 2015 Technical Conference are
available at the conferences official site with discounted advance
pricing. Make sure to follow updates about ESC Bostons other
talks, programs, and announcements via the Destination ESC
blog on embedded.com and social media
accounts Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+.
Embedded.com, the Embedded Systems Conference, and EE
Times are owned by UBM Canon.

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