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The Embedded Systems Engineer Required Skills and Experience

Mohamed Hesham

The embedded systems engineer is the one who participates in a task or more from designing the hardware and software, implementing, testing, and validating embedded systems.

Embedded systems are usually a part of a larger electrical, mechanical or a hydraulic system. They usually have dedicated functions that contribute to the main system function. They are also available at all industries, as mostly any device or system has one or more embedded system within it; that is why embedded systems has a huge industry with many job opportunities out there.

In this post we are going to understand what are embedded systems and its components, the embedded systems engineering specializations, and the skills required to find a job in each specialization.

What are Embedded Systems?

As mentioned in the introduction, an embedded system is a subsystem for a larger system. It is assigned a dedicated function such that when integrated with the other subsystems functions, they perform the whole system required task.

To imagine more embedded systems, let’s consider the car as a whole complete system. Examples of the embedded systems within it:

The Embedded Airbag System: It is a safety system that protects against accidents. It consists mainly of sensors to detect accidents, and a microcontroller. When the sensors detect something, they trigger the microcontroller which operates the airbags to rescue the passengers.

@Airbags after a crash test

The Autonomous Cruise Control: it is a system for vehicles that allows automatic speed and distance control from the other vehicles on the road. This can let us see driver-less vehicles in the future. Many companies already started to implement this in some countries such as USA and Singapore.
The speed and the required distance from the other cars are adjusted by the driver. If the proximity sensors detect that the adjusted distance from the following car decreased, the computer automatically brakes the car.

@Cruise control concept

The Navigation System: the car navigation system consists of a GPS to receive the location, a gyroscope and other sensors to measure the speed and direction of the road, and a controller to process and analyze the received and measured data to display the navigation map on the screen.

@Car navigation system

The previous embedded systems, along with the other subsystems integrate together to from the complete system, which is the car. This is simply the concept of embedded systems.

The Components of Embedded Systems

Sensors: They are usually available at many embedded systems. There are many types of sensors such as proximity sensors – which measure the distance, pressure sensors, temperature sensors, fire detection sensors…etc. Sensors are extremely important as usually the microcontrollers take actions based on the data they gather. For example, in the fire detection systems, if the sensors detect smoke, they trigger the controller which runs the fire alarms.

@Fingerprint sensor

Motors: There are many kinds of motors such as the DC, stepper, and servo motors. They can have many uses in embedded systems such as opening and closing doors, robots motion, raising liquid, or many other uses.

Microcontroller: It is considered the brain of any embedded system. From its name, the role of the controller is to collect data from the components of the system such as the sensors, memories, timers…etc; analyze the collected data; control and take decisions of what will happen in the system according to the collected data.

@Microcontroller

Electrical components (resistors, capacitors, batteries…etc): Those are complementary members in which it is impossible for an electric circuit to exist and run effectively without them.

There are many other components that maybe included at embedded systems such as keyboards and screens to interact with the users, flash memories or EPROMs to store information, or many other components, according to the needs of each system.

Embedded Systems Engineering Specializations

The embedded systems design includes many phases and tasks that can not be done by only one engineer. There is the hardware design phase, software design phase, manufacturing, and finally hardware and software testing. Each phase is assigned to a group of specialized embedded systems engineers as follows:

Embedded Systems Software Engineers

                                  @Software code example

Their responsibility is to design, document, and implement the software of embedded systems. Their job description includes the following:

  1. Receiving the system requirements accurately from the customer.
  2. Making and documenting the high level design of the required system: the high level design document should include the main objects the system is required to do, and a high level diagram of the system.
  3. Designing and documenting the software requirement specifications: this document (SRS) should include the detailed system purpose, description, function characteristics, constraints, functional and non-functional requirements, sequence diagrams, data flow diagrams, and any data that helps in understanding and implementing the system.
  4. Implement the coding: in this step after designing, documenting and understanding the system, here comes the coding part, in which all the designs written in papers are transformed into a computer software code that implements the required functions.

Embedded software engineers should have a great knowledge about electronics and electronic components. Additionally, they should know how to design and document embedded systems. Also, most importantly, they should have magnificent skills in C, C++, and embedded C programming languages.

Embedded Systems Hardware Engineers

Embedded hardware engineers are responsible for:

                                           @A Hardware kit
  • choosing the best fit components for the product according to the cost and their ability to perform the required tasks;
  • studying the data sheets of the chosen components to understand their electrical characteristics;
  • designing the hardware circuits and create the hardware design specifications documents;
  • designing the schematic of the printed circuit board (PCB), ensuring safety, compatibility and reliability.

Embedded systems hardware engineers should have a very good knowledge about electronics and electronics components. Moreover, they must have experience in PCB design.

Embedded Systems Software Testing Engineers

The role of embedded software testers is to ensure the code is free of errors (bugs) and ensure it meets the quality and reliability requirements. The testing operation has extremely important effects such as:

  1. Reducing the manufacturing and maintenance costs: finding bugs can reduce the production cost significantly. If the impaired performance is detected before the product goes to the market, this will prevent the losses that would have happened if the customers discovered the bugs by themselves. Also, discovering the bugs will optimize the system performance leading to decrease the maintenance costs.
  2. Improving the performance: removing the unnecessary parts of the software improves the speed of the code and optimizes the system performance.
  3. Reducing the risks and making the system more secure: for some embedded systems, especially the real time operating one, such as the air bags or the ABS systems in cars, there is no way for mistakes; a delay for a second can result in the loss a person’s life.

The software testing engineers must have thorough knowledge about testing techniques, and know well how to use manual and automated testing.

Embedded Systems Hardware Testing Engineers

The hardware testing engineers work to ensure that the product hardware meets the reliability and quality specifications. They make tests to ensure:

  • that the device can work well under different temperature and pressure constraints;
  • quality performance across the voltage range the device is supposed to work at;
  • Electromagnetic compatibility and immunity against noise that may result from outer electromagnetic fields;
  • that the PCB and the other electronic components fit mechanically well in the case.

So What Can We Conclude?

To summarize what we have said, embedded systems are usually included within a larger system to do a dedicated task. Almost all devices have embedded systems, so there is a huge market with many job opportunities for embedded systems engineers.

There are many specializations that an embedded systems engineer can work at. However, there are some required skills they should have according to each specialization, such as programming, and PCB design skills. Additionally, knowledge about electronics will be very beneficial.

If you plan to pursue a career in embedded systems, I advise you to focus on programming modules in university, participate in internships at companies working on embedded systems. Also, you may pursue a diploma or certificate in the embedded systems specialization, in addition to your university degree.

In case you are already qualified, you can start searching for a job. Firstly, you need a good resume including all the experiences and skills that qualify you for a position, if you do not have one. You can refer to our resume writing tips, or for a more professional product, checkout the best resume writing services. Now you are ready for the job search journey? Check our job search guide!

If you have feedback about the article or any information you want to add, you are welcome to comment below. As I say at the end of each article, we all have the same goal, to help each other to become better.

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