Career Building Tips for Hardware and Software Engineers

Man with headphones on computer coding

Fighter jets, iPhones and assembly lines. Tablets, thermostats and adaptive cruise control.

While the development of these products and the applications that run them may be associated with specialized terms like mechatronics, robotics, automation, Internet of Things (IoT), avionics and autonomous vehicles, they’re all controlled by the hardware and software systems embedded within. This bridge between the digital and physical worlds has become a vital part of virtually everything these days.

If you’re an engineer working with the systems mentioned above, the ongoing technological transformation is creating huge demand for your skills. But, just as new ways to combine electrical and mechanical devices with software and hardware controls are constantly being invented, you have to continually reinvent yourself. Extremely low unemployment is leading employers to take chances on engineers with different backgrounds, making now a great time to explore new opportunities.

To get more insight on how the constant change impacts the job market, we spoke with a couple of Aerotek pros: Senior Account Executive Kirk Petyo, and Recruiting Manager Kaleigh McGing.

How is demand for hardware and software engineers changing the job market?

“The unemployment rate for engineers, especially engineers working on hardware and software is below 1 percent,” said McGing. “The folks that we’re placing in positions are typically already working. When we have active job seekers, they may get three to five job offers in the span of a few weeks.”

Such high demand is driving employers to be more flexible, because it’s taking longer to find engineers who have extremely specific skill sets. For an engineer looking to transition into a new specialty, this flexibility in hiring lets you leverage your relevant experience to develop specific and in-demand skills — and maybe jump into a groundbreaking project that excites you. Candidates may not need the exact technologies anymore.

“If it’s a position they urgently need to fill, companies need to start hiring based on principles and thought processes rather than just relevant experience,” Petyo said.

What are employers looking for?

Companies seek engineers throughout stages of analysis, design, development, testing, implementation and maintenance. Whether using a legacy system, the latest platform or an integration of the two, all the pieces need to communicate seamlessly with new software, sensors, controls and user interfaces. And as devices become more connected, communication protocols like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and ethernet extend the need for integration. Overall, employers are often looking for:

  • Hardware experience in both digital and analog processors and circuits
  • Software experience in programming languages like C, C++, C#, Java, Linux or VxWorks
  • Job titles depend on the company and are evolving quickly, but may include: software engineer, systems engineer, FPGA/ASIC engineer, test engineer, hardware designers or firmware developer
  • Job functions like coding, compiling, linking, simulating, testing, verification, validation or debugging

“From an education perspective, candidates need at minimum an engineering bachelor’s degree in a field like electrical engineering, software engineering, computer science or computer engineering,” McGing said. Beyond the degree, it’s essential to demonstrate an understanding of how all those disciplines work together. Practical experience is key, even for those just starting their careers.

“If you’re an electrical engineering student who’s been able to connect their electronics with a specific software that you’ve helped write,” McGing said. “Or a computer science grad who’s written code to help control a device.” Examples you can share that reinforce your understanding of software and hardware communicate are worth referencing in an interview.

If there’s such high demand, why work with a staffing agency?

In a highly technical field, it helps to work with a well-connected recruiter who’ll get to know you. A skilled recruiter can match you with a position that’s a good fit and maximizes your earning potential, even if you’re not a 100 percent match for a particular job’s technical requirements.

“Our clients are willing to work with us in that regard,” McGing said. “That’s where the recruiter’s personal relationships with the client and the candidate really matter. This way, we can prepare our candidate and make sure they go into an interview knowing how to get the job.”

Beyond earning more money there are other benefits:

“Engineers like to see their work come to life. For a candidate to see something completed and go through production and manufacturing — that’s something that they can put their name on,” said McGing.

Whether you’re working on a temporary or a contract-to-hire basis, you can gain valuable experience getting a product finished and out the door. The experience becomes essential for your next career evolution as an engineer.

How can job candidates set themselves apart?

Just as the technology keeps changing and finding new ways to combine systems and processes, employers want engineers who can adapt to change and work in a collaborative environment. They’re particularly looking for people who have experience with agile development.

“The ability to be a scrum master or to work well within an agile environment helps, as ‘agile’ becomes more and more of an adopted process within the business,” Petyo said. “Companies that are on the cutting edge and developing big programs are functioning within an agile environment.”

Perhaps most important, though, is showing an interest in solving problems.

“We have candidates who do well in interviews because they come in with suggestions or solutions or creative responses,” McGing said. “It shows the candidate’s thought process — the way that they’ll do things on the job.”

If you’re looking to build a rewarding engineering career in software or hardware, explore the opportunities on our job board.