Embedded Systems: Emerging Trends and the Career Outlook

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Over the past five years, advances in technology have transformed the way we live. In 2011, just 35 percent of Americans owned a smartphone; now it’s 68 percent. Tablet ownership grew from just 3 percent to 45 percent, and more than 80 percent of households now have an HD TV, up from 45 percent.* The impact on business and industry, while less apparent to us day to day, has been even more dramatic. Companies are leveraging electronics to optimize operations, automate processes, create efficiencies and improve productivity, all on a vast scale. 
This increased demand by consumers and businesses for more utility, more connectivity and for smarter and more power-efficient electronic technology is driving a need for more engineers in the embedded systems field. The demand is especially strong in certain industries:
  • Aerospace and defense: Aerospace and defense uses embedded systems to power flight data recorders, navigational computers, internal and external video surveillance systems, flight management systems and engine control systems. Embedded systems in aerospace and defense have to be extremely rugged and highly reliable in extreme environmental conditions.
  • Automotive: There may be as many as 30 electronic functions in a modern car, often incorporating more than 100 million lines of code.* Embedded  systems operate the backup camera and infotainment system as well as the cruise control, turn indicators, climate control and anti-lock brakes.
  • Consumer electronics: Embedded systems make possible many of the devices we use every day, including mobile phones, video game consoles, digital cameras, GPS receivers and printers. Even household appliances ― microwave ovens, washing machines and dishwashers ― use embedded systems, as do automated home security, lighting and climate systems.
  • Industrial: For the industrial sector, embedded systems have made possible improvements in production processes, end products and logistics, resulting in reduced costs and energy usage. Robotic assembly lines and automated inspections are just two of the many ways processes have been improved.
  • Medical devices: Embedded systems as they relate to medical devices have uses in patient care; assistive technologies such as robots for surgical procedures as well as pacemakers, defibrillators, ventilators and even modeling to support procedures like joint replacement. Many systems are utilized to speed response times and eliminate human error.
  • Telecommunications: Telecommunications employs numerous embedded systems, including those in cell phones, routers and web cameras. Engineers maximize all these systems for speed, reliability, accuracy and security.

Skills you may need

Although specific responsibilities will vary from job to job, there are certain requirements to be the most marketable candidate for an embedded systems job. “You don’t just need expertise in coding,  you also need a deep understanding of how software communicates with hardware,” notes Pramad Nallari, a practice manager for EASi, a leading provider of engineering solutions. It is still considered standard for employees to keep their skills fresh and to continue learning new programs and systems. And to move to the next level, it’s also helpful to gain experience in a real time operating system and develop a solid understanding of wireless connectivity.

How to stand out to employers

In addition to those skills, employers look for additional qualities that lead to a higher level of success among new hires. They must demonstrate operational readiness and have the ability to work with machines and people. Employers also place a high priority on flexibility and efficiency. But perhaps the most beneficial characteristic of a new employee is an investment in the outcome of his or her work ― “a feeling of ownership in the program that translates to achieving the best outcomes,” says Nallari.

Embedded systems careers have a very promising future, offering potential for growth, the opportunity for challenging work and a chance to get in on the ground floor of the next big wave in technology.

Sources: *Pew Research, 2015  Leichtman Research Group, 2015 Abhi Sharma, 2013