Day in the life of
Embedded Product Development Engineer – Jon M Quigley
I was an embedded product development engineer. I designed vehicle embedded systems, an example, instrument clusters for the vehicles. I wrote code, designed hardware (not the integrated circuits). I would, for example, determine the micro-controller, logic, and analog integrated circuits and support circuitry needed to accomplish the goals. In the olden days, I worked at a small company, which meant that I would create the schematic, and wire wrap a prototype part. At larger companies, and even eventually at this small company, technicians would build the prototype parts after I put the schematic together.
What are embedded products?
Embedded products are products that have microcontrollers or microprocessors at the core. Modern convenience products like toasters, microwave ovens, refrigerators, cell phones, as well as automotive and aircraft control systems are just but a few examples. Embedded engineers’ scope of the work will be the microcontroller hardware and software.
Embedded product development engineers create the product from customer needs via documents referred to as specifications. Specifications are detailed requirements of what the product is to do, how it is to work, and performance expectations. These are often technical descriptions of the product based upon customer use language documents or other articulation of the expectation by the customer. This is not to suggest that upfront we have the entire scope of the product documented. You may hear of people talking about big bang development. This does not mean all the requirements must be articulated before we move on to designing the product. This does NOT happen in my experience. So we get some set of requirements based upon what we know we want the product to do. This will be our starting point for learning. As we design, experiment, and test the potential product, we will learn things that will require updating specifications and subsequently the product.
Embedded engineers will work with mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, and ideally test engineers, to design the product. The embedded engineer will be responsible for the brains or microcontroller and peripheral or interfacing circuitry. This especially includes the software component.
It is important to recognize there is no one set of responsibilities. Organization size, industry, and a good many other factors will influence the range of responsibilities for both the embedded and test engineer.
- Help translate the customer needs to technical documentation.
- Develop algorithms for the software structure
- Develop interfacing circuitry for the microcontroller (depends upon the company)
- Develop the software for the product (this might be one person or a group)
- Perform developer based testing (check the developed software from the developer perspective)
- Creation of new things – intellectual property generation
- Team interactions provide opportunities for learning
- Opportunities for problem (puzzle) solving if you like that sort of thing
- Plenty of uncertainty on customer needs from the product
- Determing the optimum design solution amongst competing product priorities can be difficult. This can be confounded with business organization politics
Advice for students interested in this career path
It may help to get an electronics (or electrical) engineering degree to learn about some of this stuff. Prioritize taking some software classes, and consider some embedded scope for your senior project. Formal education need not be through 4-year university degrees, but there are 2-year technical school programs that could be interesting. Another way to learn is to select a microcontroller family and start creating things. These need not be complicated products or even something for sale.