Embedded Software Developer: What does he do?
Embedded software is different from regular software because it is created and built into a particular device. It functions like the brain of the system, and without the device, the piece of software will be useless. Hence, it is the first layer of code that runs on the device. Additionally, the developer who writes the embedded software must have a deep understanding of the hardware for which it is being prepared. He must be aware of the chip data sheets and their relation to the code; he must understand the schematics of the hardware; and so on.
Hence, embedded software engineering is a different concept altogether from typical software engineering, and the developers should have thorough knowledge of machine code to prepare the codes. The software is self-contained and can run only on a single programme – the device for which it is created.
In other words, you can say that embedded software is a mix of software engineering and non-computer devices. They come with a single-chip microcontroller like ARM, Cortex, FPGAs, microprocessors, ASICs, and DSPs.
Applications of embedded systems
Look around, and you will see a multitude of devices that use embedded software. They are used widely in aviation, automotive engineering, manufacturing, consumer electronics, activity trackers in the sports industry, office automation, telecommunications, instrumentation, aerospace, finance and banking, the entertainment industry, the medical industry, and so on. It is thus obvious that embedded systems are so common everywhere and they can be found in almost every industry.
The software that is embedded in the devices will be able to perform a limited range of functions only. They are, however, programmed to multi-task and can even network with other devices and networks.
You will find embedded control systems in traffic lights, street lights, home automation systems, war field spy robots, industrial temperature control, and even for tracking vehicles.
So you see, the applications of embedded software are endless, and when there is such a huge demand for such devices, the demand for software developers is also high.
The role of the embedded software developer
The specific duties of the developer would depend on the embedded systems he is working on, but at the basic level, he must have knowledge of a low-level programming language like C or C++. Embedded systems have limited resources and hence the memory and processing power will also be small enough. The developer must be able to write efficient code that utilises the resources wisely.
The future of embedded systems
The future of embedded systems is pretty rosy. And with innovations in technology, the devices are increasing in their complexity, initiating a huge demand for applications that use embedded technology. More and more systems and supplementary applications are being created.
As the demand for embedded software systems grows, so does, the demand for embedded software developers, especially for the ones with both programming and hardware skills. Developers who are aware of the latest trends in the field will be in great demand, and those who stay up-to-date will always have a great job.
The skills of an embedded software developer
It is obvious that the embedded developer should have excellent programming skills. They must have a strong understanding of hardware as well. Apart from that, the programmer must also know how to:
- Debug hardware problems
- Have knowledge of the schematics of the hardware
- How to relate chip data sheets with the codes written for them
- Strong testing skills
- Design and execute test cases
- Analyse test results
- Identify and fix bugs
The embedded software developer must also be excellent at communication. Since they must communicate well with technical and non-technical audiences. This is because they will be talking with marketing teams, stakeholders and product managers.
Let’s look at the skills in detail:
1. Understand hardware and its components
The developer will be creating the software for a particular device, and so he must have pretty good knowledge of the device and the hardware he is doing it for. The biggest disadvantage here is that the developer will not have the luxury of checking the codes. The developer always works with the probability that something might go wrong.
2. Master the programming languages
This is an obvious skill, and no developer of sound mind will apply for a job in embedded software development if they are not experts in C and C++. Irrespective of what device system the developer is working on, knowledge and mastery of C and C++ is a must.
3. Knowledge of popular RTOSs
There are several Real Time Operating Systems that the developer needs to be aware of. The data will keep coming in real time, and RTOS will serve in real time. The device must be able to handle the data and decide which tasks require more attention and which tasks are to be done later. For example, if the airbag has to be deployed at the right time, the information has to be understood and executed.
Here are some popular ROTS:
You will find embedded system developers working in several industries, but they will be known by different names: Systems engineer, Embedded firmware engineer, Firmware engineer and Embedded engineer.
The job of the embedded software developer
Let us now examine the job of the embedded software developer.
1. Structuring and designing the software architecture
The developer is responsible for designing the structure and architecture of the software. They will also design how it will interact with the hardware.
2. Developing the codes for the functioning
The developer will use the necessary programming language and write the codes that will function on the embedded system and interact with the networking devices.
3. Testing and analysing the codes
Once the developer finishes writing the codes, he will analyse them and check if the codes meet the standards. It is at this stage that the developer decides if the project meets the requirements of the device.
4. Debugging the software
This is an important step in software development for embedded systems. The developer will check the code and test it for bugs. If the device works in a particular manner, the developer’s job becomes successful.
5. Updating the software
The device manufacturer will probably retain the developer to make the necessary upgrades to the software and fix bugs whenever they arise.
The embedded software developer is different from traditional software developers in one very simple aspect: they have to take note of the environmental factors and the climatic conditions while devising the software for the device because that could drastically affect the performance. This makes it a very critical job, and the demand for developers is very high. If you are considering developing a device with an embedded software system as a supplement or complement to your business, then that’s a great idea. It would definitely put you ahead of the competition.
The author: Sascha Thattil works at Software-Developer-India.com which is a part of the YUHIRO Group. YUHIRO is a German-Indian enterprise which provides programmers to IT companies, agencies and IT departments.