Embedded Engineers: Roles, Responsibilities and Job Descriptions
Published May 25, 2021 | Updated Oct 17, 2022
By Risto Avila
Risto Avila, Technology Director @ The Qt Company. Risto is specialized in embedded software development and system integration.
I've hired hundreds of embedded engineers during my career, as my co-author Maurice Kalinowski. Compelling and accurate job descriptions are vital to hiring the right candidate. Here are our tips for understanding the role of embedded engineering and writing useful job descriptions.
In this article:
- What does an embedded engineer do?
- Skills required to be an embedded engineer
- Sample job descriptions for embedded engineers
What does an embedded engineer do?
An embedded systems or software engineer helps design, develop, and maintain embedded systems in products. The role often includes software development. But it also requires knowledge of entire embedded systems.
There isn't a concrete definition of the role of an embedded engineer because it can vary by organization. Companies use the phrase "embedded engineer", but describe the role differently. Some companies use an embedded engineer to reference engineers who work primarily with embedded software. Other companies make the distinction that embedded engineers are more involved with the whole system.
What is the role of an embedded engineer?
An embedded engineer will work on embedded systems that need to accomplish a specific task. The engineer will often develop the software that's part of the system. The engineer may also help test the entire system to ensure it works well.
What are an embedded engineer’s main responsibilities?
An embedded engineer's work duties will depend on the job title and their experience. A junior embedded engineer focuses on learning the basics of the system. A principal embedded engineer may help design and improve the entire system.
Here are more details on the role of each type of embedded engineer:
- Embedded Systems Engineer: Some organizations consider the job title of "embedded systems engineer" to be more junior. In that case, the engineer will do more basic software development tasks, often with supervision, and focus on developing skills.
Some organizations use the "embedded systems engineer" or "embedded software engineer" titles for most of their engineers. In that scenario, the engineers will be doing similar work to the "senior embedded systems engineer" described immediately below.
- Senior Embedded Systems Engineer: These developers have more autonomy to build and improve software and systems. They can analyze complex technical problems, diagnose their root cause, and find solutions. They may also mentor more junior engineers.
- Principal Embedded Systems Engineer: These engineers focus on developing the firmware. They tend to have extreme autonomy and will often be involved in designing embedded systems and embedded software. These engineers usually work and communicate with top leadership.
Embedded Architect: An architect often makes vital decisions about the structure of an entire system and oversees its development. "An embedded architect makes high-level design decisions and coordinates technical requirements for the entire project team," explains Dale Bertrand, a former embedded engineer who is now President of Fire and Spark. "This includes selecting programming languages, vendor tools, and deciding how the components of the system will interact."
Read our embedded engineering skills guide to learn more about what it takes to become an accomplished embedded engineer.
Embedded engineer requirements
Embedded systems engineers need the right education, training, and experience in specific technical areas to do their jobs well. They will also need vital "soft" skills to excel at their jobs and work well with others.
Top technical skills required of embedded engineers
Embedded engineers will have a broad range of experience in specific technologies and products. But there are some basic skills and expertise that all of them should have.
- Embedded systems engineer skillset: Often, this is the job title for entry-level and less experienced embedded engineers. These jobs typically require:
- At least a bachelor's degree in computer science or engineering
- Programming experience in C or C++, or both
- Some experience in embedded systems development and troubleshooting and with real-time operating systems
- Some debugging experience
- Senior embedded systems engineer skills: Engineers with more than a few years of professional experience will have this title. These jobs often require:
- All of the education and experience of embedded systems engineers
- At least seven or eight years of experience in embedded systems, with more direct work in a range of systems, firmware development, and real-time operating systems
- Principal embedded systems engineer expertise: This title is for the most experienced embedded engineers. These jobs often will require:
- All of the education and experience of a senior embedded systems engineer
- Typically, at least ten years of experience as an embedded systems designer, including designing embedded systems
Important soft skills embedded engineers need
Technical skills in embedded engineering are vital. But many believe certain soft skills can be more critical. These skills highlight how an embedded engineer will interact with a team, learn new concepts, and grow.
"I'm personally a little bit wary of loading up job descriptions with a bunch of skills because they can be learned pretty easily. The goal is to match up a person's interest and all those soft skills. Are they really suited to work in a startup? Are they better tucked away in a large company? Are they multi-taskers? Or singularly focused?" shares Brent Horine, Ph.D., a Senior Embedded Software Developer with Hypergiant, an AI services integration platform for the space and defense industries.
Soft skills for embedded systems engineers and senior embedded systems engineers include:
- An analytical mind
- A passion for technology. "If you're passionate, you're much more productive," says Maurice Kalinowski, a former embedded engineer and current Product Director for Qt.
- Ability to problem-solve
- Understand how to balance the practical and perfection
- A track record of working well on engineering teams. "Being able to be a team player, naturally—that's what everybody is looking for," explains Kalinowski.
- Good written and verbal communication skills
- Eagerness to continually learn and improve
Some soft skills principal embedded systems engineers should have:
- All of the soft skills required of embedded systems engineers and senior embedded systems engineers
- Robust social competencies
- Especially effective communications skills
"As a one-time college professor, I want to teach my engineering staff the skills they need...but you have to be a lifelong learner,” adds Horine.
Embedded engineer job descriptions
Here are job descriptions for embedded engineering roles that you can download and use to support your team’s search for the ideal candidate.
- Embedded systems engineer
- Embedded software engineer
- Senior embedded systems engineer
- Principal embedded systems engineer
How to become an embedded engineer
Almost all embedded engineers study programming in college. Most have bachelor's degrees in computer science or engineering. Many have master's degrees or doctorate degrees.
Embedded engineers might earn college degrees in:
- Computer Science
- Electrical Engineering
- Electrical and Computer Engineering
- Embedded Systems Engineering
Most employers of embedded engineers value college degrees and—most importantly—work experience. But embedded engineers can also earn certifications to show expertise in specific areas.
Those certifications can be attractive to some companies and include:
- Certified LabView Embedded Systems Developer (CLED) from National Instruments
- Certified Manufacturing Engineer (CMfgE) from the professional membership organization SME (formerly the Society for Manufacturing Engineers)
- Certified Automation Professional (CAP) from the International Society of Automation
Embedded engineer career path
Your career path as an embedded systems engineer depends in part on whether you're interested in becoming a manager. But here’s a look at how someone will progress in the field from least to most experienced:
- Embedded systems or software engineer
- Senior embedded systems or software engineer
- Principal embedded systems or software engineer
- Chief Software Engineer
- Chief Technology Officer
Embedded engineers can also move into positions where they use skills beyond embedded engineering but their background is valuable. Those might include:
- Sales Engineer
- Project Engineer
- Quality Assurance Engineer
Career outlook for embedded engineers
Experts believe the demand for embedded engineers will continue to grow as embedded systems become a part of more consumer and other products.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the number of future jobs in a range of industries. While the organization doesn't track embedded engineering specifically, it does track software developers and projects that the overall employment of software developers will grow 22% from 2019 to 2029. That's much faster than average for all occupations.
Expand your expertise and work with Qt
Qt can help embedded engineers develop their skills. Embedded engineers can watch a range of free embedded tutorials on the Qt ecosystem. We also offer embedded training sessions that provide in-depth insights into the Qt system.
We are always looking for accomplished embedded engineers to join our team.
The Embedded Product Planning and Requirements Guide
In this guide for IoT and embedded product planning, we examine the most important criteria to consider at the outset, compare a list of the most used technologies, and rate them in easy-to-compare categories.Download