Essential Skills for Embedded Systems and Embedded Software Engineers

The post was co-authored by Petri Lehmus.

Embedded systems are in thousands of products, and skilled embedded engineers are in high demand. We've worked for years for companies that hire embedded engineers and share the top skills that we think are important to be a successful embedded engineer.

In this article:

What are the skills required for an embedded engineer?

An embedded engineer needs various technical skills. Those include expertise in computer hardware and software and programming languages like C and C++. The engineer also needs certain soft skills, such as being a good communicator and problem-solver.

The term "embedded engineer" often refers to either an "embedded software engineer" or an "embedded systems engineer." Skills required for either job often depend on the product an engineer works on and the modules that are part of that project.

To learn more about the hardware, software, and other technologies that help run embedded systems, see our list of technologies for embedded systems.

What does an embedded systems engineer do?

An embedded systems engineer understands the entire embedded system. They use this knowledge to integrate the hardware and software in an embedded system. The goal is to ensure the overall system and product work well. With many projects, these engineers also help develop the embedded software.

What does an embedded software engineer do?

An embedded software engineer develops software for an embedded system. These engineers have a general idea of the embedded system and its limits. The engineer will ensure the software works with the system.

Embedded systems engineers, however, are intimately familiar with the system’s structure and limitations.

Top technical skills for embedded software engineers

Embedded software engineers and developers need a range of technical skills. They should have a deep understanding of programming languages, device drivers, and real-time operating systems.

Here are some essential skills embedded software engineers require or areas where they should have expertise: 

  • C and C++ programming
  • Microcontrollers, or MCUs
  • Microprocessors
  • Linux operating system
  • Software optimizations skills at the System on a Chip (SoC) level
  • Real-time Operating Systems (RTOS)
  • Device drivers
  • Understanding of design patterns and embedded system design patterns
  • Debugging skills
  • Ability to work with existing codebases
  • Interrupt-driven design
  • Assembly programming language
  • Hardware test equipment: oscilloscope, logic analyzer
  • Experience in or ability to learn communication protocols. Relevant protocols to have at least an understanding of include I2C, Serial Peripheral Interface (SPI), USB, General-purpose input/output (GPIOs), Controller Area Network (CAN bus), Recommended Standard 232 (RS232), one-wire, Recommended Standard 485 (RS485)
  • Ability to read a schematic
  • Basic understanding of Internet of Things (IoT) and internet-based technologies
  • Understanding of data structures
  • Python programming language
  • RISC-V instruction set architecture

Download List of Top Skills for an Embedded Software Engineer in Microsoft Word

Top technical skills for embedded systems engineers

An embedded systems engineer should have experience working on both hardware and software. The engineer should also be familiar with the latest processors and other embedded system tools.

In general, embedded systems engineers should have similar technical skills as an embedded software engineers. But they should also have additional skills.

Key skills similar to what an embedded software engineer should have:

  • Microcontrollers, or MCUs
  • C and C++
  • Real-time Operating Systems (RTOS)
  • Device drivers, including Linux
  • Linux operating system
  • Communication Protocols
  • Interface buses like I2C and SPI
  • General-purpose input/output, or GPIOs
  • Microprocessor technology, including the latest processors
Additional technical skills an embedded systems engineering should have include:
  • Deep experience with both hardware and software
  • Understand design patterns and embedded system design patterns
  • GNU Project debugger, including both local and remote debugging
  • MATLAB programming language and MATLAB modeling (if your organization uses MATLAB)
  • Design patterns
  • Multiprocessor design
  • Multi-subsystem issues
  • Python programming language
  • Open-source software
  • Wireless connectivity, including Wi-Fi and Bluetooth low energy (BLE)
  • Unified Modeling Language

Download List of Top Skills for an Embedded Systems Engineer in Microsoft Word

Top soft skills for all types of embedded engineers

Embedded engineers also need a range of non-technical or "soft" skills to be successful. Key soft skills include an ability to network and communicate and work well on teams.

Here are some useful soft skills for embedded engineers:

  • Troubleshooting
  • Full systems thinking
  • Communicate well with words and graphics
  • Deductive logic
  • Problem-solving and ability to create new solutions
  • Emotional intelligence—ability to work well with others
  • Excel at teamwork and information sharing with colleagues
  • Ability to network
  • Proactive participation in community discussions and information sharing (especially related to open-source communities)
  • Understand how to research and find system development and other information to move work forward
  • Basic understanding of project management
  • Creativity
  • Ability to learn outside their comfort zone
  • Patience

Top Soft Skills Needed to Be an Embedded Engineer

How to improve embedded engineering skills?

Engineers can improve their embedded engineering skills through their work experiences. They can also take classes, read books, and do online research outside of work.

"Engineers should become familiar with hardware and electrical engineering concepts," says Sal Tuccitto, President and Principal Engineer at STT Associates, a Boston-based software development consulting firm. "Maybe also consider taking classes in circuit theory. They should have at least some understanding of basic circuit theory and look at existing embedded code. There are open-source projects that one could look at and even contribute to."

Embedded engineer skills for 2021 and beyond

Embedded engineers will need to continue to hone their skills to keep up with evolving embedded trends. They will need to learn new technologies as they develop and continue to embrace vital "soft" skills.

Here are skills that will be especially important in future years:

  • Continual development of skills to keep with changes in programming, processor technology, microcontrollers, and real-time operating systems
  • Skills in understanding Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its increasing use in embedded systems
  • Skills in internet-based technologies and IoT
  • Skills in design for graphical user interfaces (GUI), including 3D design
  • Soft skills in teamwork, problem-solving, information sharing and communications. These skills will become even more vital as more embedded engineering work occurs independently or remotely

The deed for skills related to specific embedded frameworks

Embedded systems are a crucial part of many products we use every day. The systems will become even more important, and part of many more products, in the future. There are several embedded frameworks and widgets that help developers streamline the development of embedded applications and GUIs in modern devices.

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