3 Keys to a Successful Embedded Software Engineer Career

3 Keys to a Successful Embedded Software Engineer Career

Embedded software engineer is the driving force behind the world’s most important new technologies. Those in the field can point to some of the most exciting technology in the world (autonomous cars, robotic surgery, smart grids, etc.) and say, “I did that”.

That said, much of the public is unaware it even exists.

Embedded software engineers have skills bridging the gap between IT and electrical engineering. This discipline mix makes the work a challenge not everyone is up for. Having recruited in the field for almost 25 years, I’ve watched careers soar and crash.

Here are three pieces of advice for Embedded Software Engineers looking to succeed in this unique space.

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Use Your Work to Stay Ahead of the Curve

“Keep learning” is a good mantra for a successful career in any field. The world changes quickly and our skills cannot fall behind. This is especially true for those in the Technology space. There’s no such thing as standing still. Because the industry is always moving forward, you must move with it or get left behind.

Embedded software engineers have less external learning resources than their IT software counterparts, owing to the specialized nature of the work. You can continue your formal education or join professional organizations, but the further you get into your career, the less time you have for them.

Because of this, you need to make sure your work provides opportunities for continuous development. Ask yourself:

  • What new skills am I developing (technical, organizational, leadership, etc.)?
  • What new standards and/or disciplines am I learning?
  • Does my current work open doors to interesting career paths?

Before you become an engineer, school is the best place to develop your skills. Once your career begins, work is your best teacher.


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Focus on Opportunity Over Compensation

I roll my eyes when candidates tell me they don’t care about money. There’s nothing wrong with making more. That said, too much focus on compensation will lead to poor long-term decisions.

There’s a serious lack of technical talent in the current job market, and the shortage is acute in the embedded field. I have to work harder than ever to find candidates for positions that were no problem three years ago. Naturally, this leads to higher compensation. Embedded software engineers, on average, are making more money than they ever have.

Mediocre employers are happy to throw money at people to get the work done. They have deadlines to meet and understand high pay is their only path to get the engineers they need.

For example, I had a candidate interview with a client for a Firmware Engineer position that had the hands-on work she wanted to do. She also interviewed with another company for a project engineering role. She got an offer from my client and the other team, who was willing to pay her $15K more a year.

I told her I understood wanting the higher salary. At the same time, the other position would move her out of what she enjoyed doing, and offer less career opportunities in the future. She went for the money and called me two years later, saying she’d made a mistake.

If you focus on finding rewarding work with employers who value your abilities, the money will follow. They want to keep you for the long haul and will do what they need to, within reason, to make that happen.

By all means, maximize your earning potential, but not at the expense of your long-term prospects.

Choose the Right Discipline, and Stick With It

The embedded software field has many sub disciplines, including:

  • Full life-cycle design/development
  • Validation/Testing
  • Integration
  • Customer support
  • Systems/Project engineering

While most target full life-cycle development positions, others find rewarding work in those related areas. Some get pressured into work they don’t enjoy, with the promise of future opportunity in their preferred space. It’s often a trap.

It doesn’t take long to be defined by your current work. I know engineers who spent significant time in design before taking a position in another direction, such as validation. Once they’d worked in that space for more than a year or two, it was difficult to move back into design work.

I see this with new engineers, especially those who need extra support in areas such as immigration. A company will use sponsorship as a lure for positions in areas such as simple testing work. Flash forward to years later, and they’re stuck because they haven’t gained the necessary experience for anything else.

Sometimes, you have to take a detour to move ahead. In those cases, make sure there’s a clear plan to return to your preferred direction. This includes speaking with current employees to make sure their track record matches their promises. Otherwise, you could find yourself trapped in the wrong work.

This advice is the tip of the iceberg for embedded software engineers. As mentioned, it’s a complex career that requires a unique set of skills. The upside is you get a real opportunity to change the world.

The team at PRA USA has 30+ years of experience helping professionals in the Electronic, Embedded, and Controls Engineering fields. We use the knowledge we’ve gained to help our candidates and clients navigate the shifting employment landscape. Let us know how we can put our expertise to work for you.