The Ultimate Guide to Automotive Embedded Jobs

The Ultimate Guide to Automotive Embedded Jobs

In my earliest days recruiting for automotive embedded jobs (around 1998-2000) I had a hard time finding engineers interested in the field. The industry still had a “rust belt” image they found unappealing.

Ten years later, coming out of The Great Recession, I was getting a multitude of calls and emails from engineers with the goal of working on automotive technology. What a difference a decade can make.

What made that difference? The popularization of technologies such as:
• Hybrid and electric vehicles
• Active driving systems (ADAS)
• Infotainment/telematics
• Autonomous driving

Innovations in these spaces turned the “old technology” image of cars on its head.
While we now work in a variety of industries, automotive embedded and controls positions remain a core focus. Utilizing this experience, here are four pieces of advice for success in the field of Automotive Embedded Systems.

automotive embedded jobs

Look Down the Road

Automakers have invested heavily in electrification over the last two decades. Often referred to as x-by-wire (steer-by-wire, brake-by-wire, etc.), they’ve moved away from mechanical systems to electronics and embedded controls.
While the more complex systems, such as electronic braking and steering, still require significant new development, other areas such as body controls (wipers, windows, seats, etc.) have peaked. Engineers in these spaces mostly tweak and update existing systems, as opposed to creating something new. Going forward, they won’t face the same level of technical challenges, meaning their skills will be less valuable in the job market.

To thrive in the coming decades, it’s important to work in areas such as
• Brake-by-wire
• Steer-by-wire
• Electrified powertrain (EVs)
• Safety (active/ADAS and passive)
• Autonomous driving
• Connectivity and cybersecurity

While someone can still make a living in body systems, companies in these other spaces are doing more significant development. Working on their projects will both sharpen your skills and increase your marketability.

Be Careful With Infotainment Automotive Embedded Jobs

Infotainment systems are the most visible of all new vehicle technologies. It covers everything from the radio, to Bluetooth connections, Wi-Fi, navigation, and all other types of connectivity (vehicle-to-vehicle, etc.).

On one hand, the field is home to the industry’s most exciting developments. For example, the roll out of 5G will have a significant effect on the future of autonomous driving. It will also significant challenges, such as cybersecurity, will require innovative solutions.

Infotainment is also home to the field’s most dead-end positions. I see resumes every day of young engineers who began their careers in infotainment systems validation. While I won’t call the work simple, it requires a smaller skill-set and, as a result, limits your learning potential. The end result is a narrow range of career options going forward.

When considering positions in this space, focus on jobs requiring in-depth development skills. It could mean the difference between a smooth and difficult career path.

Work the Full Life-Cycle

If there’s one common link between all the top automotive embedded jobs I work on, it’s that they involve the full development life-cycle. This means you work through all aspects of product development, including:
• Requirements
• Design
• Construction / Integration
• Testing
• Deployment / Launch

When we say “full life-cycle”, it doesn’t mean you’re deeply involved with all the steps. A design engineer focuses on the second, a test engineer on the fourth, etc. That said, modern development teams engage key members in the entire process, even if for consultation alone.

Can an engineer make a career only working on a piece of the life-cycle? Yes, but those who take projects from concept to final product have a better range of career options.


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Evaluate OEMs Versus Tier-One Suppliers

You can’t fault a new embedded development engineer for thinking the automotive OEMs (GM, Ford, Toyota, Honda, Stellantis/Chrysler, BMW, etc.) would be the best place to build a career. Those are the names on the cars, after all. It could be a mistake, depending on their goals.

Often, the Tier-One suppliers (the companies that supply systems directly to the OEMs) do the “real” development work. They create the board-level hardware and code-level software for the electronic controls (ECUs), or modules. The OEMs then integrate the modules into the vehicle. I’ve worked with a good number of engineers looking to move from an OEM to a supplier because they’re not developing their technical abilities like they’d expected.

To be fair, OEMs do have engineers doing detailed design in some areas, often related to emerging technologies. They also tend to pay more and have better benefits, though that gap has narrowed. The majority of their engineers in the embedded space, however, are integrators. You have a better shot working the full life-cycle at a Tier-One.

Automotive embedded systems is one of the most exciting fields to work in, both today and in the years ahead. If you manage it well, you can make a great living developing technologies that have a significant, positive impact on 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.