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Where Are Tomorrow's Embedded Developers?

kdawson posted more than 6 years ago | from the not-like-embedded-reporters dept.

Education 245

An anonymous reader writes "In a similar vein to the previous discussion about the New York professors taking Java to task for damaging Computer Science education, Mike Anderson of the PTR group wonders why it's so hard to find good embedded developers these days. 'As for today's CS programs, it seems that long gone are the computer architecture classes, writing code in assembly language (or even C at this point) and engineering software economics. In fact, a large number of CS majors apparently believe that everything can be implemented in a virtual machine and that both memory and [CPU] cycles are infinite.'"

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College Classes (4, Insightful)

kmsigel (306018) | more than 6 years ago | (#22397728)

I'm in my late 30s and have been doing embedded development since college. Back then we built finite state machines in PALs and complete embedded systems using microsequencers and UV eraseable ROMs. We both built (hand wired) and programmed the systems from scratch. Doing that gives you a very good appreciation for what's going on. That kind of stuff just isn't done much anymore in college. From what I can see, there aren't many good embedded programmers more than a few years younger than me. It looks like good embedded programmers (whatever their age) will be in demand and well paid for many years to come. :)

Re:College Classes (2, Insightful)

jim.hansson (1181963) | more than 6 years ago | (#22397906)

I wonder is this a problem in USA only or is the trend spreading to other countries?
here in Sweden it does not seem as there should be any bigger shortage of embedded developers than other types.
Still embedded development are a lot more fun than doing some ordinary desktop app, or even worse webapps

Re:College Classes (1)

yada21 (1042762) | more than 6 years ago | (#22398684)

It looks like good embedded programmers (whatever their age) will be in demand and well paid for many years to come.
Then good luck to them - realy I mean that. So to the question of where they'll come from, they'll come from wherever they're available at the best price. I mean, economic's 101?

Re:College Classes (4, Insightful)

adpowers (153922) | more than 6 years ago | (#22399158)

Really? Cause I seem to remember creating FSMs using PALs just last year in my undergraduate CS program (in a required 300 level class). We also had a class where we put together a microprocessor, put it on an FPGA, and wrote low level code to run on it.

A number of my friends took the hardware capstone where you did even more of this type of work. It still goes on, perhaps you just aren't looking in the right place? It seems the CE and EE folks take more embedded classes than CS students, so that is where you should look. CS is a huge field, and not everyone is going to follow the story's author's preference of study.

Re:College Classes (5, Insightful)

secondstory756 (989242) | more than 6 years ago | (#22399536)

I have to agree. I'm a computer engineer at the University of Illinois. It's the computer engineers that are doing the lower level development. I've had extensive systems programming (in assembly and c) and every CE here makes both an OS and a 16-bit processor. CS students don't see that stuff unless they elect to take it.


I haven't seen a speck of java (or even c++) in my ECE (Electrical & computer engineering) courses, but that's all I've used in my CS courses. Furthermore, I have a lot of friends in CS that know very little about what the actual computers are doing on a bitwise level. (I had to help one of them work on bit masking last weekend.)

If you're looking for embedded people don't look at CS, look at CE.

Re:College Classes (1)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 6 years ago | (#22399898)

I haven't seen a speck of java (or even c++) in my ECE (Electrical & computer engineering) courses

You mean they stopped using JHDL [jhdl.org] as a teaching tool? That's too bad.... :-P

Re:College Classes (1)

kmsigel (306018) | more than 6 years ago | (#22399830)

>Really? Cause I seem to remember creating FSMs using PALs just last
>year in my undergraduate CS program (in a required 300 level class).
>We also had a class where we put together a microprocessor, put it
>on an FPGA, and wrote low level code to run on it.

That's very good to hear.

Re:College Classes (1)

agoliveira (188870) | more than 6 years ago | (#22400368)

I'm about the same position as you are, late 30s and done about the same but I didn't do it on CE classes but in EE. At that time, at least here in Brazil, CE was very incipient most of the work was done in mainframes and the embedded software was created by electronics engineers doing microprocessor programming.
Well, I still do embedded for a living, right now for Canonical and I have to agree that's damn hard find good embedded developpers.

Doh! (-1, Offtopic)

arizwebfoot (1228544) | more than 6 years ago | (#22397734)

Ummm, donuts.

Oops, wait, wrong thread.

CS != Programming (-1, Flamebait)

gangien (151940) | more than 6 years ago | (#22397792)

Is it really that hard to understand? Tell people to go get vocational training if they want ASM monkeys.

Re:CS != Programming (1)

Detritus (11846) | more than 6 years ago | (#22398006)

An education is no excuse for willful ignorance.

Re:CS != Programming (0)

gangien (151940) | more than 6 years ago | (#22398330)

"An education is no excuse for willful ignorance."

ignorance of what? DO you think it's the responsibility of CS professors to educate students on every possible application of CS principles? No. Does every CS student want to become an embedded programmer? No. Does every student even want to become a programmer? No.

Programming is a tool that's used in Computer Science, not what's learned.

Re:CS != Programming (1)

gatkinso (15975) | more than 6 years ago | (#22398534)

Yet CS is the department in which programming is taught. Hence the tendency for one to equate the two (CS and application programming).

Not long ago "computer science" didn't even exist: it was all taught in math departments. Once it became quite clear that most developer types can't handle vector calculus that changed.

Yet I wonder - what is computer science without the ability to actually program the computer? Discrete math, algorithms, and some theory. Interesting, but (not quite) useless.

Re:CS != Programming (0)

profplump (309017) | more than 6 years ago | (#22398806)

Yet I wonder - what is computer science without the ability to actually program the computer? Discrete math, algorithms, and some theory. Interesting, but (not quite) useless.

While I don't entirely disagree I think you're discounting the huge amount of low-complexity programming work there is to be done, where you can make good use of code monkeys who don't really understand the project and/or couldn't design an effective solution on their own.

Try this plan:
1. Hire 1 good programmer
2. Hire 1 good analyst
3. Hire 1 good Q/Aer
4. Have 1 and 2 work together to produce comprehensive, prescriptive specifications of the system
5. Have 2 and 3 work together to produce a comprehensive, prescriptive test suite
6. Hire 6 code monkeys who can read the specs -- which will include descriptions of any complicated algorithms -- to code the thing
7. Hire 6 Q/A monkeys who can read the specs -- which will include acceptance parameters -- to test the thing

That's a team of 15 people, half of the coders, and only 1 of them who really needs to understand what's going on, or to be able to design complicated algorithms. There are certainly limitations to the kind of coding that can be done on such a team, but there are lot of things such a team *can* do, and can do quickly and cost effectively.

Re:CS != Programming (2, Insightful)

John Courtland (585609) | more than 6 years ago | (#22400252)

In your example, the Bus Factor [msdn.com] is 1. Dangerous.

Re:CS != Programming (1)

gangien (151940) | more than 6 years ago | (#22398892)

Not long ago "computer science" didn't even exist: it was all taught in math departments. Once it became quite clear that most developer types can't handle vector calculus that changed.

Yeah sure, that's why most CS departments I've heard about, pretty much required a minor in math.

Yet I wonder - what is computer science without the ability to actually program the computer? Discrete math, algorithms, and some theory. Interesting, but (not quite) useless.

There's a lot of CS that came before computers. It was just called math. I really don't know how useless it would or wouldn't be without computers. But whether it's useful or not, isn't really relevant to what CS is.

Re:CS != Programming (3, Funny)

debatem1 (1087307) | more than 6 years ago | (#22399062)

Yet I wonder - what is computer science without the ability to actually program the computer?
Consulting.

Re:CS != Programming (1)

nategoose (1004564) | more than 6 years ago | (#22398438)

As stated by every Intro to Algorithms prof, you can optimize something to death with low level and hard to follow code, but if your algorithm sucks you've wasted your time. Are vo-tech ASM monkeys really gonna know how to do algorithm analysis and design? I could probably write bubble sort in 4 x86 instructions that would out preform all other bubble sorts on the same system, but I can also mathematically prove that most every other sort in any other language is better for large sets of randomly sorted data.

Re:CS != Programming (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22398812)

But yiu still suck donkey cock big time.

Re:CS != Programming (1)

nogginthenog (582552) | more than 6 years ago | (#22399550)

On the flip side unless you fully understand the hardware how can you write good optimised C code? In C you might use a long (assume long is 32 bits for now!) to hold a counter. But the assembler programmer will know to stay clear of longs because he's programming a 16 bit CPU, or maybe longs take a performance hit.

Re:CS != Programming (1)

nategoose (1004564) | more than 6 years ago | (#22399982)

And that's why I hate when GCC complains when I'm using an unsigned char as an array index on an AVR.

Re:CS != Programming (1)

trolltalk.com (1108067) | more than 6 years ago | (#22399040)

Is it really that hard to understand? Tell people to go get vocational training if they want ASM monkeys.

You sound bitter. Can't write assembler?

Re:CS != Programming (1)

poot_rootbeer (188613) | more than 6 years ago | (#22399326)

Tell people to go get vocational training if they want ASM monkeys.

This is a troll, right? A subtle reversal of the old "tell people to go get vocational training if they want Java monkeys" line?

It should be self-evident that it takes more knowledge, skill, and ingenuity to write a correct program in a low-level language, and have it run sufficiently fast on underpowered hardware, than it is to write a correct program in a high-level language on leading-edge hardware.

Re:CS != Programming (1)

debatem1 (1087307) | more than 6 years ago | (#22399764)

I disagree. It may take more time, but I don't think that it takes any more skill or ingenuity, seeing as how the conversions between high-level thought processes and low-level code are pretty much mechanical. It does of course require a different knowledge set, but that knowledge set isn't necessarily harder to obtain. In the end, this argument strikes me as one more salvo in the endless 'my-language-is-better' flamewar, subtly hamstrung with the fallacy that programming is mostly about syntax.

NOT Computer Scientists (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22397828)

The reason you can't find any is that you are looking in the wrong college department. Your embedded device programmers are computer engineering majors and not computer science majors. Most of them are bad at programming in C though since they don't understand that resources should be treated as a scare item and the professors don't teach them that they are. Furthermore the college where I'm at doesn't teach ARM or x86 assembly, it teaches LC3 instead... what a joke that is.

However some students, like myself, know x86 assembly and understand the value of memory and cycles. If you have a particular job in mind and want to pay for me to drop out and move though then I'd be glad to jump on with your company. Just let me know. :)

Re:NOT Computer Scientists (1)

Altus (1034) | more than 6 years ago | (#22398310)


It seemed to me that a lot of the "computer engineering" degrees were mostly for IT people. Admittedly this come from back in the 90s when there were only a few departments with this name. Has this changed?

I felt like my Computer Science degree (which was the only game in town back when I was in school) gave me a pretty good background for the working world. Admittedly I also took some electives that focused on digital electronics (including building a computer from chips and then programming it) and we learned our data structures and algorithms in C before moving on the lisp and scheme for higher level concepts like AI. We also learned a big about how processors worked and what micro-code was so it wasn't entirely divorced from the hardware.

Maybe this isn't what its like these days but I haven't had a reason to look at such things in quite some time. I have no intention of going back to school in my industry any time soon and even if I did I would probably be looking for a masters in Software engineering (looking at programs that are about development process as much as anything else).

Re:NOT Computer Scientists (2, Informative)

AuMatar (183847) | more than 6 years ago | (#22398558)

You're confusing computer engineering with software engineering. Computer engineering is a hybrid software/hardware degree- depending on your electives its like minoring in EE and majoring in CS, or majoring in EE with an emphasis on digital circuits and minoring in CS. Quite frequently with tougher versions of some courses- the asm course taught to CS students at UIUC was a joke taught on simulators. By the end of the ECE asm class, we were programming video games on x86 without using external libraries.

Software engineering is a CS major with emphasis on process at good schools. At bad schools, its a watered down CS major.

Re:NOT Computer Scientists (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22399028)

Computer science should be a math major only distantly related to software engineering, just as astronomy and optics are not the same.

I took CS rather than CompE (in 1988 those were the only options) figuring there was only room for a limited number of chip designers in the world. Now that I've seen how poor the robustness expectations are for desktop and even server software, I wish I'd done CompE and gone into embedded. I think I have the right temperament for it, but I don't know how to break in short of apprenticing myself and halving my salary.

Re:NOT Computer Scientists (1)

HornWumpus (783565) | more than 6 years ago | (#22399046)

CompE is more then just a hybrid.

It's an actual no BS Engineering degree, they study the Engineering core curriculum for their first two years. Your comment about majoring in EE with digital emphasis and minoring in CS is pretty close. Majoring in CS and minoring in EE would be a cakewalk in comparison.

The GP is just plain wrong regarding CompE being an IT track. IT is where the bottom half of the CS students wind up along with a lot of two year tech school grads.

I graduated with BSs in EE and a CompE in 1987. The math minor was automatic for everybody in the program.

Regarding you final comment. Unless CS is taught out of the Engineering school nothing called Engineering should be taught out of CS. I know of institutions where CS is taught out of the God Damn Business school!

Used to, still could, but probably won't (4, Insightful)

kninja (121603) | more than 6 years ago | (#22397830)

Used to be an embedded developer for devices, but then I got interested in Ruby on Rails (it was much more fun).

I think there are probably more than a few people out there that have the skills, but have been moved into other paths by market forces. They will come back if you pay them enough, but that is unlikely to happen, so they will probably stay where they are.

Re:Used to, still could, but probably won't (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22398146)

I think there are probably more than a few people out there that have the skills, but have been moved into other paths by market forces.

I used to quite enjoy my C, Assembly and VHDL classes. However the same kind of analytical mind that made it a fun problem to solve can (it turns out) but just as easily employed doing business analysis for four times the money.

Re:Used to, still could, but probably won't (2, Interesting)

BotnetZombie (1174935) | more than 6 years ago | (#22398444)

Not only are there probably more than a few people that already have the skills, but I also think that it isn't necessarily too difficult to get people into the mindset needed. I learned programming in C++ but without any real concern for efficiency or memory usage. On a job much later on, I had to write a browser for very limited j2me devices (total memory of 64KB). The browser downloaded, parsed a subset of xhtml, displayed (including images), navigated according to user action and even accepted text input (of course someone will now say that they can do the job in 1024 bytes or less). It was a total pain in the butt to write - however, having to rigorously manage the data structures, memory assigning and releasing, unrecurse functionality that is intuitively recursive in nature etc, I think that this has made me a better programmer. Even though I haven't done any embedded programming I don't think it would be too much of a problem.

Re:Used to, still could, but probably won't (1)

djchristensen (472087) | more than 6 years ago | (#22399016)

I would consider you an exception rather than the rule. My experience is that "programmers" without solid computer architecture-level training have a very hard time understanding embedded/realtime systems development. There are certainly programmers out there without such training who would do well (like yourself), but then they most likely would have excelled in a computer engineering program had they chosen that path in college. I'm guessing that's a minority, though.

I once lived through a year-long delay while another group had to completely re-architect, re-design, and re-write their part of a machine we were developing. They decided that multiple inheritance, persistence, and template libraries would be fun to use, despite the fact they had very limited resources. The result was a subsystem that ran an order of magnitude slower than the minimum requirement. (And by the way, the part I worked on was also in C++ and easily met all performance requirements, so no need to blast C++. Just because a language gives you a lot of rope doesn't mean you need to hang yourself with it.)

Re:Used to, still could, but probably won't (1)

BotnetZombie (1174935) | more than 6 years ago | (#22399280)

My guess is that 30-50% of the programmers I've worked with would have the knack for it, if needed. It's still a minority, but not a small one. Maybe I've just been lucky, not seen too many copypasta monkeys.

Incidentally, I first got a 2 year software engineering degree, i.e. basic programming, data structures & algorithms and such stuff, but no theory and no mathematics. I only went back to school recently to finish off what was needed for my BSc in CS, and can definately say that I much more appreciated what was taught than I think I would have 10 years ago.

Back on topic, I think the OP is spot on that if there was sufficient demand and salaries to go with that, good embedded developers would come in hordes out of hiding :)

Re:Used to, still could, but probably won't (2, Insightful)

j35ter (895427) | more than 6 years ago | (#22398828)

True!
when comparing x86,PIC or (shudder) 8051 ASM to some more modern Python programming, I dont really want to go back anymore. Even though I maintain Python code with a curses GUI Yuck!

Last thing I worked on was a GPRS/GPS combo on an ARM device, which was quite fun.

Why such a long prelude? Well, I just cant find serious employment on the field of embedded devices in Eastern Europe. Most guys who need a developer are of the type with "A good Idea" and hiring a dumbass to do the work; you just cant feed a family from those guys payments. So, I'll just stick to my Python stuff and keep integrating some Brainfuck code, just so they cant fire me anytime soon.

And at night I dream of indirect addressing, C pointers and interrupt vectors...

Re:Used to, still could, but probably won't (1)

zx75 (304335) | more than 6 years ago | (#22398940)

Why is it so hard to find good jobs doing embedded programming?

I've done the coursework, and been trained in embedded programming. I'd be a junior at it, and would need experience but I could be one pretty easily.

But like the parent said, are you going to pay me for it? I get a good salary working in high-level languages that let me create things that *do* so much more, unless I was overwhelmingly interested in embedded systems what motivation do I have to do it?

Re:Used to, still could, but probably won't (1)

twiddlingbits (707452) | more than 6 years ago | (#22399138)

I'm one of them. I did embedded for many years, I loved it but 90% of the work was defense systems and it was so cyclical. And most of the projects were poorly managed over budget, software always got screwed for hardware. I got my MBA, left for Technology consulting and never went back. I get offers all the time for a 25-30% pay cut to go back. Seems to me that programmers who know C and Assembler and can write tight code, know OS internals, and can interface to hardware are almost as extinct as IBM mainframe COBOL commandos, so we should (by the forces of ecomonics) command an above market salary.

There are not many Klingon programmers graduating (4, Interesting)

arivanov (12034) | more than 6 years ago | (#22397864)

The profession has become domesticated.

The new graduates are uncomfortable with: "Klingon multitasking systems do not support "time-sharing". When a Klingon program wants to run, it challenges the scheduler in hand-to-hand combat and owns the machine." They have to use java, schedulers, vm protection, etc.

On a more serious note, to do real embedded programming you need to know data representation in and out because you tend to manipulate your data directly, no band-aids allowed. Until the embedded systems will support band-aids as used in todays college it will be a profession for the myopic geeks with grey pony-tails or the ones who are way on their way to well developed pattern boldness.

Re:There are not many Klingon programmers graduati (1)

springbox (853816) | more than 6 years ago | (#22399356)

Or anyone who took time to learn C properly. Doing some assembly wouldn't hurt either.

Wouldnt'cha know.. (1)

Creepy Crawler (680178) | more than 6 years ago | (#22397958)

That's what I rejoined school for.

My dad is an EE, and does embedded work for vehicle systems.
My granddad was an EE, and did the early work on embedded missile guidance systems. He was a ham operator also.

I'm also a ham operator, program in C fluently, and have a knack for getting electronics to do what it wasn't intended for.

I'm going for my EE at IUPUI. I'm also learning Japanese, and also working on my commercial FCC license.

My plan: there's a large amount of Japanese factories located here (Columbus, IN), and I have connections with a few of them. There was recently a job offering (60k embedded EE, 1-2 yrs exp) that one would go to Japan for. I'd jump on that, if I could. Also, with the spectrum opening, equipment implementation will happen roughly when I get done. Either way, I'm going to be making a "livable" wage ;)

If I could travel abroad, I would. We only have one life. I'm going to make mine fun.

Re:Wouldnt'cha know.. (2, Insightful)

Rycross (836649) | more than 6 years ago | (#22398752)

I wish I could jump on something like that too. As it is, I have a CS instead of EE, and no real embedded experience. I did want to pursue embedded systems early on, but as my first job was a .Net related job, I'm pingeon-holed into .Net jobs.

As it is, I'm looking at doing an English-teaching-in-Japan stint. I wholeheartedly agree with your sentiment.

Re:Wouldnt'cha know.. (3, Insightful)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 6 years ago | (#22399810)

I wish I could jump on something like that too. As it is, I have a CS instead of EE, and no real embedded experience. I did want to pursue embedded systems early on, but as my first job was a .Net related job, I'm pingeon-holed into .Net jobs.

This is a hard lesson to learn in technical/engineering jobs: be extremely careful what job you first take, because it will go a long way in determining what you do for the rest of your career. Employers always pigeon-hole people based on their previous experience. So if your last job was a .Net programming job, your next one probably will be too, because it'll be extremely difficult to convince anyone that you'll make a great Linux kernel programmer, for instance.

I've Heard of That Machine! (5, Funny)

chromatic (9471) | more than 6 years ago | (#22397962)

In fact, a large number of CS majors apparently believe that everything can be implemented in a virtual machine and that both memory and [CPU] cycles are infinite.

Good for them; Alan Turing believed it too.

Re:I've Heard of That Machine! (4, Funny)

nogginthenog (582552) | more than 6 years ago | (#22399442)

He was right. Until Apple came along.

Re:I've Heard of That Machine! (1)

Chemisor (97276) | more than 6 years ago | (#22399644)

>> In fact, a large number of CS majors apparently believe that everything can be
>> implemented in a virtual machine and that both memory and [CPU] cycles are infinite.
>
> Good for them; Alan Turing believed it too.

And now it is a near reality. Memory and CPU cycles are abundant and do not play much role in slowing down today's programs. Incompetent programmers who don't know how to program IO, or how to make their code small, slow down today's programs. As for virtual machines, there is no reason why the Java VM couldn't be implemented in hardware. It is already partially implemented [freepatentsonline.com] .

Eh. (4, Insightful)

Mongoose Disciple (722373) | more than 6 years ago | (#22397966)

I'm neither surprised by this nor do I necessarily find it something to get up in arms about.

There's not really time in a 4 year degree (well, along with all the other crap that goes into it) to teach someone the kinds of things you need to know to be a good business application developer and to teach someone the kinds of things you need to know to be a good embedded applications developer.

A good embedded developer needs experience with languages that run "close to the metal" of the machine, needs to know how to manage memory, needs to know how the machine architecture works, needs to know how to perform optimizations within that world, etc.

A good business applications developer needs experience with languages that abstract or hide a lot of the above details in order to let them focus on business logic, needs to know a decent amount about databases, needs to know about software architecture and design patterns, needs to know about networking, generally needs to know something about UI design, etc.

Yes, there's some overlap.

Speaking as someone with a college education emphasizing the former and a career emphasizing the latter, I'm not convinced this is a terrible thing. There are a lot more business style applications that need writing in the world than embedded applications. That specialization and the need for it I don't see going away any time soon, but it's the exception rather than the rule, and I'm not convinced there's something holier about understanding the guts of the machine than in understanding how to design a complex system for extensibility, maintainability, high availability, or whatever best suits the project.

Re:Eh. (1)

yada21 (1042762) | more than 6 years ago | (#22399012)

There's not really time in a 4 year degree (well, along with all the other crap that goes into it) to teach someone the kinds of things you need to know to be a good business application developer and to teach someone the kinds of things you need to know to be a good embedded applications developer.
Well hello. Likewise there's not time to teach engineer's how to build a sport's stadium, an automotive gearbox, an electric motor and an oil refinery.

Have you got time to talk to, emm, a Mr Adam Smith calling from 1776?

Re:Eh. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22400296)

Holy Cow,

4 years, not much time, no wonder ... (Brain Dead)

The problem isn't virtual machines (4, Insightful)

PhrostyMcByte (589271) | more than 6 years ago | (#22398002)

The reason for Java/C#'s popularity isn't because of the VM, it's because of the huge accompanying frameworks that allow for rapid development which is in most cases much more important than efficient cpu/memory usage these days. Build one of these frameworks for C/C++ and you will find it much easier to compete with newer langs.

Re:The problem isn't virtual machines (1)

Creepy Crawler (680178) | more than 6 years ago | (#22398150)

And if you Linux/Unix platform as it was originally meant for, most of your library work is already done.

You build C programs to handle real data crunching, and bash scripts for data-passing. One has all of this running in console, and have a console hooked to a X program which simply passes GUI data. One can change the GUI without touching the engine, and likewise.

Unlike Windows, where one doesn't know exactly what the system is doing, hence we require trials and testing. In Linux, we know what does what, so programming there is no surprise.

And if I require, I can build "bare metal" interfaces. The kernel is open, unlike Windows. That, and building modules for a monolithic-modular kernel is simpler than a microkernel-like arch Windows has.

Qt4? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22398518)

Build one of these frameworks for C/C++ and you will find it much easier to compete with newer langs.
Qt4? Supports X11, Windows and OS X quite nicely from what I've heard.

Re:Qt4? (1)

ciggieposeur (715798) | more than 6 years ago | (#22398760)

Qt4? Supports X11, Windows and OS X quite nicely from what I've heard.

Qt4 is nice but seems overkill for a lot of embedded systems. I'd pick Turbo Vision [sf.net] instead. Runs on Linux console, X11, ncurses, Windows, and DOS.

Re:Qt4? (1)

TheRealMindChild (743925) | more than 6 years ago | (#22399824)

You must be daft. Apparently you are to anxious to plug your own agenda rather than actually listening. Qtopia [trolltech.com] has been around longer than you obviously realize. I ran it on my 200 mhz ARM Zaurus PDA... fast/complete as you could want.

Digipen (1)

aGreenAgent (989204) | more than 6 years ago | (#22398064)

Digipen (digipen.edu) has a Computer Engineering degree whose first graduating class graduates this year (I am one of them). The whole point of the degree is embedded systems development. Starting sophomore year, we have to develop an embedded system every year, including a functioning operating system for it. We take classes on control systems, state machines, RTOS (we have to make a kernel in 4 weeks), digital signal processing, among others. We are required to use assembly almost exclusively, and are required to learn the assembly language of PIC chips, freescale coldfire, and ARM. Embedded developers are right here :)

Re:Digipen (2, Interesting)

BSAtHome (455370) | more than 6 years ago | (#22398604)

Sorry to be a cynic, but learning these things in classes does not make you an embedded developer. It is the experience in a variety of fields that makes an embedded programmer. For what it is worth, experience in the variety makes you a programmer for nearly all fields.
Let me give you a simple example; programming an interrupt service routine is probably one of the most difficult things to do the Right Way(TM). When things get smaller, it gets harder. That is where the experience kicks in and you "see" how things are supposed to work and how they hook together (and you finally know how to read data-sheets correctly). It takes years to learn this.

On the other hand, you have a good chance of getting the hang of it if you practice a lot, whereas the java-code-type-slaves probably never will understand the whole concept of a real embedded system (or what a stable program is in the first place).

Re:Digipen (1)

Rycross (836649) | more than 6 years ago | (#22398936)

It can be hard to get real experience when all the jobs out there want several years of experience in the field. Of course you can do personal projects, but its coin toss whether or not the company will consider that actual experience. Most HR departments I've dealt would consider 1 year of embedded experience, plus 3 years of embedded experience through personal projects as 1 years of "real" experience.

Maybe I'm just unlucky. :)

Happened to me (1)

krog (25663) | more than 6 years ago | (#22400116)

After getting a BSEE, I looked for four months for an embedded job which didn't somehow involve blowing up dark-skinned people. No dice. Everywhere, I got punted for having no work experience.

Then I decided to go back to software, and got two jobs within a week. I chose the one a 15min bike ride from my house. The salary is about $20,000 more than I'd be making in EE.

This is why I am not an embedded programmer.

Re:Digipen (1)

aGreenAgent (989204) | more than 6 years ago | (#22399450)

I'm not claiming to be an expert in any ISR techniques, but I've written many an ISR (for a college student). Digipen has very few lecture classes in general, we're required to implement things, not learn the theory behind them (as much). As far as being a green, fresh out of college, employee, I think degrees like the one at Digipen will hold up for embedded development.

how many embedded developers are needed? (3, Insightful)

trb (8509) | more than 6 years ago | (#22398068)

I'm an old school UNIX hacker, I worked at Bell Labs in the '70's. These days I hack software that controls robots used for rehab of stroke patients. It's not exactly embedded, since the code runs on an Ubuntu/Xenomai COTS PC, but it's similar in nature to embedded hacking.

The relevant question is, how many embedded-system hackers are needed? If only .1% of job opportunities are for embedded-system hackers, then there really isn't much incentive for people to learn to hack embedded systems. If embedded hacking is a lucrative field with attractive opportunities, then hackers will follow. We saw it happen with other forms of hacking, we even saw it happen with web-page hacking. If there is a need for embedded hackers, it will be filled (guided by Adam Smith's Invisible Hand).

Re:how many embedded developers are needed? (2, Insightful)

Shados (741919) | more than 6 years ago | (#22398464)

Thats what I'm thinking. If you train people too much in niche fields, they're more likely to be attracted to these niche fields... And then you have a market saturation. There's a reason why everytime there's an article about IT jobs, you have a billion CS majors from Slashdot posting about how they can't find one (even though the market is currently starved and needing developers like never before): too many people trained in things that simply don't have a market for. Its nice (and even a must) to know the basics of that stuff...but god damn....

Re:how many embedded developers are needed? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22398600)

say "hacking" more

Re:how many embedded developers are needed? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22399312)

it will be filled (guided by Adam Smith's Invisible Hand).

Which will be what, after 4 years for an institutional degree in "embedded programming" and 10 years experience because the HR drone has no clue what they're doing?

Sorry, the "invisible hand" is too busy scratching the rash of irrationality to focus on the market so much.

Re:how many embedded developers are needed? (1)

dougr650 (1115217) | more than 6 years ago | (#22399420)

Wow. Apparently we have here a wide generational gap in the use of the word "hacking." I'm assuming you mean "programming" or "engineering." To me, "hacking" has an extremely negative meaning -- something that you do (reluctantly!) to get something working as fast as possible. If someone described himself to me in a job interview as an "embedded hacker," their resume would go straight to the round file.

I don't care what people do to get a web site up and running, but that style of working just doesn't fly in most of the embedded world. I shudder to think that someone is writing software for medical robots that they would describe as a "hack!"

Re:how many embedded developers are needed? (1)

Lost Engineer (459920) | more than 6 years ago | (#22399696)

Oh it happens in embedded. The "hacks" just get 5 years of code review and government certs.

Re:how many embedded developers are needed? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22400386)

I think you are confusing the term "kludge" with "hack". A hack can be a kludge, but it's a beautiful one that only a hacker could come up with (or sometimes, appreciate).

A lot of hacks "cut the gordian knot" in that get something working quickly without following the established rules. But most of the time when you break out of your design restrictions or other rules to get something working quickly, it's not a hack.

*Raises hand* (2, Informative)

Bugs42 (788576) | more than 6 years ago | (#22398094)

Yo. (Hopefully) future embedded software engineer right here. Currently majoring in Computer Engineering with a CompSci minor. I actually just enrolled in an embedded applications class this semester. Seems like a popular class, too - offered fairly often, and good enrollment each time from what I hear.
Even though the majority of the CS classes at my university are Java-based, there're still required architecture classes that use assembly and C, along with several EE courses. Just because many colleges are abandoning lower-level programming doesn't mean they all are.

From EE, not CS? (2, Insightful)

SleptThroughClass (1127287) | more than 6 years ago | (#22398128)

Maybe the Electrical Engineering Department is training device programmers, not the Computer Science Department.

Re:From EE, not CS? (2, Informative)

Creepy Crawler (680178) | more than 6 years ago | (#22398262)

That's right. EE are the teachers of embedded discipline. We have to know algorithms from CS, pure mathematics (enough for a minor at least), physics of light/energy/magnetism (as like math, enough for a minor), circuit design, OS design in theory and practicality, and a bunch of other things.

All together, that's what an EE is. If it's not on fire, we can program it ;D

Re:From EE, not CS? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22400126)

If it's not on fire, we can program it

Wuss.

Kids these days.

"Oooh, my keyboard's on fire. Ooooh nooooo, my flesh is searing. Waaahwaaaaaahwahhh"

Re:From EE, not CS? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22399180)

> Maybe the Electrical Engineering Department is training device programmers, > not the Computer Science Department. Why would the EE departmertment be training CS? A department ought to be able to train itself, I reckon.

I'm right here (1)

nategoose (1004564) | more than 6 years ago | (#22398136)

I have been thinking this for a long time. I finally managed to get a job doing embedded programming, but I did manage to get a lot of preparation for it in my undergraduate CS courses -- particularly in my Compiler class and my Operating Systems class. We also had an assembly class (16 bit x68) and a computer architecture class so they helped some, but less than you'd think. My main source of knowledge has been my curiosity of how things worked under the hood and looking into embedded programming on my own. A lot of embedded programmers are electrical engineers, but engineers tend to program a certain way and use the 'everything is a nail' approach and make bad use of the tools they work with when coding. CS people tend to make their own mistakes when doing embedded programming, and both groups tend to not understand what compilers can and cannot do to produce better code.

Need Embedded Developer? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22398142)

If you're a company looking for a skilled embedded developer, reply to this with the name and contact information for your company. I'll give you a call, and if you're offering more than I make now, I'll consider giving you an interview.

I've had enough of java (1)

ampathee (682788) | more than 6 years ago | (#22398228)

I taught myself to code on an Amstrad CPC 6128 (128k of ram in two 64k banks, z80a processor - so not exactly "embedded" .. but optimization was important), but since then it's been VB, Java, and Delphi.

I'd love to get my teeth into something embedded. But what? Can anyone recommend a fun device to play with?

Re:I've had enough of java (1)

jim.hansson (1181963) | more than 6 years ago | (#22398292)

Re:I've had enough of java (1)

LowSNR (1138511) | more than 6 years ago | (#22398814)

Agreed! AVR's are great little parts and are easy to get started working on. I believe Eclipse even has a plugin to use AVR-GCC and AVR libc for programming.

Re:I've had enough of java (1)

CaptainGoon (1238198) | more than 6 years ago | (#22398328)

I saw this on Digg.com the other day: http://www.pyroelectro.com/projects/ir_radar/index.html/ [pyroelectro.com]

Re:I've had enough of java (1)

solafide (845228) | more than 6 years ago | (#22398446)

Gumstix [gumstix.com] . The eBox [embeddedpc.net] , if you want something much, much meatier for $300ish.

Where? (1)

taniwha (70410) | more than 6 years ago | (#22398360)

over here [makezine.com]

Its not gone "enough" (1)

Shados (741919) | more than 6 years ago | (#22398402)

From the summary:

'As for today's CS programs, it seems that long gone are the computer architecture classes, writing code in assembly language (or even C at this point) and engineering software economics
And IMO, they still teach these TOO MUCH. From my personal survey (probably meaningless, but I need a point of reference), they still teach that quite a heck of a lot in schools. The demand for people in these fields is significant, but still quite low. It is a LOT easier to find someone who knows how to code a minimalistic kernel, or do assembly, than it is to find someone who was trained in software architecture, design pattern, and development techniques, which are all required in the vast majority of jobs that CS majors are hired from (even if CS is probably not the right program for these jobs, its the reality of the world we live in).

Its important that there is SOME background taught for the more niche jobs (lets face it: not that many people end up working in these fields, proportionaly speaking, even if you just consider the top tiers of jobs to filter out people without degrees and/or the poorly self taught ones), a lot even, but it sure is a heck of a lot easier to find someone who understands the code of an embedded device's kernel, than it is to find someone who knows the difference between Bridge and Strategy and State patterns.).

More Niche fields should be in optional classes, and more mainstream (yet still theoric. Don't go teaching technology specifics...and Java is good to teach high level theory in a language agnostic manner, if done well) in the main classes... As it is now, you have people who are forced to take classes that teach things they'll never even hear about again, yet many colleges don't even have (not even optional!!) a class that touch relational model theory. Thats sad.

They all went to the jobs that would have them. (1)

91degrees (207121) | more than 6 years ago | (#22398440)

I can do embedded development. I've a little experience with assembler on about half a dozen platforms, and know most of the quirks of C. A friend of mine is 10 years older than me. He grew up in an era when everything on a personal computer was essentially the same skill set. He knew at least as much as me 10 years before I graduated, and has been learning ever since. When I graduated, all the embedded developer jobs went to him and others like him. There were a lot more people for these jobs than there were applicants.

But the embedded developers are getting older. And they're leaving the field, either going into management or retiring from the field. The industry didn't think ahead. All the promising graduates went in different directions because they didn't have the option. I could have gone into the field if anyone would have had me. I would have been seen as highly skilled in embedded systems. Instead I'm seen as highly skilled in the field I chose. Everyone else the same age as me is in the same position. We all have skills in areas that don't map well to embedded development.

Nobody leaves university with the skills the industry needs. They all leave with the potential to develop these skills. The industry hasn't been developing these skills. It needs to change. Embedded software development companies need to hire graduates just for the sake of hiring graduates. You don't need to start when they're at university.

Programming today's desktops? (2, Insightful)

pdh11 (227974) | more than 6 years ago | (#22398622)

Perhaps tomorrow's embedded developers are programming today's desktops.

The desktop machine I learned to program on was an Acorn RiscPC. Later in life, I helped write the embedded firmware in the Rio Karma portable MP3 player. Rio Karma had two 90MHz ARM CPUs, 16Mbytes of RAM, and 20Gbytes of disk. That would have been one kick-ass RiscPC. If anything, programming and optimisation techniques learned on late-80s and early-90s desktops are too "embedded" for a lot of today's embedded programming.

And to those advocating hiring EE graduates for embedded programming: unless your device isn't far north of a toaster on the embeddedness scale, please also hire people with broader or higher-level software expertise for system design and architecture. It's not the same skill as squeezing one more instruction out of a loop, you find people with one skill and not the other, and any medium- or large-scale software project needs both skills (whether in the same person, or through good collaboration).

People go on about the spectrum of computing, software/assembler/logic/gates/transistors; what some don't realise is that there's a spectrum even within software. Some really good, tight, expert coders just can't see the bigger picture. I've seen medium-scale software architected by the toaster contingent: it wasn't pretty.

Peter

Re:Programming today's desktops? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22398796)

I've seen medium-scale software architected by the toaster contingent: it wasn't pretty.
Yeah, the Cylons aren't great fighter pilots either.

Re:Programming today's desktops? (2, Insightful)

Samrobb (12731) | more than 6 years ago | (#22399552)

Perhaps tomorrow's embedded developers are programming today's desktops.

Amen!

I more or less drifted into embedded systems work from a desktop/server background. I frequently point out to people that there's a lot of confusion about what an "embedded" system is. Some people use the term to refer to 8-bit mircocontrollers that have a whopping 4K of memory and no persistent storage. Others use the term to refer to 32-bit devices with 2-4 MB of memory and 256 MB of flash for storage. There's yet another camp that's really talking about dedicated-purpose desktop systems in a compact form factor.

The point is... there used to be a pretty well defined spectrum of what "embedded" meant. Economies of scale and new technologies have started introducing gaps into that spectrum, so there's not a single continuous spread of processors, memory and storage that qualifies as "embedded". When you can take a desktop system from 1995 and shrink it down into something like a Hammer board or a Gumstix... it may be small, it may be compact, it may be used for a dedicated purpose; but practically, you're developing on something that has massively superior capabilities when compared to the traditional idea of an embedded system. You are, in fact, developing for a desktop system - albeit a desktop system in a small package with some unusual constraints.

They're embed (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22398636)

lol

Java is taking away embedded developers? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22398696)

Sorry, would that be the Java that was originally conceived for set-top boxes and is ubiquitous on mobile phones? That Java? If anything, I would say that Java has done more for embedded development than any other language in the past decade or so.

Where - The interweb (1)

ChaseTec (447725) | more than 6 years ago | (#22398864)

There is not a huge business need for this type of programming knowledge so guess what - it's not taught as much in school. There are still plenty of people interested in this stuff. We regularly see articles about developers from all over the world working on the Linux kernel. Doesn't that require knowledge of computer architecture, assembly and C programming skills? The OSDev scene is full of people like this (see my homepage). I'm sure there are lots of embedded hobbyists that have regular codding jobs if you look for them. I can code in x86 asm and C but at the end of the week it's usually Java that pays the bills.

Entry Level Positions? (1)

Rycross (836649) | more than 6 years ago | (#22398882)

I certainly would have liked to do embedded programming. I really enjoyed my OS and Embedded Systems classes in college. As a result, when I was in the market for a new job, I was specifically looking for embedded systems work.

The problem was that any job pretty much wanted several years of experience, and greatly preferred a EE or Comp E degree. I had a CS degree and no formal experience in embedded. Any experience I had was through my classes, as my personal projects tended to focus in other areas.

Not that it matters anyway. My first job was doing .Net applications. Now, if I look for a new job, the only companies that would call me back are .Net jobs, with maybe a Java job once in a while. It doesn't matter how proficient in C++ I am, it seems.

I'd like to do some embedded projects personally, but I wonder if any employers would care. It always seems like the HR goons only care about professional experience, unless your informal experience and personal projects catch the eyes of a techie.

What can I do? I understand that they need qualified people, but its not as if all of us CS guys can't work outside of a VM.

Re:Entry Level Positions? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22399408)

What can I do?
Follow Sun Tzu's advice: Lie. (Deception is the most important tool in the Art of War)

If you've got the goods and you're really (truly) qualified, they'll forgive you. If you can't/don't hack it, you'll be embarassed and tossed out on your butt, and the company will learn to screen it's employees better.

Lying: The win-win solution.

Re:Entry Level Positions? (1)

gatkinso (15975) | more than 6 years ago | (#22399686)

Forget that A/C fool down below. My advice: learn as much as you can as a side hobby. Have some code to take in to show them. Know the toolkits and environments.

Show them that not only are you willing to learn, but that you have already taking care of the "Hello World" stage and are moving past the trivial. Come equipped with real questions about your side project if you are stuck on something.

Then, creatively craft a resume around these skills (but again don;t lie). be honest. Tell them you are willing to work like a dog but are still learning, and be willing to take a 10-15% pay hit if need be but a shrewd negotiator should be able to not have to.

My exact problem (1)

SeeManRun (1040704) | more than 6 years ago | (#22399472)

I am currently trying to get into this kind of development, but it seems like all postings for such jobs want tons of experience. My university clearly failed me in this department, so it seems like the only option is to find some router and write a custom firmware for it or do some other kind of embedded program. The only problem with this is I fathom it will take quite some time to get the necessary skills to work at it professionally, and I would imagine one would lose interest in a year. Takes experience to get experience it seems.

Here is one (1)

gatkinso (15975) | more than 6 years ago | (#22399622)

After 17 years of writing application code - I just got sick and tired of sockets, threads, and shitty toolkits like MFC, GTK, and Qt.

Not that these constructs will ever truely disappear from my life, but christ that got old.

So I took the plunge, dusted off my (very dated) assember and architecture texts, revisted a couple of device drivers I wrote in the course of getting my masters, then convinced an employer to hire me at my current salary level to write device drivers and learn FPGA programming (Verilog).

They said "OK - be a *very* quick learner and we will keep you for longer than four months."

Sounds like a deal to me.

Where are the jobs? (4, Informative)

Stevecrox (962208) | more than 6 years ago | (#22399634)

As someone who finished whis BEng in Computer Engineering this year I have to ask, where are the embedded jobs?

I hunted around looking for any assembly/vhdl/c job I could find and only found one which didn't require 2 years expearence, they didn't get any message back to me until 2 months after I'd applied. I applied to roughly 35 "entry level" jobs dealing with embedded devices. None were interested because I lacked two years expearence. In the time it took the only one to get back to me I'd been contacted by a C++/Java company had a phone interview went up and been personnally interviewed and been offered the job.

The real kicker is the embedded jobs paid less, didn't mention any benifits and wanted more work out of me. I think the real issue is most companies aren't willing to invest in graduates unless its for business positions. It is difficult to get 2 years expearence when everyone demands 2 years for their entry level jobs. Which leads to a shortage since no one gets offered a embedded job so Universitys don't bother going into too much detail since 99% of their students will never use it.

Q: Where Are Tomorrow's Embedded Developers? (2, Funny)

dvase (1134189) | more than 6 years ago | (#22399718)

A: Sitting in Electrical Engineering classes, most likely in India.

Where does the divide start? (1)

jaminJay (1198469) | more than 6 years ago | (#22399740)

At the University I attend, all of the embedded-related subjects are Microelectronics Engineering controlled, and all of the Software Engineering subjects are controlled by the Engineering-oriented segment of Information Technology. They used to be two separate schools borrowing some subjects from one another and complaining how the other areas that each teaches aren't applicable enough (Software Engineering in Micro is not real Software Engineering, Programming in IT is too high-level for Micro applications, etc.), now they are in the 'Engineering' school.

This divide is propagated by the students, with most Micro students being lacklustre coders (from disinterest), and most Software students not giving a fig about the hardware. There are very few people doing a double-degree with Software and Micro, not just because it's hard, but because the culture clashes. A lot of people I've met in Software, however, started in Micro (myself included).

Marry this with the fact that intake of students tends to be in the Business-related degrees, the number of IT and Electronics professionals is dropping and the schools themselves are beginning to struggle.

The problem, as I see it, is one of glamour and financial success. Students are being wooed into the industries where the money is as being financially successful allows for a highly glamourous lifestyle and therefore required for 'sane' living. Engineers are once again being typified as dwelling in the basement of the company, working for schekels and getting no recognition.

This shows that the major problem, as ever, is a social one. IT is once again unpopular for the money and a lot of medium-large size companies (where most graduates end up) still consider IT in the realm of making sure Windows Server and Office are installed and running properly for those people who do the 'real' work. This is what I think students are currently seeing and they are not interested in being the mechanics of the information age.

So, where are the embedded developers? Well, I'm on my way (I hope), but I don't know of that many others following suit for exactly the reasons above (and the embedded courses tending to be post-graduate isn't helping, either).

</rant>

jaminJay "I bet someone guesses which Uni. I'm at..."

I'd be happy to. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22399752)

Jeff Bonhag
35 Oak St.
Rhinebeck, NY

Where I came from (1)

b0101101001010000 (1082031) | more than 6 years ago | (#22399820)

I am an embedded system engineer. I have a Bachelors in Electrical and Computer Engineering and a Masters in Electrical Engineering. I spent my last years in school in the infinitely useful embedded systems program at the University of Colorado, taking among other classes, Real-Time Embedded Systems http://ece.colorado.edu/~ecen5623/ [colorado.edu] under the insightful guidance of Dr. Sam Siewert. I learned what an embedded systems engineer was from him. As I continue to develop and meet other embedded system engineers I notice that many embedded system engineers have similar "round about" trajectories into the discipline. A common refrain is, "my company needed this little micro-controller programmed to do ... and I volunteered." What I'm getting at is embedded systems engineers come from a diverse background and seemed to eventually gravitate into doing the profession full time. The really good ones keep honing and developing their CS skills.

The tomorrow people (1)

bghost4 (852482) | more than 6 years ago | (#22400008)

The embedded developers are out there, just go to uProcessor forums, These are all the different people that may be the embedded developers of tomorrow. Not many people want to program in Assembler/C anymore, its much easier to use Perl/Ruby/Java/C#...(insert abstracted language here) that takes all the Hardware out of the picture and just leaves the software problems at hand. In a sense why would any developer(software) want to have to deal with the low level mechanics/Memory management/Registers... anyway when most platforms have a high level language that lets them abstract the hardware so They don't have to work with it. Its much easier to say Vector myVector = new Vector() than to try and figure out how much memory they are going to need for something, then allocate it on the stack, then use pointers null characters and other low level "voodoo". And as for colleges teaching about infinite memory and cpu cycles, why not. I'm not saying you shouldn't be aware of the limitations and advantages of your hardware platform, but the computer industry has made such leaps and bounds as far as hardware is concerned every year that its not easy to pick what constraints you should conform to. in the 90's 4Gigs of ram was unheard of for a end user's PC, even a power user of any sorts and was most likely limited to mainframes if even they had that much. The embedded community is pretty much the same way, why try and write your stuff and cram it into a 8 bit platform when you can have dual Arm cores with media processing capabilities in hardware. And hell even some GPS chipsets have a python interface in them! and Java runs on most embedded platforms now too. it seems to me, we carry in our pockets the technology of 5-10 years ago. 400Mhz X-Scale processors, Multi processor embedded devices. that being said, Imagine what you could process on an AMD64X2 machine/Core2 Duo if you had no OS overhead and were writing all of your software in Assembly. Well a lil off topic, oh well, could have been worse :)
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