Embedded systems are computerized systems within larger devices that control or increase the functionality of those devices.

The concept of an embedded system is not new, and the clearest example of it can be seen by observing the human body and its numerous subsystems like optical, auditory and nervous systems. In the early days of the computing age, the idea of an embedded system was commonly associated with military weapon systems or intelligence gathering equipment. Today, advances in nanotechnology have resulted in a proliferation of such systems that are used throughout modern societies. Entertainment gadgets like smart phones and MP3 players, as well as safety devices like smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, are just some examples of items that contain at least one embedded system.

There are some inherent challenges that embedded system developers face that standard application programmers do not when working on modern information technology (IT) projects. Here are some examples of issues relating to embedded system development, how embedded system engineers prepare for careers in this specialty computing field and the employment outlook for these computing specialists.

Challenges Within Embedded System Engineering

Embedded system engineering encompasses both hardware and software design and development, but the product’s software is most often associated with system performance. The primary challenge of embedded software development is that the software must fit into embedded hardware design. This often results in limited memory, storage capacity and processing speeds. Although limited by hardware design, an embedded system’s performance is critical when it controls life saving devices like those used by public safety personnel and the medical community. Conducting functional and integration testing of these systems is also more difficult than performing the same evaluations for standard applications because of the multiple electrical and mechanical components that are involved.

Academic Requirements to Become Embedded System Engineers

While standard application developers often have computer science backgrounds, most embedded system engineers have undergraduate degrees in electrical engineering, applied mathematics, physics or computer engineering. These engineers must be able to quickly adapt their work to various hardware platforms and development environments. However, a good deal of embedded applications are written in C and C++ so most of these developers have taken extensive courses that relate to these specific programming languages during their undergraduate and graduate school years.

Professional Development and Certifications

While continuing education is always a requirement for success within most IT jobs, professional certifications for embedded system engineering are not as prolific as they are for other IT roles. Also, some hiring managers for these engineering positions place more emphasis on demonstrated knowledge and skills than on certifications. The academic credential that they seem to prefer are advanced degrees in electrical engineering or computer engineering. Embedded system engineers who want to pursue professional development opportunities can also participate in specialized graduate level certificate courses in the subject at many universities.

Employment Outlook for Embedded System Engineers

The skills needed to become an embedded system engineer are the same across many different industries which results in numerous employment opportunities for those who are qualified. Surveys conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in 2012 projected that jobs in this career category would continue to grow, and these systems developers would find the greatest number of opportunities in industries like defense, consumer electronics and communications. In 2015, the BLS reported that software systems developers like those who construct embedded systems earned an annual mean wage of $108,760.


It has become very popular to computerize various items to increase operational efficiencies within businesses, reduce defects within industrial production facilities and improve the quality of life for consumers. Continued innovation and the demand for improvements for current products that contain embedded systems help to ensure the progression of this specialty computing field.

Recommended Reading: 50 Most Advanced University Computer Science Departments 2016