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A New Technology to Watch

Summary: Career Alert! Embedded systems are hot!

Job sites like Dice and Monster are to career-finding what a 24-cannon broadside is to dueling. Both will hurl a ton of stuff around. Neither is accurate. Focused, disciplined rifle shooting will be much more effective. Yet we see so many prospects pinning all of their hopes on a third party, like these sites. Or there's the candidate who does not specifically tune the resume to a particular opening, but instead sends identical versions, with identical cover letters, to all opportunities. Carefully targeted self-marketing is much more effective.

Dice, though, has really outdone itself recently. Turns out they have found there are five technologies (http://news.dice.com/2014/11/17/5-technologies-that-could-alter-your-career/) that could alter our careers. One is a new field of embedded systems. Quoting in full:

"One of the big things we're seeing among makers (besides the growing popularity of Maker Fairs) is System-on-a-Chip technology. New "prototyping systems" such as Arduino, which allow people to tinker with ideas before building dedicated circuit boards, include SoC technology sophisticated enough to permit controlling, monitoring, and networking devices without the need for a full-fledged operating system. Much of the work with embedded systems is still relatively nascent, but expect it to explode in coming years."

I'm not sure how many "makers" are doing systems on chips. It must be nice to have a personal fab.

And, did you know we need a SoC to control or monitor a device? Or that it is possible to actually execute code on a processor that isn't running Linux or Windows?

The embedded industry was born in 1971 and now accounts for 98% of all processors shipped. The brilliant analysts at Dice who so freely dispense career advice have finally noticed this "nascent" arena. The author no doubt typed up this missive on a PC with MCUs in the keyboard, disk drive, mouse, and maybe even his toothbrush (http://www.oralb.com/products/electric-toothbrush/bluetooth-toothbrush.aspx).

The average person is surrounded by a couple of PCs and hundreds of embedded systems. Most do their work quietly, running day after day, year after year, in the background without reboots, upgrades or the attention of the user. One definition of "embedded system" is a computer-based device that the user doesn't notice.

Last year a young insurance salesman was here. He was curious about the equipment in my lab so I showed him a TV remote control that I had been experimenting with. I showed him the MCU chip. He was astonished that a remote has a computer in it! It makes me wonder at this disconnect between the deeply-technical community and the rest of the world.

This is a stealth industry. When I use the word "embedded" to non-technical acquaintances they assume I'm a journalist in Iraq.

How about you: what sort of reactions do you get when explaining what you do?

Published December 22, 2014