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Who Are You?

Summary: Firmware engineer? Hardware designer? Who are you?

In the summer of 1969 The Who put on a concert at the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, MD. Columbia, now a city of some 100,000, barely existed. Jim Rouse was secretly buying thousands of acres of farmland to create what he hoped would be an idyllic society devoid of the racial tensions that were then tormenting the nation. The pavilion had been built shortly before, ironically on the grounds of the Oakland Manor slave plantation.

Some of my friends and I attended that concert, rather annoyed with ourselves for obeying our parents and not having hitchhiked to Woodstock a few weeks earlier. It was a fantastic event, and as I recall the group played all of Tommy, which had recently been released.

They didn't play Who Are You, because that album didn't appear for another decade.

But Who Are You?

Surveys don't ask this question. They should. They drone on for hundreds of questions about which CPU or RTOS you're using and what your future choices might be. You'll note that it's rare to see the data actually released to the engineers who spent ten or 15 minutes responding. A little summary data will be presented, but the purpose of most surveys is to either sell the results to companies planning future products, or to promote a magazine.

Every couple of years I do a salary survey, and release all of the data (2014's is here: but the goal of that is to get a sense of what people make, not to learn about their backgrounds. It is clear, though, that we engineers, at least in the USA, are aging. We're retiring faster than new graduates are entering the field.

Who Are You?

Me, I was one of those introverted kids more interested in building circuits than baseball, who became an EE at the time the microprocessor was invented, who had learned programming in high school and college. I became an engineer when the company realized they needed someone who knew computer hardware and software, and have spent the last four decades in that fuzzy but tremendously fun space between electronic circuit design and writing firmware. I'm not entirely sure what .NET is, and, though I did write some commercial windowing VB code years ago, today when I need to manipulate files will either write bash-shell scripts or use Visual Studio to write C code in console, non-windowing, mode.

Over the years I have known embedded people who were English majors, ex-military technicians who became excellent digital designers, one salesman who was one of the worse programmers ever, a developer with an MS in computer science who had never written a program longer than 20 lines of code, and many EEs who spend all of their time writing firmware. There was a young man from the ghetto who came to us with no experience but tons of enthusiasm; he eventually ran our production department, but was later undone by drugs. One brilliant EE hated engineering; he later left and went into theater.

What about you? Are you an EE who spends all day writing firmware? A test engineer? A CS graduate who somehow found yourself in the embedded space? Use the comments to enlighten us. It's clear that there are more firmware people than digital hardware folks, and more of the latter than there are analog and RF people.

Take a minute and tell us about yourself!

Published June 24, 2015