A bill was recently introduced to mandate that high school students apply to college before they can receive their high school diploma. This bill reminded me that I worked with a number of people on embedded projects that did not have any college experience. It also reminded me that when I started new projects, the front end of the project usually involved a significant amount of research to understand not just what the project requirements were but also what the technology options and capabilities were.

In fact, while reminiscing, I realized that most of what I learned to do embedded development was learned on the job. The college education did provide value, but it did not provide specific knowledge related to designing embedded systems. I even learned different programming languages on the job because the ones I used in college were not used in the industry. A concept I learned in college and have found useful over the years, big O notation, has not shown itself to be a topic taught to even half of the people I worked with while building embedded systems. Truth be told, my mentors played a much larger role in my ability to tackle embedded designs than college did.

But then I wonder, was all of this on-the-job learning the result of working in the early, dirty, and wild-west world of embedded systems? Has the college curriculum since adjusted to address the needs of today’s embedded developers? Maybe they have, based on a programing class my daughter recently took in college, because the professor spent some time exposing the class to embedded concepts, but the class was not able to go deeply into any topics as it was an introduction course.

Is a college education necessary to be become an embedded developer today? If so, does the current curriculum sufficiently prepare students for embedded work or is there something that is missing from the course work? If not, what skill sets have you found to be essential for someone to start working with an embedded design team?

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  • Well....certainly agree with Larissa...I don't say it is a must. But the fact that if universities can come up with the curriculum such that it can match  corporate level technical training aiming to make them productive, then corporate can definitely think of reducing the cost on training :-) and directly put them on job :-).

  • That's an interesting question. Many of the University Programmes that we've been working with are transitioning the curriculum to more "project based learning" which focuses less on theory and more on the application. It's true that many of the best engineers often times did not have formal ECE training, but often times the most effective Engineers are those who can root the theory and apply them to experience (e.g. now that I'm trying to push the preformance on this processor I need to better understand the underlying algorithm... THANK you all those years of Calculus :-) ).