Embedded systems - a volatile business

Jack Ganssle

January 31, 2009

Jack GanssleJanuary 31, 2009

The embedded industry is one of the least studied high-tech arenas on the planet, despite the vast number of products we produce that change people's lives. Embedded.com conducts surveys from time to time, as does VDC and EE Times. I recently gained access to data collected and analyzed by Embedded Market Forecasters that kept me glued to the computer for several hours, as they market both the data and a tool that allows one to create complex and fascinating crosstabs.

About 500 people filled in Embedded Market Forecasters' survey, so the dataset, while not huge, is a similar size as used by other studies.1, 2 I always view studies with some suspicion, especially when they're used to bolster some quantitative argument. Similar questions posed to respondents of different studies invariably yield different answers. It's better to view them as impressionistic art; the outlines might be a bit fuzzy but they paint a qualitative picture. If 53.9% report using C++ it's probably safer to conclude that "about half" of developers use that language. (Actually, there's a more subtle issue at play: what does "using C++" mean? Using a C++ compiler to compile C code? Using C++ in a procedural manner? Taking advantage of the OO constructs?)

Then there's a need for a common-sense filter. In this study 23.2% (whoops--around a quarter) report using Visual Basic in response to the question "which language do you currently use for embedded designs?" I can't argue with the data, but find this statistic a bit hard to believe. Every study I have read about this market contains similar credulity-stretching numbers for all manner of questions. I chalk this up to respondents not reading the "embedded" qualifier carefully, but could be wrong, as happens 53.426% of the time.

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