Informal observations

December 31, 2012

JackGanssle-December 31, 2012

EEs are less common. Increasingly teams are forged from CS/CE people or EEs who have never strayed outside of the domain of firmware. Again, exceptions abound; the last company I visited this month had a large group that was nearly all EEs. That is so unusual I was quite taken aback.

An increasing number of companies use at least some metrics, the most common being cyclometric complexity. Essentially none, though, use that to qualify their tests.

Testing is getting worse, driven by crazy schedules and the increasing size of code bases.

Teams continue to get bigger and individual developers complain more about being compartmentalized into narrow portions of a product. In many groups no one has any overall sense of how things work. It's not unusual to find hundreds of engineers--often in many different time zones--working on a single product.

Legacy code is both the best and worst problem faced by many. It's good simply because legacy code is the stuff that typically generates most of a company's revenue. It's a disaster because so much is so awful. Because code bases keep getting bigger, and since the embedded world (at 41 years since the first microprocessor) is well into middle-age, the landfill of old code is huge.

Many teams today work only on the fringes of the old software, making minor enhancements or bolting on new features. Few of these people are happy with what they are doing and most feel a weight of impending doom, expecting the old stuff to eventually implode.

Big companies that buy lots of microprocessors rely more than ever on the semiconductor vendors to supply substantial portions of the code base. They have plenty of leverage and as a result it's sometimes hard to draw a line between the vendor's and the customer's engineers. Some of this is also driven by poor documentation of the parts, as well as insanely complex devices, like the SoCs in mobile phones, that are all but undocumentable.

What hasn't changed is that engineers at small-to midsized companies are almost uniformly happy in their work. Some big outfits do an amazing job, though, of disenfranchising their people. And that's a darn shame.

Happy holidays, all, and let's hope for a great 2013.

Jack G. Ganssle is a lecturer and consultant on embedded development issues. He conducts seminars on embedded systems and helps companies with their embedded challenges, and works as an expert witness on embedded issues. Contact him at His website is

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