Continuing education for embedded developers -

Continuing education for embedded developers

My ongoing mission for this column is to enrage or engage you, gentle reader. Sometimes I'll trash open source software or claim that Microsoft flies with the angels, hoping to make a particular point via what is perhaps infuriating exaggeration.

But not today. I've long been frustrated with how disconnected too many firmware people are from their profession. Did you know that the average software person reads less than one technical book, other than user manuals, per year?

Or that of the 250,000 embedded developers in the world only 50k subscribe to Embedded Systems Programming , the only magazine that caters to the industry? That's only a fifth of all firmware folks! Are the rest of the developers in some stasis, never extending their capabilities?

Professionals work diligently to improve their expertise. Only amateurs accept the status quo and let their skills grow stale.

We work in the fastest-changing field in the world. Tomorrow's technology will be quite different from what we work with today. It's hard to keep up. But we must, or risk becoming obsolete.

Our jobs are challenged by low-cost overseas competition. Bosses want a silver bullet to get their projects done faster and cheaper. We'll suffer the fate of autoworkers when the Japanese destroyed Detroit in the '70s.

As Bob Dylan said, “he not busy being born is busy dying.”

The Embedded Systems Conference, the only event targeted at bringing together embedded developers, will be held in Boston September 15 through 18. I've been going since the very first of these in the late '80s, and can't imagine not attending. Though my ostensible role is to teach there, I find myself sucking in more knowledge than I can give back.

My demographics suggest some 30,000 developers work within easy driving distance miles of Boston. Show management expects around 5,000 attendees, up a healthy 25% over last year, but that's just a tiny fraction of the local embedded population.

What gives? Why not come? The show floor, where vendors show off their latest products, is free. The classes and tutorials are not, but run only about the cost of a plane ticket.

A wise advisor once told me a week spent learning just one new killer idea is a week well spent. Yet after each of these conferences I need a couple of hours to sort out all of the new ideas and concepts that litter my notepad.

Check out Do it today.

And, don't let the free margaritas on Tuesday, September 16 tempt you too much

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. He founded two companies specializing in embedded systems. Contact him at . His website is .

Reader Feedback

I agree wholeheartedly. Not sound like a paid endorser but I have attended two ESC conferences and they were by far, the best conference or learning experiences I have had. I hope my new employer allows me to attend in 2004.

Robert Chichester
Sr. Member of Engineering Staff
L3 Communications

Would Love to attend (my last one was back in 1994 in San Jose), but it's that darn Money Thing! Boss's don't understand the value in going to check out the latest stuff and getting a “download” on the latest software stuff. All they want is CODE, CODE, CODE! This is what Microsoft has brought us, ignorant “managers” who think code just spills forth from our brains, and we can fill in the gaps with “free” code off the Internet. I've been doing this 20 years, and I agree. Since most “programmers” are working at the “high level” these days, someone (US) still has to get the hardware up and running (and Stable!). Somehow, they don't “get it”. Alas, it's a loosing battle.Enjoy the show, have a beer on me!


Stephen Beckwith
Systems Engineer
L-3 Communications, GNS


I'll be at ESC-Boston, only my second ESC and first time at Boston.

It is tough selecting the classes to take. I filter out ones where the material is already familiar or easier to just get from reading a book, then try to select ones that are interesting and have a chance of being useful in some future job. There are still usually more than one to pick from for any time slot.

The emphasis is on “future job”. After decades in software development, I have joined the vast army of unemployed technical workers. The ESC is a substantial expense, but I am being optimistic and expecting it to pay off eventually. One topic that I hope to learn about that is not on the course schedule is “where are the jobs?”.

Gary Chatters
Unemployed Software Engineer

As staff levels are cut and costs driven down, I find that engineers are required to work on an increasing number of projects, with each project employing different hardware, operating system (if an OS at all), dev tools, 3rd party technologies, and protocols.

With no budget for training, I find the internet my greatest source of information. So even though I have not read any technical books, In the last year I have learned how to develop Windows applications, use Borland C++ Builder and Microsoft VC++, added a few more telecomms protocols to my belt, worked with several new boards and processors, and dealt with various 3rd part kit.

It's all I can do to learn the skills I need to do my day to day job. And I don't think my girlfriend would be too happy if I came home after a 12 hour day and started studying some new aspect of high speed digital circuit design!

Software Engineer

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