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Surveying embedded design consultants

March 08, 2011

Jack Ganssle-March 08, 2011

In my Internet newsletter I recently ran a survey of embedded consultants to try and get a profile of that segment of our industry. 141 people responded (three quarters from the USA) and the results are interesting. For instance, what are these folks paid? In the US part timers average $79/hr; full timers $104/hr. (65% report consulting full time.) Breaking this down in more detail:

Full time
$45 to $60/hr – 9% of respondents
$61 to $80/hr – 25%
$81 to $100/hr – 31%
$101 to $125/hr – 13% $126 to $150/hr – 9%
More than $150/hr – 11%

Part time
$45 to $60/hr – 24% of respondents
$61 to $80/hr – 35%
$81 to $100/hr – 24%
$101 to $125/hr – 11%
$126 to $150/hr – 5%
More than $150/hr – 3%

To put this another way, 33% of full timers earn more than $100/hr compared to 19% of those working part time.

There’s far less data for the rest of the world , so correlations are impossible. Here’s some data:

- Australia: Average $90/hr, min of $80, max $100. Four data points
- Canada: Average $93/hr, min of $65, max $150, 5 data points
- Mainland Europe: Average $80/hr, min of $60, max of $109, 9 data points
- India: Average: Average $12/hr, min of $5, max of $20, 4 data points
- New Zealand: Average $60, min of $52, max of $65, 3 data points
- UK: Average of $71/hr, min of $50, max of $100, 6 data points.

Consultants like their work, no matter where they are in the world. 55% report they “love it.” 49% are “reasonably happy.”

Respondents averaged 12 years working as a consultant, and put in about 31 hours a week. 76% say they think things will be the same or better in the coming year.

Many people left comments. Here are few highlights:

”For every 2 hours that I bill, I probably spend another hour on non-billable activities, such as background reading, marketing, presentations/conferences, taxes & accounting, general business development, networking, travel, etc. I could charge less and bill more hours, and spend less time on non-tech stuff; but I love working on challenging stuff that pays well & dazzles the customer.”

”I could probably earn more and have a career path with a "proper" job but being able to indulge my passion as an embedded systems consultant in a home-based business is great for job satisfaction and family life.”

”I do mostly telecommute work in embedded software which is really rare and hard to find. My customer is somewhat local (50 minutes away), so I can go in every now and then for meetings. It works great having a young family and homeschooling.”

”I do not consult by choice - I was laid off from my "normal" local job and after nearly a year without work, took this short term contract with a long commute.”

”I got better quality customers when I raised my prices. And my old customers suddenly had more respect for me. Best part is they don't like to waste my time. I found a barrier at $200/hr and lowered my rate a bit since the recession.”

I have found one steady customer at $120/hr is more profitable (and satisfying) than short term projects at a higher rate $135-$150/hr.

”I have to keep raising my rates to keep from having too much business, or I won't have time for my family.”

It's a great career and I highly recommend it to all enterprising engineers.

”Things are about the same but I worry about the future and if I can keep it going.”

”When I started out in 1988, I did it purely for the perceived riches I would get. Within a few short years I realized that the main benefit is actually freedom from drudgery. About 10 years ago, the Labor government of the UK started to go after consultants by taxing them to death, but that backfired when the majority of us tightened up our contractual arrangements and business behavior, and managed to avoid paying the draconian taxes completely.”

”Now, I love my working life. Yes, I work hard, but it is at times that suit me and my family. Being in the embedded world, the hourly rates are low (compared with w/bankers for instance), but it is enough to live on.

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. Contact him at jack@ganssle.com. His website is www.ganssle.com.

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