Technology is part of everyday life. As workers or consumers, we’ve grown inseparable from our devices. Though you may be familiar with your favorite device’s software and hardware, there’s a third and often overlooked spec: firmware.
Firmware plays a key role in a device’s operation. And there’s a lucrative job market out there for firmware engineers.
A firmware engineer creates software that tells a device how to react to inputs. Firmware is a special type of software that controls a device. Cameras, keyboards, TVs, and any other device which interprets input, require firmware built by engineers.
Firmware engineers were once considered distinct from embedded engineers. But these professional lines blurred as embedded systems in products become more intelligent. The job titles of embedded engineer and firmware engineer are now used interchangeably.
A firmware engineer is responsible for ensuring that an electrical device turns signals into specific operations. The engineers accomplish this by developing embedded software in the memory storage of a product.
These signals can be a pressed button or the turning of a wheel, or as complex as signals from an optical laser that reads disks.
Firmware engineers must have a strong grasp of software development. They’ll be integrating their embedded programs with different software as they design.
Firmware engineers also must work closely with the hardware development team. After all, the hardware of a device determines its needs during the firmware development process.
Firmware engineers must know how product elements work to provide the proper software to interpret commands. In this way, they utilize both software and hardware knowledge.
Sometimes advancements in technology require an update to a device’s firmware. For example, maybe a newer generation of a product can’t interact with older devices. Companies have the goal of optimizing the functionality of their products. Firmware engineers are there to help. They will develop and release updates to keep devices operating.
Firmware engineers are key to product development and work with people from all facets of tech design. In this career path, there are certain required skills to make sure things go smoothly.
Firmware engineers are something of a go-between for the worlds of hardware and software design. Because of this, they need to be able to interpret the needs of both sides, hear feedback, and help debug before product launches.
The backbone of firmware engineering is the C programming language. Microchips that interpret inputs and control hardware require C to make their decisions. Many firmware engineers also follow the test driven development (TDD) model to test their work during development.
Firmware engineers must be knowledgeable about different hardware components to tailor their project’s software. Most firmware engineers tend to continuously work on similar components to ensure their level of expertise with that technology. For example, if a firmware engineer builds software for cameras, they can help when the time comes for updates.
The national average salary for a firmware engineer is $107,756 per year, according to ZipRecruiter and ADP. The best place to find full-time work as a firmware engineer is likely in California’s Silicon Valley, where tech companies have taken root.
The outlook for firmware engineer jobs is good as tech continues to grow. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects software developer jobs to jump by 22 percent by 2028. Firmware engineers are key for ensuring that every new phone and TV works as it should and there are companies of varying sizes that need them to remain profitable.
It takes anywhere from four months to four years to become a firmware engineer.
There’s not a specific educational requirement to be a firmware engineer. It’s really about having the experience required to satisfy those job alerts that come your way. As a result, one can learn the ropes of firmware engineering on their own or go to college for in-depth education.
To be a firmware engineer you’re going to need to learn about hardware, software, and how they interact. Here’s a walkthrough on how to go from beginner to expert and land your dream career.
First, determine which route is right for you. Some prefer self-guided study while others like a classroom environment. What’s important is that you learn how to program in C for a variety of devices.
To accomplish this you can go to school or study through online classes. But once you’ve mastered this important aspect, you’re well on your way to becoming a firmware engineer.
After you’ve mastered C, you’ll need to know how it’s used. You should investigate different electronic components (safely) and research common hardware.
At this point, it’s time to combine your understanding of software and hardware to see where a firmware engineer’s responsibilities begin. Firmware engineers never work alone on projects, so it’s a good idea to learn how to operate as part of a team.
There are no hard educational requirements to become a firmware engineer. But it does require a lot of learning. Below are some courses that can help you on your journey.
The best place to start your career as a firmware engineer is to learn programming and computer science. Here are a few ideas on how to take that first step.
This highly-regarded, often updated class gives beginners a crash course on C. The course includes videos, exercises, and quizzes to teach you about this important coding language and its functions.
This course gives you real-world experience in coding for devices. It’ll walk you through coding blinking LEDs to programming pacemakers and traffic-light controllers. This is an intermediate course and requires you to have a basic idea of C.
You’ll also get hands-on experience building firmware for Texas Instruments’ TM4C123 microcontroller kit. This experience with hardware can be key to your future in the field.
This is the best school for computer engineering in the U.S., according to the US News and World Report.
Their electrical and computer engineering course is almost tailor-made for firmware engineers. It gives pupils a background in hardware and software. Armed with a degree in engineering, you’ll have a headstart in the field.
Absolutely. This field is experiencing astronomical growth as technology becomes more and more integrated into our society.
It’s a field that can easily lead to six-figure salaries without a graduate degree. Though you may have to relocate to take full advantage of the opportunities, that’s a small price to pay for a stable career.
This job is a great fit if you’re interested in how the technology around us works. You could be developing devices in no time and be part of a booming tech industry.