Embedded Firmware Engineer

Making products smarter takes firmware engineers. Here's the challenges to hiring in the age of IoT and how we're doing our part to provide solutions.

I founded this company in Cleveland, Ohio over a decade ago because I wanted to help companies big and small bring their innovative and smart ideas to life by literally making their products smarter.  Sounds kind of pie in the sky, but it really isn’t.

Whether it’s a smart faucet, or ceiling fan that you control from your phone, or larger scale smart projects for hotels, restaurants, or industrial spaces, we’ve been able to partner with leading global firms to bring great ideas to life.  The technology of today and tomorrow is truly changing our world, yet our industry is struggling.  Our most significant challenge has, and continues to be, finding the right talent to bring the proverbial napkin drawing to life.

Every day, more and more products out there will need firmware, the very specialized software that adds functionality to hardware, to make it smart.  And, in turn, it takes very specialized talent to figure all of this out.  As demand for smart products grows and their complexity increases, so does demand for firmware engineers.

Challenge One.  Defining Firmware Engineering

Firmware engineering expertise is not something you're going to get by going to college. You're going to get an electrical engineering degree perhaps, and take some courses in firmware design, but you're not going to come out of college with an “official degree” as a firmware engineer.

People often don't understand what firmware is so finding experts in the field is hard. It is truly a unique and specialized skillset.  The ideal candidate is a hybrid of several skills from various college curriculums.  You need someone who has an understanding and proficiency in engineering, hardware design being primary, along with physics, chemistry, you name it.  A solid understanding of modern software techniques is also ideal.

This is a hard individual to find, making it especially challenging for recruiters.

Large companies are always in need of firmware engineers.  They struggle because Human Resources has trouble trying to decipher what this thing is when trying to put together a job description.  What you end up with is a unicorn due to a lack of understanding that proficiency in each area of expertise is rarely possible. It’s a job description for a person that doesn’t exist.  For jobs like these you need expertise in areas like embedded Linux, real-time operating systems, micro controllers, and embedded software.  All of these things, in and of themselves, are stand-alone careers.

Then you end up with unicorn-types of job specifications and as a result it’s very hard to find someone that matches that skillset.  While Human Resources is always trying to find the perfect match for open positions, the complexity of firmware engineering can make that search long and frustrating.

Small companies have a different issue.  They have just a great a need for firmware engineers to help them navigate the waters as their products become more complex.  What you'll find frequently, or at least we've seen, is that when they hire a firmware engineer the company lacks a firmware-centered ecosystem.  It struggles to provide the new employee with the infrastructure needed to thrive and grow in the organization. This includes but isn’t necessarily limited to, exposure to and mentoring by more senior engineers.  Also, a management team that understands firmware engineering is important to give these new hires the tools they need to succeed.

Challenge Two.  Filling the Pipeline

So, we’ve looked at the struggle of defining what a firmware engineer is and the challenge companies face in recruiting.  Now the other issue.  There aren’t enough of us!  I've been a firmware engineer over 30 years, but it’s still a daily struggle to find individuals who specialize in this very unique field.

So, where do we find firmware engineers? They are primarily electrical engineers that have shifted their careers towards firmware. So, we have a very small pool to pick from.  We are cannibalizing the electrical engineering field to support the burgeoning firmware world.

This is an issue that isn’t going away anytime soon.  Companies like ours need to advocate to the major engineering universities to strengthen curriculums around this hybrid concept of someone who can be a dual expert in software and engineering to meet projected demand as interest and use of smart products skyrockets.

We’re working to do our part at USA Firmware.  We have gradually built a unique talent recruitment network to help our clients fill these critical roles as they take their concepts from smart to smarter.  Without critical talent assets, projects slow down and innovation stumbles.  In this fast-paced world where today’s innovations are outdated by tomorrow, we need to stay on the cutting edge of providing clients with the right talent at the right point in the product development pipeline to meet aggressive product commercialization objectives.

I welcome your thoughts on this.  Together as an industry we can help solve this critical issue for the advancement of these technologically advance consumer and industrial products.  Follow me and drop me a message on LinkedIn and let me know what you think.

I’ll dedicate subsequent blogs to this very important topic and look forward to sharing your ideas as well.

Have a great day.

Bob Scaccia


Bob Scaccia, President, CEO and founder of USA Firmware, formed the company in 2011 out of his passion for the art firmware design. Bob graduated with a BSEE in Electrical Engineering and quickly built a career that would lead him to become an expert in his field and a visionary entrepreneur in the industry. His past work experience includes design management and leadership roles in firmware with organizations Raytheon, Philips (formerly Picker International), Keithley Instruments and Thermo Scientific. Bob was working on his MBA in Business Management at Baldwin Wallace University earning a 4.0, when he founded USA Firmware. Since that time, Bob has grown the organization from a $200,000 per year business to a multi-million-dollar, award-winning business today. In addition, Bob is a firmware influencer and powers the world's largest embedded firmware group, as well as a firmware contributor with articles and podcasts on embedded.com. He's also published several articles including, "What a firmware curriculum would look like" and has been interviewed by various radio personalities on the topic of firmware and the embedded future.