People inspecting IoT

Firmware controls the electronics which then connect our 'things' to the internet of 'things'. As a result firmware will reside on, well, everything. So what’s the dilemma with the current state of Firmware?

If you've been following the projections; IoT is and will continue to explode on the technology scene over the coming years. It's the next big thing with talk of trillions of dollars in new products over the coming 5-10 years. 

I hope it's true and the world will be transformed into a place where information on things, whether its a piece of paper, coffee mug, coffee machine or coffee bean will allow us to radically change the landscape. Imagine a world where not only are we all connected like never before (this is a common reality now), but all 'things' are connected to each other, and, to big data algorithms able to extract massive amounts of data; possibly curing our planet's and people's ailments that are as old as the human race. 

That's the dream. But there is a big road block and it needs attention and discussion. Not enough quality firmware. That stuff you need new versions of all the time. 'Firmware update! Please wait!' So what is firmware? Well it depends upon who you ask but we do know that two skills are required. A solid understanding of Electrical Engineering and, if you want it to have any semblance of quality, a solid understanding of Computer Science. Firmware controls the electronics which then connect our 'things' to the internet of 'things'. As a result firmware will reside on, well, everything. 

But here is the dilemma. There are very few firmware engineers, no college degrees in firmware engineering, and the population of firmware engineers is getting, well, old. Closing in on retirement. We already have a huge shortage of talented capable firmware engineers. All my colleagues from my generation of firmware engineers, the guys that brought to life the very first microprocessors that my parents generation brought into existence, like the Intel 8080 and 8085 are now in their 50's and 60's and retiring. Also, enrollment in engineering, at least in the United States continues to decline. 

So tell me. How is it we are going to create this massive new market without firmware engineers? The answer cannot be to just assign Electrical Engineers that are untrained in firmware/software the task. Yet this is the going method. The results are bad firmware which will mean bad products that are buggy and unreliable. 

Do you remember the early days of the PC? Remember how unreliable software was? We still live with some of those old legacy software designs but it's much better than the early days with an army of software designers who came on the scene and helped change the world hopefully for the better as we close in on cures for cancer and connect us all in ways we could never have imagined 30 years ago. Well my prediction, unless we act to improve this course, is that we will repeat the early days of software design. But here is the big challenge and concern. Having buggy software on your PC is one thing. But if we place firmware in just about everything and that firmware is as flawed as the early days of software... well your crashes will be a lot louder and more damaging then having to reboot your PC.

About the author:

Bob Scaccia is President and CEO USA Firmware.