Firmware engineering, while an extremely male-dominated field in which just 10 percent are women (according to PayScale), has a promising outlook for job security and availability in the future.
What is a firmware engineer?
Firmware engineers are part of company’s technical side. Firmware is classified as programmable content, like remote controls, computer software and more. Firmware engineers work with these electronic hardware devices, creating and installing algorithms that allow the devices to serve their purpose. The algorithms are specific instructions that enable a device to properly function.
Firmware engineers also work to prevent glitches in software and ensure everything runs smoothly. They also update technology and its hardware to work well with updates in the company’s systems.
How do you become a firmware engineer?
Most companies will require at least a bachelor’s degree and potentially a graduate degree as well in order to become a firmware engineer. One can obtain a bachelor’s and/or graduate degree in a math or science field, including computer engineering. But there’s more than just a degree to becoming a firmware engineer. We lay out some basic steps in order to chase this career path.
1. Earn a bachelor’s degree
Those who want to pursue this field should choose either an electrical engineering degree or a computer engineering degree. The main difference between the two programs is that a computer engineering curriculum normally incorporates more computer related courses. Students in these degree programs will take courses on electromagnetic devices, system designs, software engineering and more.
2. Complete a related internship
Internships provide hands-on experience that can boost one’s resume as well as give access to professional mentors and relationships. Also, internships can add to your years of experience in the field of engineering, which matters greatly when applying to jobs after graduation. Try to search for internships in the area you wish to work after you complete your degree.
3. Continue to boost your resume with entry-level positions
Don’t be discouraged if you are not a successful firmware engineer straight out of undergrad. You have to start somewhere. Gain more experience with entry-level positions as computer or hardware engineers. Learn the type of skills expected of you in order to apply for a firmware engineer position (we’ll discuss these later!)
4. Never stop learning
This is a field that is constantly changing and growing, and you need to be doing the same. Stay up-to-date with the latest technology and programming, and chase after post-graduate certificates if necessary and required.
How much should you expect to make?
Firmware engineers can expect to make more money the longer they are in the field, the more applicable experience they enter the field with and the further education they have received. And, of course, a person’s location is influential as well, with those working and living in larger cities typically making more than those in smaller, more rural areas.
According to Payscale, the average firmware engineer makes $83,787 per year, with the lower end making $62,000 and the higher end earning $122,000. Those working in San Jose, California are making, on average $114,832, which is almost $30,000 over the national average, while those in Orlando are earning an average of $58,320, or almost $40,000 below the national average. While those in Seattle can expect to make around $94,875, those living and working in Austin are making around $73,815.
And experience level plays a very important role in one’s salary. A firmware engineer with less than five years of professional experience will make, on average, $75,000 per year. An employee with mid-level experience can expect to earn around $94,000. Those with 10 to 20 years of experience are making approximately $110,000, and those with more than 20 years of experience in firmware engineering are earning, on average, $111,000 — indicating that this field is one with an obvious positive correlation between years of work put into a career and average annual income.
A few firmware engineers from around the country gave their own pros and cons for the field to Payscale. One engineer in Springfield called the career path “enjoyable but busy,” and went on to say the pros involve “close cooperation and camaraderie amongst local engineering teams and direct management. Fairly casual office environment,” while the cons involve, “grave lack of insight by top-level management into R&D processes, capabilities, resources, and concerns. Poor upstream and downstream communication between R&D and top-level management.”
What skills do you need?
Employers will mainly be focused on a candidate’s ability and knowledge of programming. There are many paths to becoming proficient in this area. While one path is to learn through a formal education like that of computer engineering, another option is a an all-inclusive boot camp or specific training courses. Employers may also require that a candidate has been certified and educated on a specific software or other type of programming relevant to the position.
Most employers require that a candidate is familiar and well versed in application development and the everyday computer jargon, as well as knowledgeable on and comfortable using Java, C/C++, Microsoft SQL Server and more. We’ve outlined a few additional necessary skills below:
Communication is a healthy skill in most fields, but can be especially beneficial in a field as technical as firmware engineering. While you may understand exactly what you are doing, you also need to be able to convey your process in layman's terms to colleagues and other teams within your company. Because of this, those who want to become firmware engineers are often encouraged to take communication classes like public speaking or writing in their undergraduate programs.
As technology and programming advances, so do the challenges that come along with it. Debugging is a major skill that employers seek in potential employees. Being able to reduce the amount of time spent on fixing systems and improving the overall efficiency can make you a highly sought after candidate.
Another highly applicable and beneficial skill overall — organization actually helps when carrying out the main aspects of this engineering field. Being organized in life allows one to become organized when staying up-to-date on skillsets, when communicating properly with other departments and more.
Where to look for jobs
Firmware engineering jobs can be found here, on Fairygodboss, on other sites such as Glassdoor, Indeed, LinkedIn, and Hired, as well as on engineering-specific career search sites such as Engineering.com, IHireEngineering.com and EngineerJobs.com.