What Are Embedded Systems (+ How to Work with Them)

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Explore the role of embedded systems and embedded systems engineers with the following article.

[Featured Image] An embedded systems engineer shows his colleagues a monitor connected to a larger electronic system.

Embedded systems are computer systems that have a dedicated function. They are “embedded” because they exist within a larger mechanical or electronic system. The four types of embedded systems are:

  • Standalone embedded systems: While operating within a larger system is a key characteristic of embedded systems, the standalone variety can function independently and produce outputs without a host computer. 

  • Network embedded systems: Network embedded systems are also called networked embedded systems. To operate, they communicate with web servers through wired or wireless networks.  

  • Mobile embedded systems: Mobile embedded systems are small, portable devices. All mobile embedded systems are also standalone embedded systems. However, not all standalone embedded systems are mobile embedded systems. 

  • Real-time embedded systems: Output generation speed is the crucial component of real-time embedded systems, which' primary function is to provide results immediately. 

Examples of embedded systems

Standalone embedded systemsNetwork embedded systemsMobile embedded systemsReal-time embedded systems
Digital cameras Digital watches Temperature measurement systems Washing machinesHome security systems Point of sale (POS) systems Automated teller machines (ATMs)Cell phones Laptops Tablets SmartwatchesSelf-driving vehicle controls Aircraft control systems Medical devices and patient monitoring systems

Embedded systems vary significantly in complexity. One thing they all have in common is that they are task-specific. The following list outlines a few more shared characteristics of embedded systems.

  • Microprocessor-based or microcontroller-based: Both microprocessors and microcontrollers are integrated circuits that provide computational power to embedded systems.

  • Frequently used for Internet of Things (IoT) devices: IoT refers to a network of devices that can communicate with each other without human assistance, such as home security systems. Embedded systems support real-time computing and sensing in the IoT. 

  • Time-sensitive function execution: Embedded systems are often required to execute their intended function within a specific time frame to keep the larger system running properly. 

3 main components of embedded systems

Embedded systems have three primary components:

  1. Hardware

  2. Application-specific software

  3. Real-time operating system (RTOS)

Working with embedded systems

If you want to pursue a career in embedded systems development, you can become an embedded systems engineer. Engineering careers belong to the occupational field of architecture and engineering. Job Bank Canada projects 47 per cent job growth in this category by 2028. This figure translates into approximately 44,300 new jobs with only an estimated 48,000 job seekers looking to fill those roles [1].

Embedded systems engineer job description

An embedded systems engineer is responsible for designing, developing, and managing embedded systems in products. They work collaboratively with developers and provide technical assistance to clients and other departments. Embedded systems engineers also create and maintain documentation of projects and procedures. 

Embedded systems engineer salary

According to Glassdoor, the average salary for an embedded systems engineer in Canada is $87,770 per year [2]. The reported salary range starts with $69,000 on the low end and $112,000 on the high end. A senior systems engineer makes an average annual salary of $111,173 [3].

How to become an embedded systems engineer

Embedded systems engineers usually study electrical engineering, computer science, or a related field. Examples of degrees aspiring embedded systems engineers pursue include a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science and a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering. Some employers prefer applicants with a master’s degree.

In Canada, embedded systems engineers also need certification from the appropriate regulatory body, depending on which province or territory you plan to work in. 

Gain essential skills

Embedded systems engineers possess a combination of technical and workplace skills. First, the list below outlines essential workplace skills. Then, the following sections sort technical skills into two categories—programming and design. Consider using the checklists below to identify areas of focus for your study.


  • Written and verbal communication

  • Problem-solving

  • Project management skills

  • Creativity

  • Logic

  • Patience 

Embedded systems programming

  • C and C++ programming languages

  • Experience working with RTOS

  • Familiarity with device drivers like Linux

  • Remote and local debugging capabilities

  • Extensive experience working with hardware and software

You can earn a certificate in embedded systems programming skills through an online course like the University of Colorado Boulder’s Introduction to Embedded Systems Software and Development Environments.

Embedded systems design

  • Unified Modeling Language

  • Multiprocessor design skills

  • Understanding of embedded systems design patterns

  • Ability to work with modelling programs and languages like MATLAB

  • Knowledge of user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) design for embedded systems

Build your design skill set by earning a UX and Interface Design for Embedded Systems certificate from the University of Colorado Boulder.

Enhance your resume.

Building a strong resume is an essential step for any job seeker. You can enhance your resume in several ways, including creating a portfolio. A portfolio is a collection of your best work to share with potential employers. If you have not yet worked on an independent project that you can use for your portfolio, consider enrolling in a Guided Project. For example, the University of Colorado Boulder offers an online Real-Time Project for Embedded Systems

Learn more about embedded systems with Coursera.

Want to keep learning about embedded systems and embedded systems development? Consider earning a certificate from an online specialization like Introduction to the Internet of Things and Embedded Systems.

Article sources


Job Bank Canada. “Embedded Software Engineer in Canada, https://www.jobbank.gc.ca/marketreport/outlook-occupation/5484/ca;jsessionid=B26CB5339A67E08730623551EDC6B91B.jobsearch76.” Accessed June 11, 2024.

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