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.

What are embedded systems?

Embedded systems are computer systems that have a dedicated function. They are 'embedded' within a more extensive mechanical or electronic system. There are four types of embedded systems:

1. Standalone embedded systems. Operating within a more extensive system is a key characteristic of embedded systems, but the standalone variety can function independently. Standalone embedded systems can produce outputs without a host computer. 

2. Network embedded systems. Network embedded systems are also referred to as networked embedded systems. They use wired or wireless networks to communicate with web servers.  

3. 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. 

4. Real-time embedded systems. Output generation speed is the crucial component of real-time embedded systems. In other words, their primary function is to provide results immediately. 

Embedded systems examples

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

Characteristics of embedded systems

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

  • Microprocessor-based or microcontroller-based. Both microprocessors and microcontrollers are integrated circuits. They provide embedded systems with computational power.

  • Frequently used for Internet of Things (IoT) devices. The IoT refers to a network of devices that can communicate with each other without human assistance, such as a home security system. 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 more extensive system running correctly. 

The three main components of embedded systems

Embedded systems have three primary components:

  1. Hardware

  2. Application-specific software

  3. A 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. The IT sector, in general, is an in-demand career choice, with technical engineers in short supply. This makes it a good option, giving you choices and a good salary if you are qualified. 

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 base salary for an embedded systems engineer in India is ₹5,63,315 annually [1].

How to become an embedded systems engineer

Some universities offer degrees in embedded systems engineering, or you can study degrees in 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. Certifications are also highly valued.

Gain the 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 gain embedded systems programming skills with a certificate in 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 CV.

Building a strong CV is an essential step for any job seeker. You can enhance your CV in several ways, including creating a portfolio. A portfolio is a collection of your best work to share with potential employers. If you still need to work 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 specialisation like Introduction to the Internet of Things and Embedded Systems.

Article sources

  1. Glassdoor. “Embedded Systems Engineer Salary, https://www.glassdoor.co.in/Salaries/embedded-systems-engineer-salary-SRCH_KO0,25.htm.” Accessed March 27, 2024. 

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