I am graduated as an Electronic Engineer (mostly digital) by less than a year, I am passionate about electronics since forever, make it working, so nowadays also firmware shall be known, and by consequence microcontroller programming became a passion.

I have been graduated and found a job as a low level firmware developer. I have this job by almost only one year.

But I have the fear that once a career is taken for a few time in a field like mine, it is increasingly difficult to switch to another type of career, even if I accept to start from the beginning, professionally speaking.

I think to this argument because recently I feel the need to change toward more hardware design, I am referring to analog/digital/power systems. But I don't know if I am rushing, or maybe if generally speaking is a correct or common thing.

PS: hardware design does not imply working as IC developer, but rather PCB/disctere solutions design.

Thanks for the opinions.


If you cubby-holed yourself as a firmware engineer, you are doing something wrong. Firmware works hand-in-hand with hardware. To write good firmware, you need to know the "in"s and "out"s of your hardware really well. So well that, you might have as well designed it.

If you look at it from this angle, the difference between h/w engineer and f/w engineer is already very blurry in my opinion. But if your desire is to go play with PCBs, soldering, putting discrete components together to make a circuit board, you just need to find a position which will give you this opportunity.

Having said this, as an EE with both BS and MS degrees myself, let me clue you in on something that you might be overlooking: The days of building harware with your bare hands is basically over. In the past, when I was a fresh grad out of faculty of electrical engineering, we had a chance to go to the electronics parts store, buy an 8086 CPU, some RAM chips and get a wiring board and put together a low grade computer system which actually worked. Now, go open the guts of any electronic device if you will. All you see is two or three surface mounted components, doing everything under the sun. Unless you are the FPGA and/or ASIC designer, under the name of hardware design, you are basically doing nothing as a hardware engineer but rearranging what someone else had developed. And when you talk of chip design, you are again talking about a very low level firmware design, unless you are really into silicon dicing and fabrication process engineering.

Yes, there still are power systems, which use discrete components to build, but everything going low power nowadays, the glory days of power systems engineering is not too long in my opinion.

So, in short, you can do what you want, but your area of work is shrinking with every passing day. Leaving your current careerpath and going h/w engineering route, is a little risky for job security, if you ask me.

My 2 cents.

  • 1
    +1 - pure hardware design is becoming more & more of a niche, and even then its often a case of tweaking an existing design from a handful of app-notes. – brhans Jun 16 '16 at 20:27
  • Good answer, I have met many engineers who wouldn't be able to design/build a circuit board that actually works. They don't need to anymore. – Kilisi Jun 16 '16 at 20:35
  • @brhans I definitely agree with you, I have designed a lot of stuff for polytechic and myself, maybe I know what you mean. To Mel, thank for the advice! But let me specify: I talk about hw design (using CAD tools), not building it. That's true, outside IC design is more like assembling a puzzle, but consider that power systems (power LED, as example) are out there. To be precise, IC design is not out of my target in these considerations, and also IC analog design exist even though it is not very my field. – thexeno Jun 16 '16 at 20:56
  • I remember when at university we designed a simple uP (not very a uP, but very similar with help of some tools) in order to be used using a certain rudimental assembly language: the digital IC design ends when the low level programming starts, and viceversa. Fascinating. – thexeno Jun 16 '16 at 20:58
  • The example of designing a power LED you mentioned. Well, it is not h/w engineering in my opinion but rather materials engineering. an LED is a p-n junction diode, which emits light when proper voltage applied. After that whatever you do in the name of design is to arrange these LEDs in a certain shape or form to suit a need. IC design is pretty much the same way. gazillion NAND gates squeezed into a silicon substrate. Designing the chip is basically jockeying the position of NPN transistors. Which if you ask me, is done better by software than manual effort, hence called f/w I rest my case :) – MelBurslan Jun 16 '16 at 21:47

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