Hardware vs. Software – “The Future Belongs to Programmers”

Having been immersed in the recruitment of hardware and software engineers since 2005, there have been many times when I have had to prioritise positions and provide information to clients on the market status/trends. The balance of hardware vs. software has played a part in my recruitment career to date and I’m sure looking ahead it will become ever more pivotal in both my career and client focus.

In this post, I wanted to establish if there is an unbalancing of the importance of each other; whether there has been a popularity shift?

A recent article in the EEJournal by Jim Turley titled, “The Future Belongs to Programmers”, was intriguing to read personally, to say the least, but the most poignant question it raised for me was… was he right? Is hardware engineering really like architecture, and software like poetry?

A point I agree with Jim on is his asking what the actual difference is between an Apple iPhone and an Android phone, what varies between a HTC and a Samsung, or what separates a Windows phone from one by Nokia? It’s definitely not the hardware because they all use near-identical processors, memory, and LCD screens. The only significant difference is the firmware inside, and, by implication, the third-party software with which it’s compatible.

Within this article I also discovered quite the discussion starter… “In the wide world of computer hardware and semiconductors, the two most profitable types of components are microprocessors and FPGAs. And what do those two chips have in common? They’re programmable. There aren’t many people who design microprocessors or FPGAs (Hello, Xilinx, AMD, Altera, and MIPS readers!), but there are a lot of engineers who program them…” It definitely got me thinking. From a global recruitment stance within this space – I would have to agree. People who can design microprocessors or FPGAs are at a premium, and clients are therefore moving to purchasing teams with a view to gaining such expertise, whilst simultaneously establishing large teams of engineers who can program them too.

In my recruitment space, I too find good FPGA/Microprocessors difficult to find. I work on a wide variety of projects, trying to reach out to and connect with such expertise in far and wide places. When I find such people they are like gold dust, with all 5 of my key clients clambering to speak with them. Makes the time searching worthwhile in the end…


3 responses to “Hardware vs. Software – “The Future Belongs to Programmers”

  1. This is a continuation of a trend that has been happening for the last ten years — the commoditization of hardware. It used to be that hardware engineers were needed to build big iron, but now we just assemble servers and cluster them together. Hardware designs are also more expensive. A mask set for an IC is in the millions. FPGAs cost 10x the price of a highend desktop CPU. Until we get to that stage where hardware development costs come down to level when garage shop engineers can make use of them and start the next cycle of innovation, we will be stuck with mediocrity and yet another programming language/methodology/framework/yada-yada

  2. BTW, Turley has been writing these kinds of articles for over 10 years (just google him). Hardware engineers haven’t disappeared yet.

    Back in school the really smart students became electrical engineers, those not so smart went into computer science and the really dumb became civil engineers 🙂

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