What to expect from an Embedded Systems Master’s

For the past two years, I have been getting frequent questions about what can one expect from a Master’s in Embedded Systems, what is the scope of the programme, where do theEmbedded Systems engineers fit in the industry. Honestly, It would have been unfair of me to speak anything about it without even completing the programme. I haven’t completed my master’s yet, but I’m on the verge of it. But since, in a few weeks, I’ll be finishing my blogging stint with KTH, I should share my experience and few tips for the upcoming master’s students.

I must confess/declare and state a disclaimer in the beginning: Everything that I’m going to write in this blog post is strictly my perspective about the Embedded Systems programme according to what I have observed, learned and experienced during my two years here and noticed in the industry and from the research trends in past couple of years. There might be some prejudice and biased opinions but I guess it’s impossible to be neutral while writing about such things.

If you don’t know what Embedded Systems are and what the programme is all about, first read this introduction post about it here before reading further.

The Scope of Embedded Systems

One of the most frequent queries that I got during the past couple of years was “what is the scope of Embedded Systems master’s programme”. Honestly, I don’t even understand this question. Moreover, if you are deciding for a master’s programme, your choice should be motivated by your interests rather than just the scope if you want to enjoy working on it and studying about it. Additionally, Embedded Systems is a very wide field, so one cannot tell the collective scope, but when you start specializing, then you have to look at the industrial or research scope of that field.

But if I decode the word “scope” correctly, then the closest I can relate to is: where do Embedded Systems engineers work in the industry. I would say, Embedded Systems engineers can fit into most of the electronic and computer engineering industries like:

  • Automotive Industry
  • Telecom Industry
  • Consumer Electronics
  • Automation & Robotics
  • Electronics Materials & Chemicals
  • Batteries & Power Supplies
  • Electronic Components
  • Industrial Manufacturing Equipment
  • Test & Measurement Equipment
  • Defence Equipment
  • Electronics Manufacturing Equipment
  • Solar Products Suppliers
  • PCBs, Assemblies
  • Sensors & Transducers

But this doesn’t mean that if you do a master’s in Embedded Systems, you can work in any of these industries. It means that Embedded Systems is a very wide field and you need to focus on the courses and projects depending on your interests.

The various kind of work profiles that you can get in these industries can be:

  • Hardware Engineer
  • Firmware Engineer
  • Verification/Validation Engineer
  • Embedded Design Engineer/Architect
  • Analog Design Engineer

And there could be much more.

In addition to all these industrial profiles, if you are interested in research there are lots of research projects and Ph.D. positions for Embedded Systems engineers in the field of Automation, Embedded Platforms (ASIC & FPGA), Analog Design, Medical Electronics, Parallel Programming, GPU Tech, A.I, Machine Learning, Neural Networks and much more. The field is very vast and it’s all about where you want to work.

If you have an entrepreneurial mindset, then you always have an option of starting your own company inspired from the things you learned in your Master’s.

How the Master’s programme at KTH is structured

Now that you know what kind of jobs exist for us, let’s try to map it to the Embedded Systems Master’s programme offered by KTH. KTH makes finding a specialization easy in the beginning by offering a choice of four specialization tracks, which are intended to cater to different parts of Electrical and Electronic industry and research community. :

  1. Embedded Electronics:  The student can study to become a specialist in the development of Sensor-based and Mixed-Signal Systems, (Multi-Processor) System-on-Chip (SoC) design, or building electronic gadgets for Internet-of-Things (IoT).
  2. Embedded Platforms: The student can study to become a specialist in the development of Embedded (Multicore) DSP platforms, Embedded (Multi-core) Computer platforms, and Embedded (Multi-care) Control platforms
  3. Embedded Software:  The student can study to become a specialist in Embedded Real-Time (Control) SW and general Embedded (Multi-core) Computer SW.
  4. Embedded Control: The student can study to become a specialist in Embedded Control Systems for applications in Automation, Mechatronics, and Robotics

If you further look from a student’s perspective, then the first year and second year run at an entirely different pace. The basic reason for that is the generic and exhaustive nature of the second year which I will talk about later. The difference between these four tracks can be observed in the first year where there are a number of mandatory courses which are different for different tracks. You will have to study 5 or 6 mandatory courses in the first year which leaves you with a choice of 2 or 3 electives. Although, if you find any interesting course, and you have already studied the mandatory course during your previous education at a similar level, then you can request for exemption from the mandatory course. The basic Embedded Systems course is mandatory for all the students studying this programme, hence you’ll find ~100 people in the class.

During the second year, you have the opportunity to enhance your skill set and practice your skills as well. The Embedded Systems Design project is a project-based course conducted by the Mechatronics department, in which 3-5 different companies come up with project proposals. Students then apply for the projects of their preference and the role they want to play in the team. Then there are teams formed for each project and a project manager is also elected. These teams are responsible for completing the project during the next four months and present it before Christmas, these projects are funded by the companies and they provide necessary assistance as well. I felt this is one of the highlights of the Embedded Systems master’s programme as you get to work on real industrial problems.

Before I get into the details of these tracks, let’s discuss any random embedded system and talk about the significance of different domains of Embedded Systems and why multiple engineers are required for the design.

Let’s consider a washing machine for example, These days washing machines are fitted with a number of automatic systems, but in a broad sense, the system in washing machine would have a circuit, with a microcontroller/ASIC chip on it, and a software which interacts with the user as well as a control system which interacts with the motors and other equipment in the machine. If you look closely, the PCB which houses all the circuits would have been designed by an Embedded Electronics engineer, while the microcontroller/ASIC chip would have been designed and verified by an Embedded Platforms engineer, there might be lots of ADCs which might be designed by an Embedded Electronics Engineer, while the Firmware for these chips would have been written by an Embedded Software engineer, the control system for the machine would be designed by an Embedded Control engineer. There are some overlapping as well as some unique skillsets among the different type of embedded engineers, and when they come together, magic happens (in this cases the magic is clean clothes).

Different tracks in the Embedded Systems programme

Let’s have a quick glance at the mandatory courses in different tracks to get an idea of where things are going. Since the basic Embedded Systems course is mandatory for all courses, I’ll not be discussing it.

In the Embedded Electronics track, the mandatory courses are:

There are three different specializations possible from these courses. If you take Digital Design with HDL and Embedded Hardware design in ASIC & FPGA, you can take some more courses to go in the direction of Verification and Validation. While if you Take Fundamentals of Integrated Electronics and take further follow-up courses, then you can work in the field of Analog Electronics and Analog Mixed Signals. And if you focus on Sensor-based systems and Electronic system design and take further courses in this direction, then you can work in the field of Hardware design at a circuit level (That’s what I am doing). One of the elective course that I highly recommend is RFID Design which is offered during the second year.

In the Embedded Software track, the mandatory courses are:

With these courses and further follow-up courses, you can specialize in Embedded Real-Time SW, Parallel programming, GPU Tech, Artificial Intelligence, Machine learning, and Neural networks.

In the Embedded Platforms track, the mandatory courses are:

This is a very specialized track and with another follow-up course in the second year, you can specialize in the field of ASIC/FPGA design, verification, and validation. As of 2017, it is one of the in-demand fields in the industry.

In the Embedded Control track, the mandatory courses are:

This is a specialized track which will lead you to work in the Automation, Robotics, and Mechatronics. You would be working with developing algorithms for integrating sensors and actuators.

The second year in Embedded systems programme consists of two major things and two minor things. The most important thing for your degree and career is the thesis project, which you do in the second half of the year. The second most important and one of the most enriching experiences of the master’s programme is the Embedded Systems Design Project, where you work in collaboration with a company to design a project for the problem proposed by them and work in big teams to work on it. You have a course in Project Management in parallel with this which involves a lot of formal report writing and useful documentation work, which will help you a lot in the long term.

The two minor things are the Research Methodology course and an elective 7.5 credit course, which you have to work in parallel with all other time-consuming things. The research methodology course will help you a lot during your thesis, so take all the assignments seriously to make most out of it.

How to make most out of your Master’s

I can give suggestions based on my experiences and mistakes.

Focus on the right things

It’s great to start your master’s with an open mind, but by the time you finish the first semester, it’s good to start focusing on one thing in which you want to specialize. It is always good to see the industrial trends to avoid going into a specialization which is not in demand. By the end of the first year, I would also recommend deciding whether you want to go for a Ph.D. or a Job after your Master’s and look for a thesis concurrent with that goal.

Most of the courses at KTH have a high emphasis on the lab work. I’d recommend doing most of the lab work as early as possible to make the most out of it, and perform the lab tasks not merely as tasks but an instrument to learn the tools, most of the tools that you use in these labs are industrial tools and will help you in the long run.

Time things well

This is a very very important thing, most of the students coming from outside of Europe (especially from the Indian subcontinent) are used to follow everything set by the curriculum. However, here, the education systems need you to be proactive to make most out of it. You need to start early for most of the things:

Course and semester registrations: You need to register for everything at KTH: the semester, the courses, the exams and obviously the events and workshops. For example, if you took a course, attended all the classes, completed all the labs but forgot to register for the exam, then you can’t write the exam. Also, if you are taking any elective course, within two weeks of the start, of course, you can drop out of the course if you don’t like it. There is no pressure of completing it if you don’t want to study it (as long as it is not a mandatory course).

Summer Jobs and Internships: Start looking and applying for them in January, only then you have a good chance to get one by July.

READ HERE >> Career Talk #3: Finding Part-time jobs, Summer jobs, and Internships

Thesis: Start applying for the thesis from October, only then you will be able to start by January. I myself had started in February, hence I could not complete it before the summer break.

READ HERE >> Career Talk #4: Master Thesis Hunting guide

Finding Jobs: Don’t wait till you finish your degree to look for jobs. Start looking for jobs as soon as you start your thesis so that you have secured a job by the time you finish your degree.

READ HERE >> Career Talk #5: How to look for jobs in Sweden

Don’t be just a geek

Contrary to the general perception, just scoring good grades won’t land you a job. You need to be socially active, go to events, attend workshops and know people if you want to make most out of the industrial presence in Kista. Good references can make the job hunting part for you very easy. There are a lot of free workshops and seminars happening all around the year, and in addition to the free sandwiches and coffee, you get a chance to interact with the people from industry and academia who can tell you what the current industry trend is and what kind of skill sets are they looking for in their potential employers.

I hope this short rundown of the programme helps, in my next blog I will write a bit more about the tools and software which can be great to learn to make your life easy during your Master’s.


7 thoughts on “What to expect from an Embedded Systems Master’s

  1. Abhinav Rana

    Hi Abhineet

    Always a pleasure to read your thoughts as they give a clear and concise picture. Could you please ask someone to guest write a similar post on ICT Innovation with Internet and Technology Architecture major?

    Abhinav Rana

  2. Abhineet Tomar Post author

    Hi Abhinav,

    I would have loved to do that, but I am not studying that programme and I don’t have even a single course in common with them. So, if I write something like this for that programme, I am pretty sure it won’t be accurate. This blog is mostly from my personal experience during the last two years while I was studying the Embedded Systems programme. I hope you can understand it.

  3. Abhinav Rana

    Hi Abhineet

    I absolutely understand it and that is why I am requesting if you could ask a friend from ICT program to write a guest blog for you which would be a amazing help for many students like me.

    Abhinav Rana

  4. Abhinav Rana

    Thanks Abhineet

    So when can I expect this collaboration 🙂

  5. Abhineet Tomar Post author

    Hi Abhinav,

    If you are referring to the collaboration project with a company, it’s in the first semester of the second year of Master’s.

    However, you always have options to work on many more projects outside of the curriculum during the summer and in parallel with the classes too if you manage to find something.

  6. Abhinav Rana

    Sorry Abhineet

    I was referring to the collaboration of someone writing a guest blog for you on ICT Program with ITA Track.

    Abhinav Rana

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