I regularly publish a Wonder and Whimsy blog linking to a number of interesting MCU applications that have crossed my desk that month. Many of them come not from professional engineers, but from folks whose domains of expertise lie more in application than in design. The advent of low-cost, open-source hardware and simplified design tools through the "maker movement" has enabled such designs, but at what cost to professional engineering?
There is a big difference between making something that works and engineering something that works well. Function is only one of many constraints the professional engineer must satisfy. There are also manufacturing cost, size and weight, battery life, regulatory concerns, time to market, maintainability, reliability, safety, and a host of other attributes that do not directly relate to functionality but are essential to performance and market acceptance of a design. With the pre-designed MCU hardware available these days, making a widget that does XYZ is relatively easy. Making a widget that does XYZ at lowest cost, highest reliability, and with great safety can be much harder.
Unfortunately, all those additional attributes are not readily apparent. It's easy to see what something can do. It takes time and (sometimes painful) experience to learn how reliable or safe a system is.
One possible result of the maker movement is that the growing ability of nearly anyone to create a functioning MCU-based design will devalue the role of the professional engineer. If all you see and evaluate is the surface functionality, the professional offers no apparent advantage over the hobbyist. So, hire creative people who know the application space rather than people who know design.
Another possible result is that professionals will devolve to a kind of "cleanup crew." A creative bartender puts together a robotic drink mixing system. The engineering team is then to take that design and reduce production costs and enhance reliability to make the design product-ready.
Or perhaps the opposite will occur. As folks take their first steps into MCU-based design, they will experience for themselves the challenges of going beyond functionality. They will develop a greater appreciation for the talent and knowledge needed to not only make something work but make it work well.
What do you think? We have a live chat scheduled for Thursday, October 11 at 2:00 p.m. ET to discuss the topic. Join us. We'd love to hear your opinions.