How the Right Tools can Help Embedded Consultants and Contractors Improve Their Business [Make Money Developing for ARM Cortex-M]

Posted by Magnus Unemyr on Jan 4, 2017 10:00:00 AM

When meeting embedded developers at seminars and trade shows, it becomes clear that many are consultants or contractors that help their customers develop new embedded systems. You may be one too.

It can be argued that all embedded developers struggle with more or less the same problems, and share similar pain points. From a technical point of view, this may be so. But, it is also true that developers from different organizational backgrounds need different things from their embedded tools. In particular, I believe consultants and contractors need a tool supplier that enables not only technical success but also business success.



How can an embedded tool supplier help with business success? Consultants and contractors are different from other developers in that they need to balance both technical and commercial matters. The duties and pressures can be doubled.

Not only do you need to be conceived as a professional developer and land new projects, you also want to mitigate risk of failure, as unsuccessful projects can create a lot of badwill that might hurt your business for years to come. Word of mouth is important today, and many companies in all types of industries spend vast resources on reputation management. There is a reason for this.

So what does an embedded consultant or contractor need to mitigate risks and improve their chance of success; both technically and commercially?

  • Save money for yourself and your customer: Let's start with business success. How can an embedded tools supplier possibly help improve the success of your consulting or contracting business? As it turns out, flexible business models can support or damage your efforts of getting new projects. Traditionally, embedded tools have been sold as inflexible perpetual licenses, where the tool could cost north of $4000 per user. And it all had to be paid up front. This is not a model that help engineers working on projects on a temporary basis. Having the option of buying professional embedded tools using a low-cost subscription model can help land new projects. Atollic TrueSTUDIO supports the model of subscriptions where you only pay for the tool during the limited time you actually use it. This can dramatically reduce the cost for yourself or your customer.

  • Avoid unnecessary problems: Tools need to be rock solid. Buggy software that halts or delays your project is not what you need. Embedded development is difficult enough as it is. Tools that introduce project problems can make you look bad, even though the fault is not yours. Make sure you use a tool that has a good quality reputation. You may also want to chose a tool that has been proven in the field during years of practical use in the marketplace. This reduces the risk of introducing unnecessary problems in your project - and keeps you out of trouble.

  • Be the "guru" that can solve all problems: If you are an independent contractor, you might not have a team "at home" to back you up once you run into problems. You have other team members working for your customer for sure, but you might not want to expose problems or skill limitations to them if you can avoid it. As a consultant or contractor, you thus need to make sure you use tools that are fully supported by a skilled and friendly team that can help you once you run into problems. That can save your face and make you look like a more successful consultant towards your customer. No need to tell them someone else helped you out.

  • Present yourself as forward-thinking: The Eclipse IDE and the GNU C/C++ compiler and debugger are now increasingly becoming a de-facto standard for embedded development. This is no different in the Cortex-M space with popular device families like STM32, LPC, Kinetis, EFM32, etc. Being "fluent" in Eclipse and GCC/GDB is now an increasingly important skill as many organizations now standardize on these tools. If you know Eclipse and the GNU tools well, you will more easily and credibly be able to take on new projects from different customers. Additionally, you can avoid vendor lock-in and get a second-source should there be any need, if you use tools based on Eclipse and GNU.

  • Don't lock yourself into a corner: As a consultant or contractor, you likely switch between projects and customers from time to time. This means it is of great benefit to standardize on a tool that supports multiple device families, multiple RTOS'es, etc. By locking yourself into a tool that only supports one semiconductor vendor, for example, means you have to buy and learn new tools for each new customer or project. The same goes for real-time operating systems. Your customers may use different types of RTOSes, and selecting a tool that supports kernel-aware RTOS debugging for multiple real-time operating systems provides you with a lot of future proofing as you switch projects and customers. And as CMSIS-PACK comes into widespread use you will likely want a tool that fully supports this new emerging standard.

  • Keep learning new tricks and techniques: Educational resources can help you raise the bar as a skilled embedded developer. As a consultant, you are out in the trenches working in time-pressured projects most of the time, and you may not have time to go exploring the Internet to find new things to learn that can help you become a more skilled developer. Choosing a tool vendor that offers a lot of educational content can help you learn essential new skills in a time-efficient manner. This is why Atollic provides a lot of educational blog posts, whitepapers, video tutorials and app notes. We try to not just offer you great tools, but also support you throughout your development efforts in a wider sense.

If you are a consultant or contractor in the embedded development space; I'd love to hear your feedback on how you would like us to support you better with your specific challenges as a consultant or contractor! And take a close look at Atollic TrueSTUDIO as it ticks all the above checkboxes.

Read this whitepaper to learn more:

ARM Development White Paper - TrueSTUDIO


Topics: Atollic TrueSTUDIO, Embedded Software Development