Reverse job hunting: ARM v PIC

At the end of my previous post I said I would describe the process I used to decide on which micro I was going to learn. Here is the first part of that description.

There are two main “families” of micro – the ARM and PIC families – also frequently referred to as “architectures”. This is a bit like saying there are two main “families” of car – petrol and diesel. They both do the same thing (providing a mode of transportation), and to the user the controls are the same (apart from putting the right fuel in), but what’s going on under the bonnet is quite different.

The main goal of this exercise is to improve my employability and so the most important, top-level question to answer is therefore: what are potential  employers actually looking for – experience of the ARM or PIC architecture? After all, there’s no point investing time and effort in learning about one architecture only to find that employers are generally looking for the other.

To answer the “ARM or PIC” question I used a process that I like to think of as “Reverse Job-Hunting”. To explain what I mean by this, I first need to describe the process of ordinary job-hunting as I see it. This is just my personal view, gained from the experience of being a job-hunter, and doubtless there’s a lot of detail that I’m missing, but just bear with me.

Let’s suppose that an employer finds themselves in the position of needing to recruit a new employee. It’s quite likely that the employer will use the services of one of the specialized recruitment agencies through which almost all recruitment seems to be done these days. The employer will give the agency a job description, details of the experience and qualifications required, etc., and the agency will post the vacancy on its website. A job-hunter will be able to search the agency’s vacancy listings and apply for any positions he or she finds appropriate. With me so far? Good!

This is all done online, and there are agencies servicing many different areas of the job market e.g. technical, creative, managerial, etc., etc. In my case I’m interested in those agencies covering the electronics industry, of which there appear to be approximately 30 or so in the UK.

To answer my ARM or PIC question I can use the system I’ve just described, but this time sort-of in reverse. I pick one of the recruitment agency websites, and enter appropriate terms in their search engine. This could be “microcontroller” for job title and “UK” for location. This returns a list of vacancies for microcontroller-related vacancies in the United Kingdom. At this point, if I was a regular job-hunter, I would start combing through the list and applying for the jobs that I like the look of. In my case, though, I look at each vacancy listing in turn and see whether a preference is given for the ARM or PIC architecture. Do this for a few agencies and I can start to build up picture of what it is that employers are looking for.

Here is the result of just such an exercise, carried out today:Survey graph.jpg

It’s a graph! Of course it’s a graph – I’m an engineer. I like graphs.

Seriously, though, this exercise does highlight a couple of useful things:

  • Out of 65 job vacancy postings, over half did not express a preference for either ARM or PIC and just asked for “microcontroller experience” or some similar phrase.
  • Of those that did express a preference, ARM was more popular by a ratio of 5:1.

OK, so this is a very small, very unscientific survey, but it does indicate this I should focus my efforts in the direction of the ARM architecture.

I’m quite sorry that the Microchip PIC family didn’t fare better as that family do seem to have a huge hobbyist following and a whole universe of third-party learning resources and tutorials. Some years ago I worked through the excellent Gooligum PIC tutorials, and I do recommend these if you are interested in studying the PIC series yourself.

Having decided on the ARM architecture, there are still decisions to be made about which of the many ARM versions to go for. This is a lengthy subject, and one I will return to in my next post. In the meantime, I wish you a happy new year, and thank you for reading!



Author: Chris Hill

Electronic Engineer living on the edge of the English Peak District. Enjoys maths, fell running and gin.

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