Book Review: The Art of Designing Embedded Systems

Well written book by noted embedded system expert Jack Ganssle, who was humorous and not afraid to defend his opinions...


I first met Jack Ganssle when he gave a talk on managing embedded system software development projects at an Embedded Systems Conference East (Boston) a couple of years ago. I remember thinking: “Hey, this guy really knows his stuff!” What I learned from his talk not only made sense, but was eminiently practical. On top of that, I actually enjoyed listening to him. Whereas most speakers have me fighting off sleep, Ganssle kept me engaged and entertained while covering some pretty heavy material in a concise, complete, and (may I say) even dense way.
Fast forward to a few months ago, when Newnes (a division of Reed Elsevier , which also publishes Control Engineering ) sent me a review copy of a new book: The Art of Designing Embedded Systems . Being a veteran programmer, but with less embedded-system experience than I would like, I stuffed it in my briefcase in hopes of finding time to read it cover-to-cover.
It took me a lot longer than I’d hoped to crack the spine and get into the text, but a week or so ago I finally got around to it. I’d had visions of the usual tough sledding through arcane material better suited to a reference text than Saturday afternoon with a bucket of popcorn, but I was wrong.
Instead, I found myself learning a lot fast, and really enjoying it — to the point of sitting around the office after hours to read “a little bit more.” The author made his points clearly, but with light, humorous, iconoclastic comments and stories. At the same time, the information was thoroughly sourced to authoratative references. He was also clearly not afraid to express, and defend, his own opinions, even when they ran counter to accepted “wisdom.”
About 20 pages in, I realized that I’d never checked to see who the author was — something unusual for me. “Who is this guy,” I thought, and turned back to the cover to find out. “It’s Jack Gannsle. Why am I not surprised?”
In six fairly long chapters (298 pages), Jack covers embedded system development from project planning through code development to testing and deployment. In a sense, the book is a collection of tips and tricks for experienced embedded system developers and programming managers. It would also be useful for beginning developers, but those with a good understanding of programming for embedded systems will get the most out of it. As Gandalf the Gray said in the Tolkien Trilogy: “The burned hand teaches best. After that, advice about fire goes straight to the heart.”
There are some instances where I disagree with Jack. I happen to feel, for example, that CamelCase format is more aesthetically pleasing than connecting_words_together_via_underscores to create variable names. ( I also find it easier to type.) By and large, however, everything he has to say (that I’ve had enough experience to judge) is right on target. Certainly, if you’re involved with developing embedded control systems, you need to have this book as part of your library.
Ganssle, J., The Art of Designing Embedded Systems , 2nd edition, ISBN: 978-0-7506-8644-0, Newnes imprint of Elsevier , Oxford, UK, 2008, 298 pp., softcover.
C.G. Masi , senior editor
Control Engineering News Desk
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