Designers are constantly faced with challenges, whether it's the challenge of a new project or the behind-the-scenes challenge of self-educating themselves on the latest tool, microprocessor architecture, or software utility. We are perpetual students as we go forward with our jobs. Often, the projects that we tackle require bringing together technologies from different disciplines. Usually, at least one of these technologies is so new or out of the mainstream that no one on the team has the expertise to apply it. Very often, the engineer responsible for suggesting that technology becomes the "expert" for that part of the solution.
I think designers have grown somewhat accustomed to this type of repetitive learning challenge. The abundant number of training opportunities offered by various organizations and the technology-focused conferences that provide tutorials, application discussions, and exhibits substantiate that premise. Plus, there are always new technologies that continually challenge us to stay current.
The wireless and embedded industries are, I think, good examples of how technologies that traditional system designers might not have previously thought related are now coming together. From an engineering viewpoint, the basic cell phone is a rather straightforward dedicated embedded system. But the most recent generation of smart phones adds to those features such options as e-mail support, limited Web browsing, and even built-in MP3 music playback. Next-generation phones will add still more functionality.
Such phones rely not only on higher-performance CPUs and more-complex operating-system software, but also on emerging technologies like wireless access protocol (WAP), wireless markup language (WML), and extensible markup language (XML).
If I seem to have started to babble in a foreign language, let me confirm that. WML and XML technologies, once the domain of Web developers, will be embedded in cell phones to display Web pages without requiring Web site creators to craft pages and content that are optimized for small LCD displays. This will also allow the microbrowsers on those phones to access corporate databases and more.
Therefore, in the race to build next-generation cellular systems, designers must gain a working knowledge of software that until this year had little to do with the system design space. The cellular industry is only one of many that will start to leverage technologies brought in from outside of the traditional hardware design space.
Can we keep up with changes to our familiar design disciplines and quickly embrace the technologies? Is there enough design expertise out in the market that can support designs with the new disciplines? Or, will we find ourselves in classes for so much time that projects end up being delayed? What are your challenges? I'd like to know.