What Makes C++ Useful for Electrical Engineers

2 weeks ago by Sam Holland

Gone are the days where only a computer science engineer is required to develop software and an electrical engineer (EE) has to work with pieces of hardware alone. Accordingly, there has been an increasing trend among non-computer engineers, particularly EEs, to learn at least one programming language—of which C++ is a chief example.

What Does C++ Mean to an Electrical Engineer?

With the advancement in technologies like the IoT, AI, driverless cars, robotics, and so on, the need for communication/data retrieval from small integrated circuits to a big motor has significantly increased. Generally, a third-party tool or a custom piece of code written using a programming language (consider C, C++, Java, Python, etc.) is run on a computer to communicate with the device.

Regardless of the specific field of electrical engineering (signal processing, microelectronics, and control systems are just some of the many examples), there is always the need for EEs to analyse a large volume of data. And while the more accessible types of software (like Microsoft Excel) can be used to store any type of data with ease, when it comes to data analysis, it is hard to find software (or a tool) that can extract meaningful information out of the user’s raw data.

 

The logo of the C++ programming language.

The logo of the C++ programming language. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

 

Thankfully, instead of spending long hours analysing the data manually, engineers can make use of a programming language—including, of course, C++—to create programs that can quickly analyse the data.

Plus, apart from achieving complex data analysis, engineers can also use C++ for other reasons: consider the options to simulate a problem, test various parts of a PCB, model of a design algorithm, run automated test cycles, and much more.

 

What Type of Electrical Engineers Can Use C++?

Be it a simple logic block or a complex signal processing module, C++ is ideal for simulating any kind of design algorithm.


Signal Processing

Generally, to model/simulate digital signal processing (DSP) algorithms, system designers use either C or third-party tools/software. While it is not cost-effective to use the latter, C also has its shortcomings—by way of not being efficient for the handling of user-defined data types. C++, on the other hand, can be used to create efficient DSP building objects that can be reused wherever needed; plus, it is easy to use C++ for manipulating bit-accurate simulations (particularly when compared to the user experience of third-party tools, such as MATLAB).

 

Microelectronics

It is required to use a programming language, either to develop applications or to understand the characteristics of microcontrollers, microprocessors or other integrated circuit modules. These days, a lot of engineers prefer C++ over C, as the former can be used alongside Microsoft Visual Studio, which supports integration with version control systems. Also, it is quite easy to run module/unit tests and/or to debug the hardware with Visual Studio.

 

Programming language concept.

Programming language concept. Image Credit: Pixabay.

 

The Fundamental Pros and Cons of Learning C++

 

Pros

  • Free libraries: as there are a lot of open-source libraries for C++ available online, engineers can save time and effort by reusing them

  • Similarity: because of its similarity with other programming languages, a working knowledge of C++ will make it easier for users to learn languages like Java, Python, and C# (pronounced C-sharp)

  • Wide support: as C++ is a widely-used language, engineers can receive quick support for their programming queries from communities like StackOverflow and GitHub

  • Portability: C++ is extremely portable; for example, a program written on a Linux OS can run on Windows without any modifications—a feature helpful feature for engineers who need to work on multiple operating systems

 

Cons

  • Complexity: C++ is a language that takes quite some time to learn; therefore, for beginners, it may be difficult to understand concepts like pointers, memory management, and so on

  • Readability: as C++ is very strict on syntax, readability is lost (sometimes, it is quite hard to understand a source code without comments)

 

Why Electrical Engineers Should Learn C++

Learning C++ will provide the following benefits for engineers:

  • It increases EEs’ chances of having high-powered jobs: an EE who works towards an adequate C++ knowledge may well open themselves up to above-average job opportunities

  • It improves productivity: learning a programming language like C++ will enable engineers to work dramatically faster by using programs to automate tedious tasks

  • Multiple career options: compared to those without it, EEs with C++ experience have a much higher chance of becoming an embedded software developer in plenty of industries, including automotive, aerospace, IT, energy—and, of course, electronics.


All in all, while C++ may already be taught as a part of the curriculum in various electrical engineering streams, it is, nevertheless, highly recommended that engineers spend extra time to learn C++ in-depth to enhance their career growth.

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