My interview with Saman was the first time I became familiar with the term “HIL” engineer which stands for “hard-ware-in-the-loop”. HIL engineers interact with both hardware and software by running simulated tests. HIL engineering is a growing discipline, especially in the automotive world as artificial intelligence becomes more widely adopted in vehicles.

Date of Interview:June 28, 2021

Interviewee:Saman

Basic Information

Your occupation

Answer: Software Test Engineer

Current employer

Answer: Navistar

Industry you work in

Answer: Automotive

City you work in

Answer: Lisle, IL

Compensation

[Compensation data was not provided by the interviewee. The below compensation information was retrieved from Glassdoor.com data. These averages come from compensation data that is self-reported by employees of the company.]

$81,571 is the average base salary for a HIL Engineer in the United States, but the number of reported salaries as of July 2021 is relatively low which does not provide a high level of confidence in this average. The upside potential appears to grow significantly with years of experience and more advanced HIL engineer roles.

Experience

Years at your current job

Answer: 2 years

Years working in your field, including time at previous employers

Answer: This if my first professional job after graduating from college

Education/Credentials

Did you go to college or pursue any other secondary education? If yes, was it required for your job?

Answer: Yes/Yes

What was your college major?

Answer: Mechanical engineering degree with a minor in computer science. The mechanical engineering aspect isn’t terribly relevant for my role, but the computer science side is pretty relevant.

What college did you go to?

Answer: University of Wisconsin-Madison

Did you go to graduate school? If yes, was it required?

Answer: No

Do you have any other professional licenses or certifications?

Answer: Fundamentals of Engineering, but not relevant.

Do you work in your field of study?

Answer: Directly Related

What is the minimum required schooling or training for your job?

Answer: Bachelors degree

Do you feel that your school’s reputation had a significant impact on getting a job in your field?

Answer: A little bit, but not significantly

Job Demand & Stability

How long did it take to land your first job in your field after graduating?

Answer: It took about 6 months. I didn’t quite know what I wanted to do so, I was applying around a bit. I wanted to use the software aspects of my education in addition to mechanical engineering aspects.

Did you have any internships?

Answer: I did at a hydraulics company where I helped develop a new pump for a construction application. Having a co-op helps to land a first job since it shows that you’re not completely inexperienced.

If you lost your job tomorrow, would it be difficult to get a similar or better job?

Answer: This field is growing because the software for everything is getting more complicated and there’s more to test (a lot more actually). My department is one of the fastest growing departments in the company. It’s still kind of niche and there may not be a ton of companies with this role, but it’s definitely growing. Many of these jobs are in Michigan [related to automotive companies] and companies like Boeing in the Northwest.

Advice For Success

What advice would you provide to someone on how to become a HIL engineer?

Answer: Work on projects where you have to tinker and fix stuff. When there’s an issue found with software testing, you have to delve into the electrical wiring to try and resolve. You often have to get it to work on a tight time frame. Consider joining a robotics club in college or the FIRST robotics program in high school.

Nature of Job and Schedule

Describe what you do

Answer: HIL Simulation Engineer can test software without having it applied in a real-world application. For example, an engine has temperature sensors, so HIL engineers would have a model that mimics what a real world vehicle would do, based on inputs sent to it.

We’re still developing a test bench (the hardware in the loop or “HIL”). We have to rewire the HIL to hook up to sensors. Part of the job is to figure out the best way to do that. Each sensor is different and we have limited input/output (as provided by our measurement and control boards) to send out electrical signals. A typical test case involves looking at requirements written by our requirements team, and we develop a test case which is setting up inputs and conditions for it. Then we monitor the outputs. An example could be a fault code that a vehicle outputs when it has an issue. Our team is relatively new, so I work on a pretty small team. The software test team is about 20-25 members plus offshore engineers. My team is about 5 people.

Describe your daily and weekly schedule

Answer: Monday through Friday with flexible hours ranging from 9:00AM-5:00PM or 7:00AM-3:00PM. I pretty much work 40 hours a week, unless there’s a big deadline, but that’s rare.

What parts of your job are repetitive?

Answer: Sometimes integrating a new module (setting up the wiring) can get a little repetitive. We’re integrating a lot of autonomous driving units right now. Other engineers deal with repetitiveness if they are testing the same system over and over. For my role, this is probably about 10% of my time. For others it might be 30%.

What parts of your job require learning or performing new duties/responsibilities?

Answer: We have to understand the product and what’s being added. For example, new sensors may need to understand radar and LiDAR. We need to understand an engine’s drive train (e.g. diesel or gas engine). There are a lot of really good YouTube channels like Donut Media and Engineering Explained on these topics.

Describe the setting you work in most

Answer: Close to 100% in the office, but sometimes I have to go to the plant and help re-flash modules.

Describe the nature and frequency of working with other people while doing your job

Answer: I do work hand in hand with another engineer most of the time. We brainstorm, together, the best ways to accomplish tasks. We work together mostly in the brainstorming and diagnosing/issue phase. If I am writing a script to automate a test process, I mostly work by myself, but do get feedback from my team before releasing the tool.

Does your job require travel?

Answer: I haven’t needed to travel but others have traveled to plants in other states.

Likes/Dislikes/Other

What is the most enjoyable or rewarding part of your job?

Answer: Getting to see what I test and seeing it put on the road. The feeling of knowing we made sure it was safe and works properly. Also, it’s a good feeling if we find an issue [before something is put into production] that would’ve cost the company a lot of time and money.

What is the most challenging or stressful part of your job?

Answer: Sometimes feeling stuck on an issue and being unable to determine what’s causing it. Sometimes you feel like you’ve tried everything.

Does your job provide work/life balance?

Answer: Yes, it’s very good.

How much time off do you take from work?

Answer: Starting off, I received 2 weeks of vacation plus time for our winter shut down between Christmas and January 1. There’s an option to buy an extra week off, too. After three years I get an additional [annual] week of vacation.

Any interesting/enjoyable perks of your job?

Answer: The campus is nice. There’s a gym in the building which is quite nice and it’s free to everyone.

Why did you pick your job?

Answer: I wanted to do something that involved the mechanical aspect, but also software-based. I also believe it’s something that is going to be in demand in the future.

What would you do if you had to change careers?

Answer: Something in the robotics field, such as developing a robot for factories.