A functioning computer consists of both hardware – the physical components – and software – the programs that allow the computer to operate and complete tasks. Computer hardware engineers are the professionals who design and create hardware used in computers of various kinds, including:
- Circuit boards
- Memory devices
In addition to developing the parts for traditional desktop computers, computer hardware engineers also create the components for devices like smartphones, tablets and even computerized auto parts and medical devices, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported.
To develop new components, computer hardware engineers research new hardware ideas and develop blueprints of how to build a computer. They assemble models of the device according to the blueprints and test those models to see what changes are needed for optimal performance.
Computer hardware engineers also work on existing technology. They update hardware to keep pace with changing computer software and supervise the manufacturing of computer parts.
To become a computer hardware engineer, you will need a solid understanding of computer and engineering theories and application. A bachelor’s degree in computer engineering is the most popular path to this career. These programs combine the engineering principles taught in electrical engineering degree programs with a great deal of coursework in computer science, giving students the foundation they need in both subjects to succeed. Students should look for programs accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) to ensure that their coursework and instruction will meet the high standards future employers will look for in job candidates.
If your school of choice doesn’t offer a specific degree program in computer engineering, you can still prepare for a job as a computer hardware engineer by studying similar programs, like electrical engineering or computer science, the BLS reported. Since this education path may leave you lacking some of the skills you will need in a computer hardware engineer position, you may need to take additional coursework in either computer science or engineering to attain important knowledge and skills like computer programming and engineering principles.
An undergraduate degree is sufficient entry-level education to secure your first computer hardware engineer job. However, some candidates take their studies to the next level in order to advance to high-level or specialized roles or jobs with large firms. Even among computer hardware engineers who choose to pursue a graduate degree, students still have options. Some pursue a master’s degree in computer engineering, while others flesh out their business skills by earning a master’s degree in business administration (MBA).
Computer hardware engineers earn a median wage of $100,920 per year, according to the BLS. The computer and peripheral equipment manufacturing industry, which employs about 12 percent of all computer hardware engineers, offers the most earning potential, with a median annual salary of $109,860. The BLS expects career opportunities for computer hardware engineers to grow slower than average for both engineers of all disciplines and all occupations as a whole. However, candidates with advanced degrees from accredited computer engineering programs and some familiarity with computer software as well as hardware will still have good career prospects.
Computer hardware engineers create the physical components and devices used in computers, tablets and other kinds of computerized parts and devices. While a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering is preferred, a degree in electrical engineering or computer science can also qualify you for your first job in this high-paying career.