Many engineers use computers in the course of their work, but some engineering disciplines focus specifically on creating and solving problems with computer technology. Web operations engineer is just one of the jobs that fall into this category. If you are tech-savvy and enjoy the challenges of solving computer issues, then this career could be right for you. To get started, you will want to earn a degree in computer or software engineering or a similar field of study.

The Work of a Web Operations Engineer

Software engineers fulfill a variety of technical support roles behind the scenes of websites. They work with the full breadth of systems involved in website performance, including programming, networking, databases and computer server management and maintenance, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Like other kinds of engineers, web operations engineers are excellent problem solvers. They develop tools to assist with building out computer servers and assist website developers with finding solutions to particularly tricky technical problems.

Though they often have an engineering background and job title, web operations engineers are sometimes included under the umbrella of network and computer systems administrators.

Hardware Engineering

Hardware engineering typically falls under the domain of the discipline of electrical and computer engineering. An ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology)-accredited program in electrical and computer engineering includes coursework in physical, chemical or biological sciences and advanced mathematics courses in differential equations, linear algebra, discrete mathematics, integral calculus, complex variables and statistics. The engineering core of the major should include classes in computing science and the design of hardware components and systems. Even students who intend to go into hardware engineering should have some familiarity with computer science, especially programming, the BLS reported.

More than one quarter of the 73,600 computer hardware engineers working in the United States were employed in the industry of computer systems design. Another 14 percent worked in computer and peripheral equipment manufacturing and 12 percent worked in semiconductor and other electronic component manufacturing. Scientific research and development accounted for nine percent of jobs, and the federal government employed seven percent of hardware engineers.

Computer hardware engineers earn a median wage of $115,120, making them one of the highest paid types of engineers.

Software Engineering

Software engineering and the related major of computer science prepare graduates for careers such as software developer. In a software engineering degree program, students take classes in discrete mathematics, probability and statistics, computing fundamentals, software engineering processes, software systems tools, software design and construction, requirements analysis and security, verification, and validation. Computer programming is an important part of a software engineering curriculum, but it is not a software engineer’s primary job function, the BLS reported, so it is not as heavily emphasized in this major as in a computer science program.

There are more than 1,256,200 software developers working in the United States, with 831,300 of them working on software applications and 425,000 working on systems software. About 35 percent of applications developers and 31 percent of systems software developers work in the computer systems design industry. The field of software publishers employ10 percent of applications developers and six percent of systems software developers. About 10 percent of applications developers and six percent of systems software developers work in finance and insurance. The manufacturing industry employs seven percent of applications developers and 18 percent of system software developers.

Systems software developers earn somewhat higher wages than applications developers, with median salaries of $107,600 and $101,790 respectively, according to the BLS. For applications developers, employers in the fields of software publishers and manufacturing paid the highest wages. For systems software developers, jobs in manufacturing and then engineering services were the most lucrative.

Opportunities for software developers are on the rise. The BLS expects jobs for systems software developers to increase by a faster than average 11 percent and jobs for applications developers to increase by an astonishing 31 percent over a decade.

Choosing Between Hardware and Software Engineering

It can be difficult to decide whether to major in electrical and computer engineering or software engineering, especially for incoming freshmen. You may like computers but never had the opportunity to work on either hardware or software in an engineering capacity before, so you don’t know yet which one you would prefer. One way to figure out where to start your engineering education is to weigh the differences between computer engineering and software engineering. Are you more interested in building the computers themselves or the programs that they run?

One way to ease your mind is to realize that your decision to study hardware engineering rather than software engineering, or vice versa, doesn’t have to be permanent. Web operations engineers and other types of computer and software engineers sometimes earn a degree in one of these disciplines only to find that their work aligns more with the other discipline. In fact, some web software engineers will ultimately earn a graduate degree in the discipline they didn’t major in as undergraduates. The major you choose is where your career starts, but the path you take after graduation can still go in many different directions.

There is a lot of overlap between computer engineering and software engineering degree programs, so students don’t have to fear that they are missing out on a big chunk of knowledge by choosing one major over the other.