The job outlook for computer hardware engineers is expected to be good, as employment is projected to grow at an average rate. Starting salaries for these engineers are typically some of the highest compared to other careers. Most entry-level positions require a bachelor’s degree in engineering, though some research positions require a master’s degree. Continuing education for computer hardware engineers is necessary as technology is constantly changing. Explore the job description, salary expectations, and steps to become a qualified engineer in the field of computer hardware.
Computer Hardware Engineer Job Description
Computer hardware engineers use math and science principles to develop economical solutions to technical problems. They link scientific discoveries with commercial applications to meet consumer needs.
Many computer engineers develop new products. They consider several factors during the process, including functional requirements, design, testing, and the overall cost. These products must meet strict production standards to ensure reliability, safety, and effectiveness. Engineering professionals can work in quality control to verify production meets or exceeds these standards.
These engineers use computers extensively to simulate system operations, analyze and produce designs, monitor quality, and control efficiency. Nanotechnology also comes into play by introducing new principles to the design process.
Computer engineers are responsible for the design, development, research, testing, and supervision of the manufacturing and installation of hardware. This hardware includes computer systems, circuit boards, chips, and related equipment like printers and routers.
Similar to the job of electronics engineers, these engineers also design and test circuits and other electronic components. The difference is that hardware engineers only work on those components related to computers and related equipment. There are many similarities between the positions and many work environments where they must collaborate on projects.
These engineers are largely responsible for the rapid advances in related technology through their research, design, and development efforts. With several years of experience and possibly a master’s degree, leadership opportunities are available in this field. Experienced engineers can oversee engineering departments and manufacturing processes to ensure hardware manufacturing is safe, efficient, and effective.
Typically, these professionals work in a lab, office, or factory. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 22% work in computer systems design and related services employers. Other common employers include semiconductor manufacturing, research and development, and the federal government.
They may travel extensively to worksites around the nation and abroad. Most computer engineers work a standard 40-hour week, except when deadline pressures call for longer hours. Some work remotely or in a hybrid work environment, though most work in person with a team of engineers and other professionals.
In addition to development and design, these engineers often work in maintenance, testing, or production. They may determine the causes of malfunctions, test for quality, or supervise factory production. Supervisors oversee entire projects or major components.
How to Become a Computer Hardware Engineer
The first step to becoming one of these highly skilled professionals is to earn a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field. In many cases, a postgraduate degree and license are also required. While there are many pathways to becoming a professional in the engineering field, here are some basic steps taken by most workers in this industry.
Earn a Bachelor’s Degree
Usually, computer hardware engineers must have a bachelor’s degree in engineering for entry-level positions. However, natural science and mathematics majors can occasionally find work in high-demand specialties. Related degrees are offered in mechanical engineering, civil engineering, electrical engineering, and electronics engineering. As an engineer, an individual can choose one branch to major in and later find work in other areas as the job market changes.
Any engineering degree typically includes a basic foundation of courses. Most programs for this career path include courses in general engineering, mathematics, sciences, computers, laboratory classes, social sciences, and humanities. In addition to this foundation, students also generally take courses in some or all of the following topics:
- IT fundamentals
- Internet of Things (IoT) system design
- Network architecture
There are a number of elective opportunities to specialize in a particular area of computer technology or to broaden understanding. Some programs allow students to specialize in a subdiscipline. These concentrations can include electromagnetics, circuits, power and energy systems, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, and big data analytics.
Alternative Degree Options
Beyond the standard four-year engineering bachelor’s degree, many colleges offer two-year engineering technology degrees as well as four-year engineering technology degrees. These programs provide a hands-on approach to learning current issues in engineering applications rather than the scientific or theoretical side.
Graduates of these four-year programs often find similar jobs to students with bachelor’s degrees. However, they usually aren’t eligible for licenses, and employers view their skill levels as somewhere between a technician and an engineer.
Earn a Graduate Degree
Computer hardware engineers usually need a graduate degree for faculty or research and development jobs. Many engineers go back to school to earn a master’s degree in business administration or a master’s degree in engineering to broaden their knowledge or learn new technology. Some management and senior-level positions require a master’s degree, so it can be a competitive career option for professionals seeking advancement opportunities.
Become a Licensed Professional Engineer
A license is required in all 50 states to offer engineering services directly to the public. To become a professional engineer (PE), engineering students must graduate from a program accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), have four years of related work experience, and pass an exam. Recent grads can start the process by taking the first part of the exam for an engineer intern title. Then, with relevant work experience, they can take the second part of the exam to receive the license.
Several professional certifications are available to computer hardware engineers to display competency and expertise in the industry. They’re often beneficial to workers looking to become managers or senior technical engineers.
Entry-level professionals usually work closely with an experienced engineer to gain experience and knowledge. Some larger companies also offer on-the-job training in the form of classes and seminars. Once skills are built, professionals can take on more challenging projects. Later, they may advance to technical specialist or supervisory positions. Some of these professionals also move into sales or managerial positions.
Other helpful skills include being creative, detail-oriented, curious, and analytical. These engineers should be able to work on a team, and their communication skills — both oral and written — should be top-notch.
Computer Hardware Engineer Salary and Job Outlook
Last year, there were about 1.6 million engineers working, and of those, about 73,750 specialized in computer hardware, according to BLS. Most engineering jobs are found in manufacturing and the professional, scientific, and technical services industries. However, there are also many in telecommunications, construction, and wholesale trade, too. Government agencies employ approximately 8% of engineers, while 3% are self-employed.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for computer hardware engineers was $128,170 in 2021. The highest 25% earn above $164,930, the lowest 10% earn $77,100, and the middle 50% earn between $99,880 and $164,930. These professionals earn one of the highest starting salaries among those holding bachelor’s degrees.
Even though engineering jobs overall are expected to grow at an average rate, those specialized in computer hardware are only expected to grow about 2% between 2020 and 2030, which is slower than average compared to all occupations. The use of computing and information technology is expanding rapidly, but intense foreign competition is expected to adversely affect the manufacture of relevant hardware and thus the job market for these engineers. Computer and semiconductor manufacturers are contracting more and more of the engineering needs out to foreign and domestic design firms. Therefore, much of the growth for these professionals will take place in the computer systems design and related services industry.
Continuing education throughout one’s career is essential for computer hardware engineers. Employers value their knowledge of the latest technology and expect these professionals to use that expertise to find the best solutions and offer the greatest value. Those who haven’t kept current in the field will be at a disadvantage when it comes time for layoffs, promotions, or a new job.
Computer Hardware Engineer Training Opportunities
While a degree isn’t necessary to launch a career, computer hardware engineers with bachelor’s degrees typically can earn more and enjoy more advancement opportunities. Explore online bachelor’s degrees in computer hardware engineering and related topics today to learn more.