How to Become a Computer Hardware Engineer

•	In 2012, median pay for computer hardware engineers was $100,920 annually and $48.52 per hour[v]

Salary Potential if you become a computer hardware engineer

• In 2012, median pay for computer hardware engineers was $100,920 annually and $48.52 per hour[v]

Are you passionate about new technology and have an interest in math, computer science?

Like other kinds of engineers, computer hardware engineers research, design, and develop equipment and products – specifically, computer systems and components. They may play a role in creating computer parts, like processors and circuit boards, or other items with a computerized component, like car parts or mobile phones.  Even medical devices could be designed by a computer hardware engineer, as many have computerized elements. Candidates who are passionate about new technology and have an interest in math, computer science, and engineering may be suited to this career path.

If you’re curious about what to expect from this role, or you’re wondering what is computer hardware engineer salary potential, you’re in the right place. Keep reading to learn more about typical duties and skill sets, potential earnings, how to prepare to pursue a career as  a computer hardware engineering career path, and more.

What Does a Computer Hardware Engineer Do?

Computer hardware engineers design, develop, test, and improve computers or computerized equipment for commercial, military, scientific, or other uses. They may do everything from creating blueprints for a specific piece of equipment to constructing prototypes and overseeing manufacturing of the finalized item. Here are some typical duties a computer hardware engineer could be responsible for:

  • Building product prototypes using  models or computer simulators; testing and modifying prototypes
  • Determining and documenting functions and specifications for the product to ensure requirements are met
  • Evaluating the interface between hardware and software– for example, the hardware components of a mobile phone must interact with the phone’s software to create a functional product.
  • Creating computer hardware and support peripherals, such as central processing units (CPUs), microprocessors, disk drives, and more
  • Selecting manufacturing material to ensure compliance with product specifications, safety, and other regulations
  • Testing and monitoring equipment functionality, making changes to the product if necessary
  • Directing technicians, designers, and other team members to ensure team goals are met

Computer Hardware Engineering Qualities and Skill Sets

So what qualities and skills are most useful to prospective computer hardware engineers? Below are some characteristics and knowledge areas that could be necessary or recommended in this career path.

  • Knowledge of engineering and technology principles, terminology, and procedures
  • Design knowledge – you’ll likely need to understand the tools, techniques, and Computer Aided Design (CAD) software used to create technical plans, blueprints, models, and more
  • Knowledge of scientific or  analytical software such as Cadence Dracula, SAS software, The MathWorks MATLAB, and others
  • Knowledge of  development environment software and object-oriented development software such as C, Microsoft Visual Basic, C++, Microsoft Visual C#, and more; knowledge of platforms like Linux/Unix
  • Reasoning skills and problem-solving abilities – computer hardware engineers need to analyze complex problems and requirements to determine innovative solutions
  • A commitment to learning – as technology evolves, computer hardware engineers need to keep up with rapid advances and important trends

How to Become a Computer Hardware Engineer

What Education do I need to become a Computer Hardware Engineer[i]

Most computer hardware engineers earn at least a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering. Electrical engineering and computer science may also be acceptable degree areas.

typical entry level degree to become a hardware computer engineer is a bachelors degreeAccording to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employers may prefer candidates who have graduated from a program accredited by ABET, formerly the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. Knowledge of computer programming is also commonly expected.

So how long does it take to be a computer hardware engineer? Degree length may vary, but earning a bachelor’s degree could take around 4 years for a full-time student. Some employers prefer candidates with a master’s degree in computer engineering, and some computer engineers even opt to earn an MBA, or Master of Business Administration. Pursuing a graduate degree could take two years or longer for full-time students.

Training and Career Enhancement[i]

It’s usually important for computer hardware engineers to remain committed to continued learning throughout their careers, in order to keep up with advances in technology. Some computer hardware engineers also choose to pursue enhanced career opportunities as computer and information systems managers.

Certification, while not typically required, could help you demonstrate your competencies to prospective employers. Certifications may be offered by product or software vendors. Here are a few that could be useful to if you want to become a computer hardware engineer.

  • SAS Certified Base Programmer for SAS 9 Credential – this certification may help you demonstrate your understanding of SAS data structures, data management, and more. [ii]
  • MCTS: Visual Studio 2010 – this credential could help you demonstrate your knowledge of Microsoft Visual Studio software, which may be useful to computer hardware engineers. [iii]
  • CompTIA Linux+ certification – this program certifies your working knowledge of Linux, a platform that computer hardware engineers may need to understand.[iv]

Computer Hardware Engineer Salary Potential[v]

If you are considering becoming a computer hardware engineer, you are likely curious about computer hardware engineer salary potential and projected job growth. Keep in mind that figures tend to vary depending on your employer, where you live, and how much preparation you have. However, the stats below may be helpful:

  • In 2012, median pay for computer hardware engineers was $100,920 annually and $48.52 per hour.
  • Projected job growth between 2012 and 2022 is 7%.
  • According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, increased use of household appliances, medical devices, automobiles, or other devices containing computer chips could lead to some job growth in this field. [vi]

Sources:
onetonline.org/link/summary/17-2061.00  |  bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/computer-hardware-engineers.htm   

[i]bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/computer-hardware-engineers.htm#tab-4 | [ii]http://support.sas.com/certify/creds/bp.html  | [iii]microsoft.com/learning/en-us/visual-studio-certification.aspx |[iv] certification.comptia.org/getCertified/certifications/linux.aspx |[v]  bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/computer-hardware-engineers.htm#tab-1 | [vi] bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/computer-hardware-engineers.htm#tab-6

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