As this job title implies, a computer hardware engineer's expertise lies with the physical parts of computers and computer systems. Often referred to as a hardware engineer, he or she oversees the manufacture and installation of computer systems, servers, chips and circuit boards as well as peripherals including keyboards, routers and printers. A computer hardware engineer's job includes design, development and testing of computer hardware.
There were 83,000 computer hardware engineers employed in 2012. One-fifth of people in this occupation work in the computer systems design industry. A slightly smaller number work in the semiconductor and other electronic component manufacturing industry. A significant number work in the computer and peripheral equipment manufacturing and the physical, engineering and life sciences research and development industries.
One typically needs a bachelor's degree in computer engineering for this career, but a degree in electrical engineering or computer science will also do. If you decide to get an engineering degree, look for a program that is accredited by ABET, a professional engineering association. To find one, you can use the accredited program search tool on ABET's website. Since computer hardware engineers need a background in computer science, students who major in electrical engineering should take classes in that subject.
To be successful in this field, one needs certain soft skills, or personal qualities. A computer engineer must be inquisitive, analytical and detail oriented. Good communication skills, both in written and oral, are also important.
As a computer hardware engineer gains experience, he or she will begin to work more independently and may eventually begin to supervise other workers. Some become computer and information systems managers.
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics expects employment of computer hardware engineers to grow more slowly than the average for all occupations through 2022. Graduating from an accredited program, as addressed earlier, will increase your chances of finding a job in this tight market as will having a master's degree and experience with software.
Computer hardware engineers earned a median annual salary of $100,920 in 2012 (US).
Use the Salary Wizard at Salary.com to find out how much a computer hardware engineer currently earns in your city.
A Day in a Computer Hardware Engineer's Life:
These are some typical job duties taken from online ads for computer hardware engineer positions found on Indeed.com:
- Diagnose and troubleshoot failed rotational media and solid state storage devices.
- Analyze user needs and recommend appropriate hardware.
- Modify hardware to either enable forensic analysis of the media or to change the functionality of the hardware for other purposes.
- Participate in the design and development of electronic circuits and assemblies.
- Conduct technical exploitation and examination of high priority digital media.
- Test and peer review for technical accuracy, standards and compliance to the design.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, US Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Computer Hardware Engineer, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/computer-hardware-engineers.htm (visited January 30, 1014).
Employment and Training Administration, US Department of Labor, O*NET Online, Computer Hardware Engineer, on the Internet at http://online.onetcenter.org/link/details/17-2061.00 (visited January 30, 2014).