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How to Become a Computer Hardware Engineer – The Steps

How to Become a Computer Hardware Engineer

The IT industry has tons of potential careers to pursue. But not everyone wants to learn how to code or pursue programming as their primary professional endeavor. Instead, many are more interested in what makes computers physically tick. In other words, they’re more interested in computer hardware than computer software. Let’s break down how to become a computer hardware engineer step-by-step. By the end, you’ll know whether this is a promising career for your professional ambitions.

What is a Computer Engineer?

A computer hardware engineer performs various essential tasks related to the research, development, and manufacturing of computer systems and components.

Computers are complex devices that are ultimately mechanical at their most basic levels. Most people think of computer engineering as only related to software development and programming, but that’s not the case. Before software programs can be loaded onto computers, computer hardware engineers must build those components and ensure they work perfectly.

Computer hardware engineers may design or develop computer systems and components. They may also perform computer component research for firms, in which case they help to improve computers over time. Still, other computer engineers may test computer systems and components.

Regardless of their exact duties, computer hardware engineers frequently use components like:

  • Computer processors for CPUs (central processing units)
  • Circuit boards
  • Computer memory devices, like RAM sticks
  • Routers
  • Other computer components

What Do Computer Engineers Do?

Computer engineers perform numerous and wide-ranging tasks. They have varied responsibilities depending on their job titles and their seniority. Some example tasks that computer hardware engineers may do include:

  • Research new computer components and determine new ways to build computer components for better performance
  • Design and develop computer components or design complete computers
  • Put computers together or construct specific computer hardware, such as CPU components
  • Test computer components or entire systems to ensure fidelity or proper performance
  • Update an old computer or existing computer equipment so that it works with new software or hardware pieces
  • Oversee manufacturing processes for computer components and other hardware

In this way, many computer hardware engineers are closer to their mechanical engineering counterparts than computer software engineers or computer programmers.

What Skills Do You Need to Be a Computer Engineer?

Becoming a computer engineer means cultivating specific skills.

At a minimum, you need to be skilled in various mathematical disciplines, such as calculus, statistics, probability, and geometry. Computer engineering, both hardware and software-oriented, is a math-heavy field, so you should not pursue this profession if you aren’t comfortable with numbers.

Before beginning your program, you’ll also need to know how computers work at a basic level. Some rudimentary or advanced knowledge of programming languages in the principles of computer operating systems will also be beneficial.

Many computer hardware engineers work in teams and have to be team players. Therefore, communication and cooperation skills are also advantageous in this field. If you plan to lead a computer hardware engineering team in the future, leadership skills will be necessary as you grow in your career.

Computer Engineer Responsibilities

Computer engineer responsibilities can vary heavily from position to position. Generally, computer hardware engineers are responsible for the following:

  • Designing or coming up with ideas for new computer parts or systems
  • Testing computer parts and systems
  • Building computer parts and systems

However, some computer engineers may have more specialized responsibilities. Some engineers, for example, might be in charge of installing operating systems on computers or repairing broken computers.

Many computer hardware engineers are employed to upgrade existing computer systems with new components or programs. They are hired to minimize friction between different elements and to ensure that computers work properly once turned on after upgrades.

Should I Become a Computer Engineer?

Computer engineering could be right for you if you:

  • Love computers and tinkering with them, and you have from an early age.
  • Find the idea of taking computers apart and discovering how they work fascinating.
  • Are comfortable working with computers and math-heavy concepts.
  • Want a stable job in a career that allows you to earn more money in the future

Computer Engineering Explained

Computer engineering is the art of building, researching, and understanding computers. Depending on one’s specialty, computer engineering can focus on the hardware side of things – computer components, modules, motherboards, etc. – or the software side, which focuses more on programming languages and developing software application code.

Types of Computer Engineering

There are too many types of computer engineering to count. This variety and potential specialization make computer hardware engineering an excellent field for young professionals. You can specialize your skills and your career pursuits in different computer engineering specialties, such as:

  • Hardware systems
  • Computer embedded systems
  • Distributed computing
  • Robotics and cybernetics
  • Computer graphics and visualization
  • Network security
  • Medical image computing
  • Hardware security

Computer Engineering vs. Computer Science

While similar, computer engineering isn’t the same thing as computer science. Computer science is more abstract and focuses on computer theory and software skills. Computer engineering, on the other hand, has a mechanical or engineering focus. It emphasizes the design of computer components and hardware problems.

Both focuses are necessary in our modern world. However, these professional fields may appeal to different people.

Electrical Engineering vs. Computer Engineering

Electrical engineering is also not the same as computer engineering. Electrical engineering is more general in many ways. It focuses on finding new ways to use electricity and understanding how electrically conductive materials, such as certain metals or minerals, enable the development of new components and technologies.

Some knowledge of electrical engineering can be beneficial in the computer engineering field.

Computer Engineering Technology vs. Computer Engineering

Engineering technology focuses more on software engineering principles and problems than computer hardware engineering. For example, a computer engineering technology major may discover a new way to make a software program function with different hardware imitations. In contrast, a computer hardware engineer may design a new computer component to enable a software program to work more flexibly or efficiently.

How to Become a Computer Engineer

Becoming a computer engineer is relatively straightforward, though it can be difficult or time-consuming, depending on your mathematical talent and personal drive.

Step 1 – Acquire a Bachelor’s Degree

First, you will have to begin fulfilling computer engineering education requirements. The first step in doing so is to acquire a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution. ABET should accredit your bachelor’s degree alongside other accrediting organizations like the HLC.

Your bachelor’s degree should be in computer hardware engineering, computer science, or computer and information technology. The more specialized your degree can be, the better – it’ll make you a more attractive candidate for open computer engineering positions.

You can acquire a bachelor’s degree online or in person. Many of the best computer hardware engineering programs are available entirely online or with hybrid schedules.

Step 2 – Complete an Internship/Gain Experience

You’ll also likely need to gain computer engineering experience before qualifying for the most competitive jobs. Fortunately, many top computer engineering programs offer internship opportunities, giving you the chance to earn that experience before you graduate.

Suppose your program doesn’t offer an internship opportunity. In that case, you can pursue such an option after graduation or try to get another entry-level position.

Step 3 – Apply to Jobs

After acquiring your degree and any relevant certifications (see more below), you can apply for entry-level computer engineering jobs.

Step 4 – Continue Your Education

However, your bachelor’s degree is not the end of your professional education. A master’s or doctoral computer hardware engineering degree can also be advantageous, especially if you wish to rise in this industry and earn more money.

As you work, you should consider signing up for a graduate-level degree or at least pursuing specific certificates. The proper computer engineering certificates can qualify you for better positions and better pay, plus open up new professional opportunities in the future.

Education

Becoming a computer engineer requires a certain amount of education. At a bare minimum, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree in computer hardware engineering or a related major.

What Degree Do I Need to Become a Computer Engineer?

A bachelor’s degree in computer and information technology, computer engineering, or other related fields is the minimum credential you must have to work as a computer engineer. No matter the major you choose to pursue, ensure that your program is accredited by ABET or some other professional institution and accrediting organizations like the HLC or SACSCOC.

Although a bachelor’s degree is the minimum credential required to be a computer engineer, it’s not the only credential you can earn. It may benefit your career to pursue a higher or graduate-level degree, such as a master’s in computer engineering or computer science. Graduate-level degrees allow you to focus your studies even further and acquire more academic experience to benefit you in your profession.

Doctoral degrees can also assist as you climb the professional ladder and earn more money. You’ll often need a master’s or doctoral-level degree to be a computer engineering manager or executive.

Computer Engineer Prerequisites

Many of the best computer engineering degree programs have specific prerequisites you must meet before you qualify for admission. These prerequisites include:

  • GPA minimum, usually 3.0 or above. However, some programs are more accessible and may allow you to enter with a lower GPA.
  • Letter of recommendation/reference from one or more former supervisors or teachers
  • Statement of intent, in some cases
  • Some experience or proof of a project related to computer engineering. (This prerequisite is usually reserved for the most competitive, in-demand programs.)

It’s a good idea to look over a program’s prerequisites and requirements before applying. That way, you won’t waste any time and can apply to the programs you are most likely to get into in the first place.

Computer Engineering Requirements

Computer engineering is a technically complex and challenging field to master. Because of this, you must meet specific essential requirements before qualifying for any computer engineering positions.

Skills in math and logical thinking help you to be a successful computer hardware engineer. Computer engineering math requirements are to have knowledge and skills in calculus, mathematical modeling, statistics, cryptography, and probability. Thus, many of these classes are included in computer engineering college programs.

Other useful skills needed to be a computer engineer are in spacial manipulation. You also must be able to imagine three-dimensional objects in your mind when designing computer components. Interest and talent in electrical engineering are also beneficial.

To earn your degree, you will need to complete the required courses. Typical in a computer engineering course list are topics such as microprocessors, integrated systems, and network architecture.

What Qualifications Do You Need to Be a Computer Engineer?

In addition to general requirements, you also must meet specific qualifications to work as a computer hardware engineer.

Generally, professionals in this field need the following:

  • A bachelor’s degree in a relevant major, like computer engineering, computer science, etc.
  • Some experience in the field, usually acquired by obtaining an internship or an entry-level position at a computer engineering firm
  • Specific certifications or certificates proving you know how to work with particular components or use certain technologies

However, anyone can become a computer engineer. You don’t need a lot of experience in this industry to get started. Many entry-level jobs are available, and many opportunities to work up the professional ladder.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Computer Engineer?

From start to finish, it takes at least four years to become a computer engineer. However, this assumes you are employed right after graduating from an accredited bachelor’s degree program. Earning an entry-level computer engineering position may take more than five or six years.

What Experience Do I Need to Become a Computer Engineer?

Before becoming a computer engineer, you need experience working on computers and hardware components. Much of this experience can be gained during your accredited college program. However, you may also be required to complete an internship during or after college. An internship will give you the entry-level skills you need to succeed in this competitive, technically complex industry.

As you rise in the ranks, you’ll need experience working on teams and designing more complex components to become a supervisory computer engineer.

Certifications & Licenses

Earning a college degree is enough for entry-level computer engineering positions in many businesses. However, you can make yourself a more competitive candidate – and open yourself up to promotions or higher-level positions – by earning certifications or licenses in addition to your degree.

Some of the most essential computer hardware engineering certifications and licenses to earn include:

  • CompTIA A + certification. This certification is the best-known and arguably the most important computer hardware credential. Over 1 million IT professionals hold this credential, so it’s something that employers may expect in your career. To earn this certification, you need to pass two tests. One focuses on hardware and networking. In contrast, the other focuses on installing and configuring common operating systems like Windows, Android, Linux, etc.
  • ACMT or Apple Certified Macintosh Technician. This certification prepares you to work on Macintosh computers in homes and businesses. It also requires passing two different exams. Fortunately, this is a permanent credential, so you don’t have to recertify to retain it on your resume.
  • BICSI Technician and Registered Communications Distribution Designer. The BICSI certification proves you know how to use information and communications technology professionally. It’s a good credential if you will deal with many cabling technologies or tasks in your professional future.

Overall, earning a license or certification can significantly improve your competitiveness in the hiring arena. The proper permit can qualify you for some of the highest-paying computer hardware engineering jobs.

Careers and Outlook

What can you do with a computer engineering degree? Once you have a good computer engineering degree, a wide range of professional opportunities will be available.

Locations & Industries

Generally, computer hardware engineers work in the computer systems design industry. They may design or build components for businesses or computer engineering companies. For instance, a computer hardware engineer may work to improve graphics chips for a gaming PC company.

Computer hardware engineers can work in different industries and environments depending on their professional desires and experience levels. Computer engineering degrees also open up professional doors in other industries like the following:

  • The federal government employs many computer hardware engineers to advance its national technology and systems
  • Research and development industries, particularly for physics, engineering, and life sciences organizations or universities
  • The electrical component manufacturing industry, in which case you may work designing and rebuilding semiconductors and other components
  • The manufacturing industry for computers and peripheral equipment, in which case you’ll build computers and systems

Salary

Many are attracted to this field because of the computer engineering salary. Computer hardware engineers earn about $128,170 on average. However, the highest-paid computer engineers earn over $200,000 a year. It should be noted that, like most careers, the computer engineering starting salary is lower due to less experience in the job.

Generally, computer hardware engineers in the research and development industry earn more than computer hardware engineers in other sectors. Most of these professionals also work full-time schedules, with some opportunity for overtime pay.

Jobs

There are many jobs for computer engineers because of their ability to adapt and pivot. For example, they can become computer and information research scientists, who earn $131,490 per year. Other computer hardware engineers become computer and information systems managers, who make $159,010 annually.

Another computer engineering career they can also choose to pursue is that of a computer network architect, earning $120,520 per year. Other professionals with experience in computer hardware engineering become aerospace engineers and earn around $122,270 per year.

As you can see, you can pursue many different jobs with a computer engineering degree, from computer engineering jobs entry-level to advance position careers. Getting any degree in the IT industry is seen as wise and desirable, as STEM jobs are projected to become more valuable over the next several years.

Job Outlook

The job industry for computer hardware engineers is stable and projected to become more critical. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, computer hardware engineering positions should grow by 5% until 2031. That’s around as fast as all other occupations and may result in about 5,300 openings for new engineers each year.

Professional Organizations, Associations, & Resources

As a computer engineer, you may benefit from the networking opportunities and resources of professional organizations listed below:

  • Association of Computer Engineers and Technicians (ACET)
  • Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology (ABET)
  • American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE)

FAQs

Is computer engineering worth it?

Becoming a computer engineer could be worth it, particularly if you already like math and tinkering with computer systems. However, it’s only a worthwhile career if you love this topic. It can be all-encompassing and challenging to progress through.

Do computer engineers code?

Sometimes. Most computer engineers need to have a working knowledge of popular programming languages like C++. However, most computer hardware engineers spend more time dealing with computer hardware problems, not software problems.

Is it hard to become a computer engineer?

It can be. Computer engineering is a technically and mathematically complex field. It also requires a fair amount of education to get your start.

Do computer engineers make good money?

Yes. Computer hardware engineers earn well over $120,000 per year on average. However, they have the potential to make much more than this average by acquiring management positions or acquiring competitive positions.

Get Started Today!

All in all, becoming a computer hardware engineer could be a worthwhile pursuit for your professional goals. Computer hardware engineers earn good salaries, have excellent career stability, and acquire numerous valuable skills that should lead them to jobs for years to come.

GetEducated can help you find the best schools with online computer hardware engineering programs in no time. Explore our catalog of online schools today or our other resources for further assistance!

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