Computer hardware engineers research, design, develop, and test computer systems and components such as processors, circuit boards, memory devices, networks, and routers.

Duties

Computer hardware engineers typically do the following:

  • Design new computer hardware, creating schematics of computer equipment to be built
  • Test the computer hardware they design
  • Analyze the test results and modify the design as needed
  • Update existing computer equipment so that it will work with new software
  • Oversee the manufacturing process for computer hardware

Many hardware engineers design devices used in manufactured products that incorporate processors and other computer components and that connect to the Internet. For example, many new cars, home appliances, and medical devices have Internet-ready computer systems built into them.

Computer hardware engineers ensure that computer hardware components work together with the latest software. Therefore, hardware engineers often work with software developers. For example, the hardware and software for mobile phones and other devices frequently are developed at the same time.

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Work Environment

Computer hardware engineers held about 64,400 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of computer hardware engineers were as follows:

Computer systems design and related services 25%
Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences
10
Computer and peripheral equipment manufacturing 10
Semiconductor and other electronic component manufacturing 9
Federal government 8

Work Schedules

Most computer hardware engineers work full time.

Education and Training

Most computer hardware engineers need a bachelor’s degree from an accredited computer engineering program.

Education

Most entry-level computer hardware engineers have a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering, although a degree in electrical engineering or computer science also is generally acceptable. A computer engineering major is similar to a major in electrical engineering but with a heavy emphasis on computer science.

Many engineering programs are accredited by ABET. Employers may prefer candidates who have graduated from an accredited program. To prepare for a major in computer or electrical engineering, students should have a solid background in math and science.

Because hardware engineers commonly work with computer software systems, a familiarity with computer programming is usually expected. This background may be obtained through computer science courses.

Some large firms or specialized jobs may require a master’s degree in computer engineering. Some experienced engineers obtain a master’s degree in business administration (MBA). All engineers must continue their learning over the course of their careers in order to keep up with rapid advances in technology.

Other Experience

Some students participate in internships while in school so that they can gain practical experience.

Advancement

Some computer hardware engineers can advance to become computer and information systems managers.

Personality and Interests

Computer hardware engineers typically have an interest in the Building, Thinking and Organizing interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. The Thinking interest area indicates a focus on researching, investigating, and increasing the understanding of natural laws. The Organizing interest area indicates a focus on working with information and processes to keep things arranged in orderly systems.

If you are not sure whether you have a Building or Thinking or Organizing interest which might fit with a career as a computer hardware engineer, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Computer hardware engineers should also possess the following specific qualities:

Analytical skills. Computer hardware engineers analyze complex equipment to determine the best way to improve it.

Creativity. Computer hardware engineers design new types of information technology devices.

Critical-thinking skills. These engineers use logic and reasoning to clarify goals, examine assumptions, and identify the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions to problems.

Problem-solving skills. Computer hardware engineers identify complex problems in computer hardware, develop and evaluate possible solutions, and figure out the best way to implement them.

Speaking skills. Engineers often work on teams and must be able to communicate with other types of engineers as well as with nontechnical team members.

Pay

The median annual wage for computer hardware engineers was $117,220 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $68,460, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $185,240.

In May 2019, the median annual wages for computer hardware engineers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Computer and peripheral equipment manufacturing  $140,840
Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences 132,450
Federal government 113,430
Semiconductor and other electronic component manufacturing 113,050
Computer systems design and related services 11,610

Most computer hardware engineers work full time.

Job Outlook

Employment of computer hardware engineers is projected to grow 6 percent from 2018 to 2028, about as fast as the average for all occupations. A limited number of engineers will be needed to meet the demand for new computer hardware because more technological innovation takes place with software than with hardware. However, demand may grow for hardware engineers as more industries outside of the computer and electronic product manufacturing industry begin to research and develop their own electronic devices. Thus, although declining employment in the manufacturing industries that employ many of these workers will impede the growth of this occupation, computer hardware engineers should be less affected than production occupations because firms are less likely to outsource this type of work.

An increase in hardware startup firms and the ongoing increase in devices with computer chips embedded in them, such as household appliances, medical devices, and automobiles, may lead to some job growth for computer hardware engineers.

For More Information

For more information about computer hardware engineers, visit

Association for Computing Machinery

IEEE Computer Society

For more information about ABET-accredited college and university programs in applied science, computing, engineering, and technology, visit

ABET

CareerOneStop

For a career video on computer hardware engineers, visit

Computer Hardware Engineers

 

FAQ

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The career information above is taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. This excellent resource for occupational data is published by the U.S. Department of Labor every two years. Truity periodically updates our site with information from the BLS database.

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