Computer hardware engineers research, design and build computer hardware parts and systems. They also oversee the design of computer systems and implement any needed upgrades. Because their work involves the entire computer system, computer hardware engineers often collaborate with software engineers and computer programmers. To become a computer hardware engineer, you must earn at least a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Computer Hardware Engineering Overview
Although computer science and electrical engineering degrees may be sufficient for this career, computer hardware engineering programs focus heavier on computer science and computer hardware. Computer engineering students should have a strong background in math and science. They should also have good communication skills and an interest in computers.
Specifics on Hardware Engineering Degrees
Because hardware engineers and software engineers work closely together, computer hardware engineers are required to have knowledge of computer programming languages. Some companies may require a master’s degree in computer engineering. Some students choose a Master’s Degree in Business Administration (MBA) with a concentration in computer science or electrical engineering. Massachusetts Institute of Technology is one of many schools to offer such a program.
Computer Engineering & Computer Science Degrees
Some computer engineering or computer science programs may also offer different areas of concentration. Duke University, for example, has a Bachelor of Science in Electrical and Computer Engineering that offers five areas of concentration: computer engineering and digital systems; solid-state devices and integrated circuits; photonics; signal processing, communications and control systems; and electromagnetic fields. While all vaguely similar, each focuses on a specific area of computer engineering. The computer engineering and digital systems focuses on computer systems while the photonics focuses on applying optical technologies with information systems.
Online Computer Engineering Degrees
In addition to earning computer hardware engineering degrees on campus, students can also study through distance learning programs. Students in online programs can earn their degrees at home at their own pace. Once they’ve completed their classroom assignments, they’re usually required to find internships with businesses that utilize computer engineering. North Carolina State University and Purdue University are just two of the many colleges that now offer online computer engineering programs. The National Center for Education Statistics offers a listing of both on-campus and online programs located nationwide.
Accredited Computer Hardware Engineering Schools
The importance of choosing an accredited engineering school cannot be stressed enough. Most potential employers require their employers be graduates of accredited engineering programs. The most common accrediting agency is the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). Currently, there are about 233 ABET-accredited computer engineering programs in the United States. Aspiring computer hardware engineers can find rankings on computer engineering schools through U.S. News & World Reports.
One example of a computer engineering baccalaureate program can be found here at Wichita State University. As you can see, the curriculum for this four-year program includes not only professional major-related courses but also general education courses such as communication, English composition, humanities, mathematics and sciences. A student in this program may see courses like circuits, thermodynamics, computer networks, operating systems and programming in C, among others.
Another program example can be found at Kettering University in Flint, MI. This computer engineering program focuses on computer-embedded systems where smaller circuit boards, computer chips or modules are built into bigger systems like you’d find with GPS systems, smart phones, medical diagnostic systems or vehicle drive systems. Core courses in a program like this might include computer networking, hardware design and embedded computer applications. The student starts the program with basic engineering and science courses in the first year and advances to more complex courses towards the second half of the program.
Laboratory work and internships are a vital part of computer hardware engineering program. They not only provide the student with practical supervised experience but also allow them to put what they’ve learned in the classroom into a real life situation. Internships are not only a requirement for many programs but are also important when seeking employment. Students often have a senior design project that requires them to design a project on their own. Students who are pursuing master’s degrees are usually required to compete a thesis or an independent project based on their research.
Career Outlook for Computer Hardware Engineers
Computer hardware engineering degrees offer individuals the chance to earn excellent wages, according to the BLS. Even those in the lowest ten percent range earned about $66,070 annually as of May 2014, reported the bureau. However, the average annual wage for this profession was $108,430.
The BLS also reported that computer hardware engineers can expect employment growth of seven percent between 2012 and 2022. After working and gaining experience as computer hardware engineers, many choose to advance their careers by becoming computer and information systems managers. Unlike many other professions, computer hardware engineers are expected to continue with training and education throughout their careers to keep current with changing and advancing technology.