Board Design Engineer Careers: Salary Information & Job Description

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A board design engineer's median salary can be more than $100,000. Is it worth the education requirements? See real job descriptions and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming a board design engineer is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Board Design Engineering Career

Board design engineers are computer hardware engineers who specialize in creating circuit boards. Check out the pros and cons of becoming a board design engineer and see if this career fits your goals.

Pros of Becoming a Board Design Engineer
High earning potential (2014 median salary of $108,430 for computer hardware engineers)*
Most positions only require a bachelor's degree*
Variety of job tasks (testing hardware, building prototypes, assisting other designers, analyzing hardware needs)**
Number of board specialties to choose from (RF, wireless, digital)***

Cons of Becoming a Board Design Engineer
Job opportunities may only be available in select areas (most professionals work in metropolitan areas)*
About 1/3 of these engineers worked more than 40 hours per week in 2010*
Slower-than-average job growth (projected 7% increase from 2012-2022)*
Even with a bachelor's degree, you still may need years of experience before you qualify for most board design positions***

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **O*NET OnLine, ***Multiple job posts from August 2012

Career Info

Job Description and Duties

Board design engineers focus on making the circuit boards that go in computers, phones, game consoles and other electronics. The design of the circuit board must meet the needs of the company that wants to use the board, so these engineers often interact with other designers, engineers and anyone else involved in the project. Depending on the size of the project, board design engineers may direct a team of technicians.

Not only do board engineers have to create a product that meets the needs of software developers, but they also need to select materials that are cost-effective. As they analyze the board, these engineers make changes to the design to improve efficiency and compatibility. Board engineers may end up creating new designs fairly often to keep up with the rapid changes in technology.

Salary and Career Outlook

The BLS found that computer hardware engineers earned a median salary of approximately $108,430 in 2014, which was significantly higher than the national median salary for bachelor's degree holders in general.

Slower-than-average job growth was projected for computer hardware engineers; the BLS expected these professionals to see a 7% increase in jobs during the decade of 2012-2022. Much of the innovation in technology is being made in software rather than hardware, so you may face some competition for board design engineering positions.

Education and Training Requirements

You'll probably need a bachelor's degree to work as a board engineer, although a few employers may still hire you if you have extensive experience in designing circuit boards. A computer engineering degree is common for board design engineers, but a degree in electrical engineering or a related field may also be sufficient. Your best prospects are likely to come from having a degree from an ABET-approved school. Training in computer-aided design (CAD) software and other design programs may also be necessary.

Job Posts from Real Employers

Employers are generally looking for someone with experience in designing circuits and boards. The specific amount of hands-on time may vary, but don't be surprised to see employers look for candidates who have more than 5 years of experience. Here are some job posts - from real employers - that were live in August 2012:

  • A large telecommunications company in California was seeking a hardware board design engineer. The candidate would be working through all phases of board development and be responsible for the design, testing and documentation of the product. A bachelor's degree in electrical engineering plus 7 years of experience designing boards was required.
  • A business in Massachusetts wanted to hire a printed circuit board (PCB) design engineer who would lead the design team and make predictions about the project. Knowledge of PCB design, manufacturing requirements, PCB design tools and printed circuit technology was required.
  • A California wireless technology company was looking to hire an RF board designer to develop and test circuits for use in wireless equipment. Candidates needed to have at least 5 years of experience in dealing with RF and PCB design. Knowledge of particular CAD tools was also listed as a requirement.
  • An electronics component manufacturer located in New York was seeking a PCB designer. Applicants needed to have at least an associate's degree in electrical or mechanical engineering and have at least 2 years of CAD experience.
  • A consumer product company based in California was looking for an RF board designer who had 5 years of experience in RF engineering. Applicant needed to have a bachelor's degree in engineering. Candidates with experience handling small circuit boards and soldering were desired.

How Can I Stand Out?

Each employer may use different design tools, so you may want to start checking out which ones exist and what each one is commonly used for. CAD software is used across most industries that need board designers, and you can usually take some courses covering CAD while you pursue your bachelor's degree.

Since boards are used in all kinds of electronics, you'll want to understand the specifics of the devices that interest you. For example, if you plan on working with phones, you'll want to have a solid grasp of mobile and wireless technology to give yourself the best shot at getting a job.

Get Certified

IPC offers the Certified Interconnect Designer (CID) and CID+ designations for circuit board designers. You must pass an exam administered by IPC to become certified. The certifications offered by IPC verify that you can turn a board schematic into a working PCB design. These certifications can show employers that you have a firm grasp on board design and give you an edge over other applicants who are similarly qualified.

Other Careers to Consider

Electrical Engineer

If you're more interested in handling electrical components instead of circuit boards, then you might want to look into becoming an electrical engineer. Electrical engineers may work on electric motors, communications systems or equipment that generates power. This career requires you to have a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering or a related engineering field.

You'll have solid earning potential as an electrical engineer; the BLS reported that these workers earned a median annual wage of about $86,000 in 2011. Similar to board design engineers, job growth for electrical engineers was expected to be slower than the average for all occupations - with a projected 7% increase in job openings from 2010-2020 - according to the BLS. However, some solid job opportunities may exist in the telecommunications and computer systems industries.

Software Developer

If you're looking for a growing career field, then you may want to look into a software development position. The BLS predicted that software developers would see job growth of 30% from 2010-2020. Software is rapidly changing, and companies are looking for developers who have a solid understanding of multiple programming languages. Software developers usually oversee the entire production process of a piece of software, from the initial concept to the final bug testing of the program before it's shipped.

A bachelor's degree is usually enough to become a software developer, but you'll probably want to go with a program that teaches you how to use programming languages and computer science concepts as opposed to engineering concepts. The BLS found that software application developers earned a median salary of about $89,000 in 2011, while systems software developers earned a median yearly income of approximately $97,000.

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Featured Schools

The Art Institutes

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Kaplan University

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  • AASIT: Network Admin

Which subject are you interested in?

Purdue University

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Colorado Technical University

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Are you a US citizen?

Full Sail University

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University of Delaware

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Lewis University

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