Becoming a Computer Engineer: Job Description & Salary info

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What are the pros and cons of a computer engineering career? Read real job descriptions and learn about career prospects and salary information to determine if becoming a computer engineer is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming a Computer Engineer

Computer engineers, also called computer hardware engineers, are the people responsible for designing and testing your laptop and desktop computers. Read on to learn more about the pros and cons of becoming a computer engineer to determine if it's the right career path for you.

Pros of Becoming a Computer Engineer
High pay (mean annual salary of $110,650 in May 2014)*
Can get an entry-level job with a bachelor's degree*
Most computer engineers work a standard 40-hour work week*
Can work in many industries (computer manufacturing, computer systems design and scientific research)*

Cons of Becoming a Computer Engineer
Slower-than-average job growth field (expected 7% between 2012 and 2022)*
Continuing education may be required to stay current on technology*
May work weekends and evenings to meet deadlines**
Sitting for long periods of time can lead to back pain*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **iSeek

Essential Career Info

Job Description

As a computer engineer, you're responsible for researching, designing, developing and testing computer hardware and equipment, including chips, analog sensors, circuit boards, keyboards, modems, routers and printers. You may work on the manufacturing of these components, as well as the installation. You might also participate in the development of the software that runs computers; however, for the most part, computer software engineers perform this work. Some computer engineers concentrate in a specialty area, such as systems and computations, artificial intelligence or computer systems.

Computer engineers generally work in teams that possibly will consist of non-engineers, and your job may include training clients on how to use the equipment. Typically, you'll work a standard workweek, but nights and weekends might be needed to meet some deadlines.

Career Options

Computer engineers work across various industries, such as transportation, manufacturing, financial services, computer manufacturers and consumer goods. If you prefer to work on a variety of projects for different companies, you might seek employment with a consulting firm. Computer engineers also work for the government and defense contractors, although you'll most likely need proof of U.S. citizenship and security clearance to do so. With a master's degree or doctorate, you could enter into research and development or become a faculty member at a university or college.

Salary Info and Job Prospects

In 2014, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported a median salary of about $108,430 for computer hardware engineers. Most computer engineers earned between $66,070 and $160,610. Although the information technology industry has experienced rapid growth, the BLS anticipates foreign competition will adversely affect the demand for computer hardware engineers. With an expected job growth of just 7% from 2012-2022, employment opportunities will develop more slowly than the average for all occupations. Most opportunities should emerge in computer consulting businesses, and those with an ABET-accredited degree will have the best prospects.

Education and Training Requirements

You can probably get a job as an entry-level computer engineer with a bachelor's degree in computer engineering or electrical engineering. Some employers prefer candidates who have a degree from an ABET-accredited program, ABET is the accrediting board for programs in applied technology and engineering. Whichever program you choose, you'll want to make sure it's grounded in math, science and computer programming. Some computer engineers further their education with a master's degree in a computer science field or business administration.

Technical skills are essential for your success as a computer engineer, but since you'll be working closely with both technical and nontechnical people, you'll also want to enhance your communication and teamwork skills. Taking courses in business and interpersonal communications might be useful, as well as getting involved in activities and teams that involve people outside of computers and engineering.

Job Postings from Real Employers

Employers are looking for computer engineers with experience in specific hardware and software applications. Some employers may require specific education requirements. To give you a glimpse of what employers are seeking, below are some real job postings from April 2012:

  • An enterprise computing systems dealer in Georgia seeks a computer hardware engineer with a bachelor's degree, 2-5 years of experience and Sun/Oracle certification. The employer also specifies proficiency in testing and configuring servers and workstations.
  • A technical services firm in northern Virginia needs a computer engineer to address security analysis problems and employ embedded programming applications. The ideal candidate will have experience in network device and software security analysis, embedded computer architecture software development and programming.
  • A technology services firm in Massachusetts has a job opening for someone with a bachelor's degree in computer science, computer engineering, software engineering or electrical engineering and 1-2 years of experience. This entry-level position includes developing, integrating, troubleshooting and testing software for a weapons control system. Applicants must be able to meet security clearance requirements to gain access to classified information.

How to Make Your Skills Stand Out

Get Certification

There aren't any licensing or certification requirements to work as a computer engineer; however, many people obtain a Professional Engineering (PE) license. In addition, employers are increasingly becoming interested in those with computer engineering certifications. Examples of such certifications include the Certified Systems Professional (CSP) and the Certified Quality Analyst (CQA).

Continue Your Education

According to the BLS, many employers prefer those with advanced computer science degrees for more advanced or specialized assignments. In 2003, the National Science Foundation conducted a survey that demonstrated engineers earn higher wages with higher degrees. Additionally, technology changes quickly, so keeping up with advancements in the field is part of the computer engineer's job. Professional organizations, such as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Computer Society, can give you access to conferences and publications that will help you stay up-to-date.

Get Experience

According to The Princeton Review, the greatest credential you can have as a computer engineer is practical experience. According to Salary.com, the median salary of a computer engineer with a master's degree and 2-5 years of experience is about $71,000. This figure jumps to nearly $86,000 when the same engineer has 5-10 years of experience. While you can't make the years go by faster, you can participate in an internship or coop during your college years or conduct your own independent research to build your list of practical experiences.

Other Careers to Consider

Software Developer

Like computer engineers, software developers apply computer science and engineering principles to solve problems; however, they focus on the programs that run the computer systems and applications, rather than on the computers themselves. Compared to a computer engineer, a systems software developer averaged roughly the same salary (around $100,000), and an applications software developer makes slightly less (about $92,000). That said, your job prospects should be significantly better; the BLS projects an 30% increase in software developer jobs between 2010 and 2020.

Computer Systems Analyst

As a computer systems analyst, you'll help organizations run more efficiently and effectively by analyzing their computer systems and procedures and making recommendations for improvement. This might be an appropriate career choice if you enjoy both business and information technology. With a bachelor's degree, you can average about $82,000. The BLS anticipates that 22% more computer systems analysts jobs will emerge between 2010 and 2020.

Computer and Information Research Scientist

If you'd like to work on a more theoretical level, you might consider becoming a computer and information research scientist. They invent and create new technologies to solve problems in such areas as business, medicine and science. They also find innovative uses for current technologies. In this field, you can expect to earn a mean salary of approximately $103,000, and if you become an independent researcher, you'll probably enjoy more flexibility in your work schedule. The BLS projects that job growth for computer and information research scientists will be 19% from 2010- 2020, which is significantly better than the employment outlook for computer engineers; however, you'll need to earn a doctoral or professional degree to become a computer research scientist.

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Featured Schools

Kaplan University

  • BS in Information Technology/Multiplatform Software Development
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  • AASIT: Network Admin

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Full Sail University

  • Bachelor of Science - Software Development
  • B.S. - Mobile Development

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The Art Institutes

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Herzing University

  • B.S. - Software Development With No Declared Minor or Concentration
  • B.S. - Software Development: Computer Programming Concentration
  • Associate of Science - Software Development

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Penn Foster High School

  • Penn Foster High School with Early College Courses
  • HS Diploma

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Purdue University

  • Master of Science in Engineering Technology

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Universal Technical Institute

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Lewis University

  • MS in Computer Science - Software Engineering

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