Becoming a Computer Hardware Engineer: Salary & Job Description

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A computer hardware engineer's median annual salary is around $108,430. Is it worth the training requirements? See real job duties and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming a computer hardware engineer is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming a Computer Hardware Engineer

Computer hardware engineers work behind the scenes in the information technology (IT) sector, developing and testing the motherboards and microprocessors that power our high-tech gadgets. It's important to weigh the costs and benefits of pursuing this kind of work if you're interested in pursuing a career in hardware engineering.

PROs of a Computer Hardware Engineering Career
Median salary is high (about $108,430 as of May 2014)*
Employable in many different industries, like product manufacturing, computer systems design and scientific research **
Many specialization options (wireless devices, network equipment, etc.)**
Comfortable work environment*

CONs of a Computer Hardware Engineering Career
Limited job growth (3% from 2014-2024)*
Continuing education is necessary to stay abreast of advancements in technology*
Often requires long hours (25% worked overtime in 2014)*
Additional admissions requirements for bachelor's programs**

Sources: * U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, ** Sloan Career Cornerstone Center

Essential Career Information

Job Description and Specializations

As a computer hardware engineer, you research and implement computer components, including circuit boards, microchips, routers and system controllers. While you might perform some of the same duties as electronics engineers, such as circuit inspections, you focus on computer systems. Possible areas of specialization include computer robotics, embedded systems or wireless networks. Most of your work takes place in an office or laboratory, though you may visit a manufacturing site on occasion.

Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), computer hardware engineers earned a median salary of roughly $108,430 as of 2014 (www.bls.gov). The top ten percent of professionals in this field made about $160,610 or more per year.

Career Outlook

As reported by the BLS, the number of employed computer hardware engineers was expected to grow 3% from 2014-2024, which is a slower-than-average rate compared to all occupations. Much of this growth will occur in computer consulting firms as it's increasingly common for computer hardware manufacturers to outsource to these firms.

While some computer hardware engineers work for hot start-up companies and IT giants in Silicon Valley, positions are available in a variety of other locations and industries. As reported by the BLS, states with the highest concentration of jobs for hardware engineers as of 2014 included California, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Colorado and Massachusetts. During this time, the computer systems design, computer equipment manufacturing and semiconductor manufacturing industries employed the highest levels of hardware engineers. Additional opportunities could be available with the federal government and measurement instrument manufacturers or scientific research services.

Education and Skills Overview

In order to work in this field, you need to earn a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Computer Engineering, though employers also hire graduates of electrical engineering bachelor's programs. Admission to computer or electrical engineering programs may be competitive; schools look for applicants who've taken high school courses in advanced algebra, lab-based chemistry, physics and trigonometry. Some schools also have minimum GPA or standardized test score requirements. Computer or electrical engineering bachelor's programs can be completed in 4-5 years.

While training is essential, you'll also need to be equipped with the right skill set for working in the IT field. Passion and propensity for technology can help you succeed in this career, and you'll need a creative edge in order to design innovative computer hardware components. During the engineering process, you'll the ability to think critically and analyze the information or equipment presented before you to solve complex hardware design problems.

What Employers Are Looking For

In addition to earning a bachelor's degree, you should try to gain as much hands-on experience as possible before beginning your job search. Since hardware engineers can work on a variety of computer equipment, job posts often outline which components are the focus of particular positions. Here's a sample of job postings from February 2012:

  • A technology firm in New York is looking for an entry-level hardware engineer who has experience through an internship or co-op and understands embedded hardware design.
  • A hardware design in California's Silicon Valley region needs a junior engineer with a good grasp of PC hardware assembly.
  • A Silicon Valley engineering firm is looking for a hardware engineer who has at least five years of experience in designing switches and servers.

How Can I Stand Out?

Employers prefer hardware engineers who have the necessary technical training; however, demonstrating good communication skills can put you a step ahead of the competition - computer hardware engineers often work in teams. During your bachelor's program, consider taking elective speech or communication courses in order to hone these kinds of skills.

It's also important to keep in mind that the IT sector is known for rapid innovation. You can showcase your curiosity and desire to learn by completing continuing education courses or seminars offered by professional organizations.

Pursue Licensure or Certification

While licensure isn't necessarily required in this field, holding a professional engineer's license could help you stand out. In fact, licensure might allow you to offer your services directly to the public or put in bids for government contracts. After completing a bachelor's program that's accredited by ABET, you can take the Fundamentals of Engineering exam. You then need to gain roughly four years of engineering experience and take the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam in order to obtain your license.

Certification can also show employers that you're a cut above the rest. Once you have four years of experience, you can pursue the voluntary Certified Computing Professional (CCP) credential through the Institute for the Certification of Computing Professionals. If you hold a bachelor's degree in an engineering discipline, you only need two years of experience. You'll take an exam in order to earn the CCP designation.

Other Career Paths

If you're more interested in developing computer games or systems applications, a closely related career in computer software engineering could be an alternative. Substantially more job growth is expected in this field than hardware engineering - the number of employed software engineers was projected to grow by 30% from 2010-2020, according to the BLS. Most software engineers hold a bachelor's degree in computer science or software engineering.

If you enjoy working with teams and taking a leadership role, you might consider a career in engineering management. Most managers hold at least a bachelor's degree and have extensive experience in a specialty engineering field, like computer hardware. Many schools offer engineering management master's programs that can help enhance your skill set, which could increase your chances of work in this field. As of May 2011, engineering managers earned a median salary of about $122,000, reports the BLS.

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Purdue University Global

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

Which subject are you interested in?

Full Sail University

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

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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

What is your highest level of education?

Northcentral University

  • PhD in Business Admin - Management of Engineering and Technology
  • Doctor of Business Admin - Management of Engineering and Technology
  • MSTIM - Engineering Magagement
  • MBA - Management of Engineering and Technology

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Penn Foster High School

  • HS Diploma

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Southern Careers Institute

  • Java Script

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Purdue University

  • Master of Science in Engineering Technology

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Lewis University

  • MS in Computer Science - Software Engineering

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