Hardware Development Engineer Careers: Job Description & Salary

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What are the pros and cons of a career as a hardware development engineer? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming a hardware development engineer is right for you.
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The Pros and Cons of a Hardware Development Engineer Career

Hardware development engineers design and test computer hardware such as circuit boards, microprocessors, routers, keyboards and printers. Find out more about the pros and cons of being a hardware development engineer to decide if it's the right career for you.

Pros of a Hardware Development Engineer Career
High salary (median annual wage of about $108,430, with the top 10% earning $160,610 or more in 2014)*
Variety of career options**
Opportunity to telecommute**
Excellent job benefits such as health insurance and 401(k)***

Cons of a Hardware Development Engineer Career
Continuing education is required due to rapidly-changing technology*
Limited job growth, projected to be only 3%*
Four years of experience are required for licensure*
Design work can be tedious****

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **University of Louisville, ***Monster.com, ****University of Pittsburgh.

Career Information

Job Overview and Tools of the Trade

Hardware development engineers analyze product requirements and develop and test prototypes while taking cost and specifications into consideration. They also modify and improve existing products and oversee the work of others on the team. Hardware development engineers use a variety of tools and equipment, including signal generators, circuit testers, oscilloscopes and logic probes. They also employ different types of software such as operating systems and computer-aided design as well as analytical and development software. Knowledge of math, engineering, design, electronics and computers is essential to perform the tasks required for this occupation. It's vital for a hardware development engineer to continually update his knowledge of evolving technology.

Salary and Career Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for a hardware development engineer in 2014 was $108,430, higher than many other engineering specializations. Job growth in the field, however, was expected to be only 3% between 2014 and 2024, due to limited innovation in hardware as compared with software.


If you're considering a career as a hardware development engineer, you may want to focus on a specialization that reflects your interests. There are a number of specializations available, including robotics, radar technology, optoelectronics, remote sensing and communications systems.

What Are the Requirements?

Entry-level employment in the field typically requires a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering (BSEE), although those with degrees in other engineering specialties, science or math may also obtain work in this field. A typical BSEE program includes courses in digital design, electronics, microprocessor design, engineering and programming. Higher math skills are required to perform engineering tasks, so BSEE programs also require classes in physics, calculus and differential equations. Some other skills you will need to work in this field are:

  • Complex problem solving
  • Inductive and deductive reasoning
  • Active learning
  • Critical thinking
  • Time management
  • Oral, written and reading comprehension
  • Decision making

Actual Job Postings

The main requirements for employment in this field are a bachelor's degree and experience. Postings for hardware development engineers generally specify the type and amount of experience required. Here are some jobs that were posted in March 2012:

  • A company in Pontiac, MI, is looking for a hardware design/development engineer to design hardware for automotive electronic modules. Duties include design analysis and hardware simulation, verification and debugging. Requirements are a BSEE, at least two years of experience in automotive hardware design and a minimum of five years of experience in electronic design. The company offers excellent pay and benefits.
  • A company in San Jose, CA, is seeking a senior hardware board design engineer on a contractual basis to design, develop and test circuit boards. Educational requirements are a BSEE with at least five years of experience or a Master of Science in Electronics Engineering with a minimum of two years of experience. Experience using oscilloscopes and logic analyzers in a laboratory environment is also required along with in-depth knowledge of signal integrity and high-speed digital design.
  • An electronics manufacturing company in Middletown, PA, is looking to hire a full-time hardware development engineer to design, test and validate new industrial printed circuit components and to improve current products. A B.S. or B.A. in Electronics Engineering or a related field is required, along with experience in the following: schematics, printed circuit board design with electromagnetic compatibility, various printed circuit standards and working remotely in other countries.

How to Get an Edge in the Field

Since most engineers begin their career with a bachelor's degree, obtaining a master's or doctoral degree is one way to stand out in the field and can increase your opportunities for advancement. In addition, certifications available from professional associations can aid in career advancement. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) is a professional society that offers numerous benefits to its members, including:

  • Awards
  • Scholarships
  • Professional networking
  • Discounts on services and products
  • Educational resources
  • Career resources
  • Professional certifications

The National Society of Professional Engineers and the Association for Computer Machinery are some other organizations that offer similar benefits to members. There are also state organizations that hardware development engineers can join for professional networking, access to jobs boards and other benefits. Some of these organizations are the Michigan Society of Professional Engineers, the Louisiana Engineering Society and the South Dakota Engineering Society.

Alternative Career Paths

Computer Scientist

If you enjoy working with computers, but are concerned about the limited job potential projected for hardware development engineers, becoming a computer scientist may be more appealing. Computer scientists conduct research in laboratory and office environments to develop new technologies in a variety of fields. Some computer scientists work for businesses attempting to create new products or processes than can be patented, while others work in academic settings.

Most employers require computer scientists to have a Ph.D. According to the BLS, the mean annual wage of a computer scientist was $103,000 in 2011. Furthermore, the career outlook was expected to be average, with a 19% increase in jobs projected between 2010 and 2020.


Mathematicians also conduct research using computers, and they attempt to solve problems that arise in fields such as business, engineering and science. The mean annual wage of a mathematician in 2011 was $101,000, according to the BLS, and 16% growth in the field was projected between 2010 and 2020. The federal government employs a large number of mathematicians, and employment can also be found in research and development firms, educational institutions and insurance companies. A Ph.D. is generally required for employment as a mathematician, but the federal government accepts applicants with bachelor's degrees for entry-level positions.

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Kaplan University

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