Pros and Cons of a Career as a Server Hardware Engineer
Server hardware engineers are considered a type of computer hardware engineer, and are responsible for developing computer hardware for companies and clients. Consider the pros and cons before you decide if this is the right career for you.
|Pros of a Server Hardware Engineer Career|
|High wages (mean salary of about $111,000 in 2014 for all computer hardware engineers)*|
|A bachelor's degree is sufficient for most jobs*|
|Job includes a wide variety of tasks (testing, designing, conducting research, developing, etc.)*|
|Work done in this position contributes to advances in technology*|
|Cons of a Server Hardware Engineer Career|
|Slower-than-average growth (7%) expected from 2012 through 2022 (for all computer hardware engineers)*|
|Jobs may be limited to certain areas (almost all hardware engineers work in large, densely populated cities)*|
|Rapidly changing technology requires continued education, possibly at your own expense*|
|Some larger employers or specialized positions may require a graduate degree*|
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Server hardware engineers help to develop hardware for server systems that are used to connect computers and telecommunications within a company, as well as to connect the company to clients and other businesses. Sometimes they work directly with clients to create the server hardware that the client needs for business, while other times the engineer develops hardware for his or her own company. Much of a server hardware engineer's time is spent working with technology, but they also work with people in the capacity of a manager or one-on-one with clients. When working as a manager, they may provide training to junior engineers, help create procedures and policies that govern the way production is handled or create reports for upper management.
Career Outlook and Salary
While the BLS does not publish data that is specific to server hardware engineers, the job is included in the data on computer hardware engineers. The BLS estimated that computer hardware engineers earned an average of about $111,000 in 2014. From 2012-2022, the BLS predicted that employment rates for computer hardware engineers would only grow about seven percent, which is slower than the national average. This growth can be attributed to the fact that the majority of computer industry growth is driven by changes in software, rather than hardware.
Education and Personal Skill Requirements
According to the BLS, most computer engineers hold at least a bachelor's degree in computer engineering, although electrical engineering could also be suitable. The U.S. Department of Labor's O*Net Online reported in 2010 that 84% of computer hardware engineers held bachelor's degrees, while ten percent held master's degrees and only four percent held only high school diplomas.
Employers may not always ask for a specific degree, but the computer engineering knowledge they require is typically complex, so a bachelor's degree program in computer engineering could be to your advantage. Through such a program, you could study subjects like digital sign processing, computer architecture, microcontroller applications and data structures. You might also consider studying computer science in order to learn subjects like computer programming and software engineering. Some programs are offered as computer science and computer engineering combination options.
Beyond industry-specific skills, computer hardware engineers need certain personal skills in order to be successful in the field. For example, they often work as managers, or at least as the member of a team, so the ability to communicate clearly with others and collaborate is necessary to keep things running smoothly. Some engineers will work directly with clients, so excellent customer service skills are required. Given the nature of the job, hardware engineers also need sharp analytical, critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. Creativity will come in handy as well.
Employers may not always require you to hold a bachelor's degree, but they will typically require you to have years of relevant work experience and thorough knowledge of computer hardware. Some employers require certification in a particular area, like Dell, HP or Server+. Below are a few job postings that were open during April of 2012.
- A computer hardware company in Houston was looking for a Wintel server engineer. This professional would work with hardware vendors and project managers to place the proper orders and building out servers. This company was looking for someone with five years of experience, particularly in project-based servers (as opposed to production support).
- A game software company in Washington was looking for a hardware engineer that would, among other things, help the company to establish a professional culture and policies, automate monitoring and help ensure SLA attainment with its operation center. Ideal applicants would have a strong server hardware background, an understanding of RAID types, inband and out of band management and some enterprise IT experience.
- An international technology and business service was looking for a senior hardware engineer to provide a variety of services, including detecting security weaknesses and providing support for servers. A bachelor's degree was preferred, but a candidate with an equivalent amount of education and work experience would also be required. Knowledge of Microsoft Windows Server 2003, UNIX and VMware were required.
- A consulting company in Virginia was looking for a senior hardware engineer who could provide both hardware and software support on both unclassified and classified servers. This job entailed participating in research, development, design and testing of hardware and other electrical components as well as overseeing project documentation, troubleshooting, patching and performing backup planning and disaster recovery.
Standing Out Among the Competition
Joining a professional society, such as Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers' (IEEE) Computer Society, can put you in touch with others from your field who may be able to help you find a job or prepare your resume for positions within their own company. According to the BLS, a master's degree in computer engineering could better qualify you to work for larger companies. Additionally, the BLS states that a Master of Business Administration (MBA) could be useful to more experience engineers. Due to the business and leadership concepts that are taught through such a program, you could choose to complete an MBA if you were interested in advancing to a management position.
Network and Computer Systems Administrator
If you know you want to work with servers, but you don't think you want to design their hardware, then maybe you'd be interested in working on networks as a network and computer systems administrator. It typically requires a computer science degree, just like hardware engineering. In this field, you'd be responsible for setting up, maintaining and troubleshooting local and wide area networks for companies and small businesses, as well as for reporting on data pertaining to usage, performance, etc. to managers. The BLS stated in 2011 that these professionals earned a mean annual salary of about $74,000, and from 2010-2020 they were expected to see a much faster-than-average job growth of 30%.
Computer Network Architect
Another position that can allow you to work on networks without having to design the hardware itself is that of a computer network architect. This field - also called network engineering - involves working with an organization's head of technology in order to design and build the data network required for the organization's size and needs. In 2011 they earned an annual average of about $82,000, according to the BLS, and they're expected to see a job growth of 22% from 2010-2020.
Computer Systems Analyst
Also projected to grow 22% through 2020 is the computer systems analyst field. Computer systems analysts work less directly with computers and networks themselves and more directly with management to assess an organization's computer network and determine how it can be improved in order to increase efficiency, productivity and usefulness. The pay is on par with that of computer network architects as well - the BLS estimated computer systems analysts made an average of just over $82,000 in 2011.