Computer hardware engineers focus on the study, design, development and application of computer hardware and peripheral devices such as monitors, printers and keyboards. Hardware engineering is an intricate field of study and is an excellent career choice for computer-savvy individuals who enjoy continuous learning and having their skills put to the test.
Their work paves the way for software engineers who develop the operating systems and applications that are run by a computer’s hardware. They are very similar to electronics engineers but instead of working with a variety of electronic devices, they specialize in the design, development and application of computing devices. Their work enables the development of smaller, faster computing devices such as smartphones and tablets. To be able to continuously develop new and improved hardware solutions, they must stay up to date with the latest discoveries in their field and experiment with new technologies on a daily basis. The following provides a brief introduction to the career, a more detailed job description and what the average salary is.
The field is relatively small compared to other computer related careers and the total number of computer engineers in the workforce. In 2011, there were 71,990 hardware engineers working in the United States. The electronics manufacturing and computer systems design industries were the industries that employed the most engineers. Due to its relatively small size, the job market is very competitive and only the most talented and knowledgeable engineers get past entry level positions. The field is expected to grow at a slower rate (9%) than the overall workforce’s average between 2010 and 2020.
Engineering programs are usually quite competitive and require strong marks in math and science courses as well as a high overall average. The best way to prepare for a computer engineering degree is to take as many computer-related courses as you can in high school. Computer programming, computer hardware and graphics design are just a few of the courses you should take if they are available.
To work as a professional engineer in any field, you must first complete a Bachelor’s Degree in Engineering at an accredited college or university. The degree could also be called a Bachelor of Science degree depending on where you live or the school you are attending. In both the United States and Canada, the degree requires a minimum of 4 years of study. If you are interested in furthering your knowledge of the field of computer engineering after completing your degree, you can do a Master’s degree in Engineering which requires another 2 to 3 years of post-secondary education. A PhD in engineering/applied sciences (also known as a Doctor of Engineering degree) can be acquired by completing additional years of study and conducting original research under a doctoral advisor. While both of these degrees help you acquire additional knowledge and experience, they are not required to become a professional engineer. Once you have completed your degree(s), you must work for several years in an engineering-related field and then pass exams in ethics and/or law to become a licensed professional engineer (P.Eng).
A hardware engineer must go through a significant amount of training post graduation before they can work independently. An engineer who is just starting their first job in an engineering-related field will work directly under the supervision of a more experienced engineer and will often work side-by-side with them on projects. As they gain experience, they will be given harder tasks and more responsibility until they have enough experience to work independently and tackle problems without assistance. After a couple of year’s experience, they will take the trainer’s position and start to supervise the engineering graduates that their company hires. The most successful engineers are promoted to management positions later in their careers because they have extensive experience and strong interpersonal skills. Some even quit their jobs to start their own engineering consulting firm.
As stated above, engineers can be involved in one, several or all steps of the product development cycle, so it is impossible to outline the job description in one or two sentences.
One common responsibility of the career is to provide technical support to employees or clients who don’t understand the inner workings of a device or system. This can include sales representatives, suppliers, other engineers and product designers. Another aspect of the job is testing new hardware to see whether or not they meet the requirements of the designed system and analyzing the data to find where improvements can be made. Prototypes are tested using either computer simulations or working models built using the components being studied. They also monitor existing equipment to make sure that computer systems are working properly and make adjustments when necessary so that the system’s specifications are followed.
Here is a more detailed job description.
The average salary for a computer hardware engineer working in the United States was $101,360 according to a study conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in May 2011. The salaries recorded ranged from $62,400 (10th percentile) to $147,610 (90th percentile). The top three highest paying industries were (in order):
- Aerospace Product and Parts Manufacturing –$116,050 per year (employs 120)
- Electrical and Electronic Goods Merchant Wholesalers – $113,890 per year (employs 960)
- Communications Equipment Manufacturing – $112,460 per year (employs 1,450)
Salary by Years Experience
Another benefit is that hardware engineering is one of the highest paying fields of specialization in engineering. In fact, the average salary ranges from $36,122 to $104,641 according to payscale.com (including yearly bonuses and profit sharing). These statistics were gathered from 201 licensed engineers, most of who have 1-4 years of experience. The average salary is around $75,000.
The talents of an experienced, professional engineer will be in demand until society is no longer interested in computers and computing devices (which will never happen). The constant increase in demand for computing devices causes steady job market growth. If you really enjoy working with computers and computer hardware, this is definitely a career you should consider.