Becoming a Computer Hardware Engineer: Building the Computers of the Future

Computers are composed of two separate but critical components: the software that runs the programs on the computer, and the actual physical elements of the computer itself—from the monitor to the power supply to the video card. Without hardware, there would be no computers to use word processors, cruise the Internet or operate the multitude of computer applications that business require in order to efficiently function. A computer hardware engineer develops new and optimized hardware in order to maximize a computer’s power and memory in the smallest space possible.

What Does a Computer Hardware Engineer Do?

There are elements of a computer hardware engineer’s job that are similar to that of an electrical engineer, but a computer hardware engineer focuses exclusively on computer equipment. Computers today are found in nearly every commercial, industrial, education, government, healthcare, and research setting, and it is thanks to the innovative work of computer hardware engineers that there are such frequent advances in computer technology.

Education and Skills Required

Historically, unlike other IT disciplines where computer science is generally the major, with computer hardware engineering students typically receive a traditional engineering degree in electrical engineering, because the components of a computer are electrical in nature. However, as computers have become a much more critical element of our society, many colleges have added an additional concentration within computer science specific to computer hardware engineering.

As a direct result of this important part of the job of a computer hardware engineer, the study of computer hardware engineering includes extensive math and science, because it is important to understand hardware down to the tiniest electron. While short-term certificate and associate’s programs are available within computer hardware and electronics, in order to work as an engineer in the field, a four-year bachelor’s degree is usually required.

Computer hardware engineers also have to write a lot on the job, and not just in computer code, which is why students in computer hardware degree programs take writing and communications classes to help them develop critical communications skills. Some computer hardware engineering programs combine work experience with classroom learning, which might add additional time to the length of the program.

Computer Hardware Engineer Salary and Job Outlook

Your computer hardware engineer salary will vary based on position, place of employment, and years of experience. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual computer hardware engineer salary in 2010 was $98,810, with the highest 10% earning $147, 890.

The breakdown of the median annual salaries for several different positions within computer hardware engineering are as follows:

  • Semiconductor and other electronic component manufacturing – $101,460
  • Computer and peripheral equipment manufacturing – $107,090
  • Computer systems designs and related services – $101,550

Due to foreign competitions, growth in computer hardware engineering in the US is project to be only 4% though 2018, increasing the competition for domestic employment opportunities (BLS). As a computer hardware engineer, you will likely have the best luck finding a position within the computer systems design industry.

Searching for a School

If you love building and taking apart computers, being a computer hardware engineer might be just the career for you. Check out our list of colleges offering computer science degrees, and request for more information today.