Computer hardware engineers design and build computer systems.
As technology continues to play a vital and ever-increasing role in our everyday lives, those professionals with the skills to develop the next generation of computer systems will remain in high demand. With hot and emerging hardware trends like sensors and 3D printing, and the continued advancement and proliferation of mobile devices, now is an exciting time to be a computer hardware engineer.
Computer hardware engineers combine expertise in technology, electronics and engineering to design and build computers. They also develop individual components for computer systems, including microchips, processors and circuit boards, as well as computing peripherals, such as routers, keyboards and printers.
Technical training providers and accredited schools offer a range of programs designed to prepare you for the computer hardware engineer career path. Compare some of the top-reviewed hardware engineering programs online and in your area.
a.k.a. PC Hardware Engineer | Computer Designer | Chip Architect | Electrical Engineer | Computer Architect
Hardware Engineer Salary
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Skills & Responsibilities
Computer hardware engineers need a range of expertise to successfully execute this position. Here are some typical day-to-day activities and highly marketable skill sets of successful computer hardware engineers:
- Design, build and test new hardware systems, computer components, and peripherals
- Draft blueprints for new computer systems using AutoCAD or another drafting program
- Design, test and optimize electronic circuits, assemblies and other electrical components
- Recommend computer systems and peripherals based on end-users' business needs
- Build non-computer devices with embedded IT systems, e.g., medical devices & automobiles
- Update existing computer systems to ensure compatibility with the latest software iterations
- Employ soft skills such as creative problem solving and effective oral/written communication
- May assist sales and marketing staff in explaining new hardware systems to prospective clients
- Possess at least a working knowledge of computer programming and software development
- Effectively wield the tools of the trade, e.g., circuit testers, electronic measuring probes, oscilloscopes,
multimeters, frequency analyzers, and a range of scientific and analytical software solutions
Computer Hardware Engineer Salary
- The average salary for computer hardware engineers in the U.S. is $91,000.
Average salaries for hardware engineers and related career tracks:
- Computer Hardware Tester: $63,000
- Electrical Engineer: $84,000
- Computer Software Engineer: $90,000
- Computer Hardware Engineer: $91,000
- Mobility Hardware Engineer: $94,000
- Systems Application Engineer: $102,000
- Computer Architect: $106,000
- Microchip Architect: $114,000
- Semiconductor Architect: $117,000
Highest paying American cities for computer hardware engineers:
- San Jose, California: $134,400
- San Francisco, CA: $ 119,870
- Seattle, Washington: $116,120
- Baltimore, Maryland: $ 115,280
- Washington DC Metro Area: $ 114,740
Sources: U.S. Dept. of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics | Indeed.com
Hiring managers typically require computer hardware engineering candidates to have at least a bachelor's degree in computer engineering, electrical engineering or a similar computer hardware/electronics focused field of study. Software-centric majors like computer science and software engineering, supplemented with suitable hardware-focused electives, may be adequate, depending on the job you are applying for. Some companies or highly specialized roles may require a master's or another advanced degree, but unless you know this in advance, your time will likely be better spent getting your foot in the door with an undergraduate degree -- once you're working as a computer hardware engineer you will have a better idea of the most valuable next steps in your learning plan.
Marketable skills and technical competencies to seek out in a computer hardware engineering degree program include electronics engineering, digital circuit design, signal processing, advanced logic and arithmetic, 2D/3D drafting, computer testing and quality control/assurance (QA), software systems engineering, and application development.
Desirable soft skills for computer hardware engineers include effective verbal and written communication, creative problem solving, and critical thinking. Hardware engineering managers will also benefit from soft skills in team leadership, professional development, active listening, and organization.
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Hardware Engineering Jobs
Your training and experience in computer hardware engineering may qualify you for a range of positions, including:
- Computer Hardware Engineer jobs
- Electrical Engineer jobs
- Software Developer jobs
- Firmware Engineer jobs
- Hardware Test Engineer jobs
- Hardware/Software QA jobs
The latest figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment growth of 7% – or 6,200 new jobs – for computer hardware engineers from 2012 to 2022, slower than the 11% national average for all occupations (a rarity in the IT space). Workforce demand for hardware engineers will be tempered as the U.S. manufacturing industry continues to face stiff pricing competition from overseas. Improved manufacturing processes will also serve to limit growth in this field, i.e., better made hardware will last longer and require fewer upgrades. However, I expect to see the growth rate for computer engineers increase in coming labor reports as classically non-IT industries strive to embed sensors and connect [both new and existing] products to each other and the Internet at large, a.k.a., the "Internet of Things."
For the best chances of landing a job, enhance your hardware engineering learning plan with coursework in software engineering, a complimentary and extremely in-demand skill set. Quick heads-up comparison: software engineering employment will grow by 22% in the same decade, adding over 222,000 new jobs.
Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' 2014-2015 Occupational Outlook Handbook | Purdue University