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 be in high demand. With hot and emerging trends like sensors, 3D printing, and the proliferation of smart devices, it's an exciting time to be a computer hardware engineer.
Computer hardware engineers merge technology, electronics, and engineering expertise to design and build computers. They also develop individual components for computer systems, including microchips, processors, and circuit boards, as well as computing peripherals like routers, keyboards, and printers.
Accredited schools offer a range of programs designed to prepare you for a career in hardware engineering. 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 Skills & Responsibilities
Computer hardware engineers need various expertise to execute this position successfully. Here are some typical day-to-day activities and highly marketable skill sets of computer hardware engineers:
- Design, build, and test new hardware systems, computer components, and peripherals
- Draft blueprints for new computer systems using AutoCAD and other programs
- 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, such as 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, such as circuit testers, electronic measuring probes, oscilloscopes, multimeters, and frequency analyzers.
Hardware Engineer Salary
According to the latest U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report, the median annual wage for computer hardware engineers is $132,000 or $64 per hour.
Average salaries for computer hardware engineers and related career paths:
- Computer Hardware Tester: $86,000
- Electrical Engineer: $99,000
- Robotics Engineer: $105,000
- Semiconductor Engineer: $108,000
- Computer Software Engineer: $122,000
- Microchip Architect: $145,000
- Hardware Engineering Manager: $176,000
Top-paying cities and metropolitan areas for computer hardware engineers:
- San Jose, California: $185,000
- San Francisco / Oakland, CA: $180,000
- San Diego / Carlsbad, CA: $160,000
- Fort Collins, Colorado: $148,000
- Washington DC Metro Area: $143,000
Hardware Engineer Education Requirements
Hiring managers typically require computer hardware engineering candidates to have a bachelor's degree in computer engineering, electrical engineering, or a related field. 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, you’re better off getting your foot in the door with an undergraduate degree. Once you're working as a computer hardware engineer, you will better understand the most valuable next steps in your learning plan.
In a computer hardware engineering degree, marketable skills and technical competencies 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.
Compare courses and degrees that align with the hardware engineer education requirements.
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
Hardware Engineer Job Outlook
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 5% employment growth for computer hardware engineers from 2022 to 2032, faster than the 3% average for all occupations but slower than the 14% growth for all computer jobs. Demand for hardware engineers will be tempered as the U.S. manufacturing industry faces stiff pricing competition overseas. Improved manufacturing processes will 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 uptick in coming labor forecasts as classically non-IT industries embed sensors and connect "smart" products to the Internet, a.k.a. the Internet of Things (IoT), and semiconductor creation and other manufacturing jobs return stateside.
For the best chances of landing a job in this space, enhance your hardware engineering education with coursework in software engineering, a complementary and highly in-demand field. You can also improve your job outlook here by focusing your training on the microchips, sensors, and network components that power the aforementioned smart devices.
- Software Engineer
- Robotics Engineer
- Mobile App Developer
- Computer Programmer
- Computer Systems Analyst