Computer hardware engineers research, design, and test computer hardware such as computer chips, circuit boards, computer systems, and accessories, including keyboards, scanners, modems, and printers. They also direct the manufacture and installation of these products. The occupation resembles electronics engineers, except for the fact that computer hardware engineers specialize in computers and related equipment.
Computer hardware engineers should be logical, detail-oriented thinkers. They need to possess patience, persistence, the ability to work under pressure, ingenuity, creativity, and imagination. They should be familiar with abstract concepts and technical analysis, and should be comfortable communicating with other team members and with users.
In 2002, computer hardware engineers earned a median annual salary of $72,150. Earnings ranged from the lowest 10%, who earned less than $46,190, and the highest 10%, who earned more than $114,880. The following shows the median annual salaries for the industries employing the highest numbers of computer hardware engineers:
- Semiconductor and other electronic component manufacturing – $76,600
- Computer and peripheral equipment manufacturing – 75,300
- Computer systems design and related services – 74,320
Training and Education
A bachelor’s degree in engineering is required for almost all entry-level positions. Graduate degrees are essential for any faculty positions and for research and development programs, and many graduates pursue graduate degrees in engineering or business management in order to familiarize themselves with new technologies or broaden their education. Students should thoroughly investigate the curricula and accreditation of various programs because of the specialization of the programs. Requirements for admission to undergraduate engineering programs include mathematics, science, English, social studies, humanities, and computer and information technology. While programs are designed to last only 4 years, many students take 4 to 5 years to complete their studies. New employees usually are mentored under the supervision of experienced employees, and sometimes enroll in on-the-job training.
In 2002, computer hardware engineers held about 74,000 jobs. 40% were employed in computer and electronic product manufacturing, 24% were employed in professional, scientific, and technical services firms, and the rest worked in telecommunications.
Between 2002 and 2012, the number of computer hardware engineers is expected to increase more slowly than the average. This will be due to intense foreign manufacturing competition, rising productivity, and increased utilization of foreign computer hardware engineering services. Job openings will result from the need to replace workers who are promoted to managerial positions, as well as those who change careers or leave the labor force. Competition will be fierce for job openings because of the increasing number of degrees that are granted in this field.
Directory of Schools Offering Computer Engineering Degrees