Computer Hardware Engineers

Career, Salary and Education Information

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What Computer Hardware Engineers Do[About this section] [To Top]

Computer hardware engineers research, design, develop, and test computer systems and components such as processors, circuit boards, memory devices, networks, and routers. These engineers discover new directions in computer hardware, which generate rapid advances in computer technology.

Duties of Computer Hardware Engineers

Computer hardware engineers typically do the following:

  • Design new computer hardware, creating schematics of computer equipment to be built
  • Test the completed models of the computer hardware they design
  • Analyze the test results and modify the design as needed
  • Update existing computer equipment so that it will work with new software
  • Oversee the manufacturing process for computer hardware
  • Maintain knowledge of computer engineering trends and new technology

Many hardware engineers design noncomputer devices that incorporate processors and other computer components and connect to the Internet. For example, many car parts have computer systems embedded in them. Computer hardware engineers also are designing a growing number of medical devices with a computer system and the ability to connect to the Internet.

Computer hardware engineers ensure that computer hardware components work together with the latest software. Therefore, hardware engineers often work with software developers. For example, the hardware and software for a mobile phone frequently are developed jointly. Hardware engineers also may perform some computer programming in a hardware description language (HDL), which describes the digital circuits in hardware. Using this language, computer hardware engineers can simulate how the hardware design would work, test for errors, and then fix the design.

Work Environment for Computer Hardware Engineers[About this section] [To Top]

Computer hardware engineers hold about 77,700 jobs. The industries that employ the most computer hardware engineers are as follows:

Computer systems design and related services 22%
Computer and peripheral equipment manufacturing 16
Semiconductor and other electronic component manufacturing 15
Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences 7
Government 6

Computer hardware engineers usually work in research laboratories that build and test various types of computer models. Most work in high-tech manufacturing firms.

Computer Hardware Engineer Work Schedules

Most computer hardware engineers work full time. About 1 in 4 work more than 40 hours per week.

How to Become a Computer Hardware Engineers[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Computer Hardware Engineers near you!

Most computer hardware engineers need a bachelor’s degree from an accredited computer engineering program.

Computer Hardware Engineer Education

Most entry-level computer hardware engineers have a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering, although a degree in electrical engineering or computer science also is generally acceptable. A computer engineering major is similar to a major in electrical engineering but with a heavy emphasis on computer science.

Many engineering programs are accredited by ABET (formerly the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology). Employers may prefer students from an accredited program. To prepare for a major in computer or electrical engineering, students should have a solid background in math and science.

Because hardware engineers commonly work with computer software systems, a familiarity with computer programming usually is expected. This background may be obtained through computer science courses.

Some large firms or specialized jobs may require a master’s degree in computer engineering. Some experienced engineers obtain a master’s degree in business administration (MBA). All engineers must continue their learning over the course of their careers in order to keep up with rapid advances in technology.

Other Experience

Some students participate in internships while in school so that they can gain practical experience.

Advancement for Computer Hardware Engineers

Some computer hardware engineers can advance to become computer and information systems managers.

Important Qualities for Computer Hardware Engineers

Analytical skills. Computer hardware engineers use computer programming tools to analyze the digital circuits in hardware to determine the best design.

Creativity. Computer hardware engineers design new types of information technology devices.

Critical-thinking skills. These engineers use logic and reasoning to clarify goals, examine assumptions, and identify the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions to problems.

Problem-solving skills. Computer hardware engineers identify complex problems in computer hardware, develop and evaluate possible solutions, and figure out the best way to implement them.

Speaking skills. Engineers often work on teams and must be able to communicate with other types of engineers as well as with nontechnical team members.

Computer Hardware Engineer Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

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Entry Level Experienced

The median annual wage for computer hardware engineers is $108,430. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $66,070, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $160,610.

The median annual wages for computer hardware engineers in the top industries in which they work are as follows:

Computer and peripheral equipment manufacturing $113,900
Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences 110,770
Computer systems design and related services 109,080
Semiconductor and other electronic component manufacturing 108,040
Government 107,420

Most computer hardware engineers work full time. About 1 in 4 work more than 40 hours per week.

Job Outlook for Computer Hardware Engineers[About this section] [To Top]

Employment of computer hardware engineers is projected to grow 3 percent through 2024, slower than the average for all occupations. A limited number of engineers will be needed to meet the demand for new computer hardware because more technological innovation takes place with software than with hardware. However, demand may grow for hardware engineers as more industries outside of the computer and electronic product manufacturing industry begin to research and develop their own electronic devices. Thus, although declining employment in the manufacturing industries that employ many of these workers will impede the growth of this occupation, computer hardware engineers should be less affected than production occupations because firms are less likely to outsource their type of work.

An increase in hardware startup firms and the ongoing increase in devices with computer chips embedded in them, such as household appliances, medical devices, and automobiles, may lead to some job growth for computer hardware engineers.

Computer Hardware Engineers Job Prospects

Engineers who have a higher level degree, as well as knowledge or experience with computer software, will have the best job prospects. Job applicants with a computer engineering degree from an ABET-accredited program will have better chances of landing a job.

Employment projections data for Computer Hardware Engineers, 2014-24
Occupational Title Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24
Percent Numeric
Computer hardware engineers 77,700 80,100 3 2,400


*Some content used by permission of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.

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