A computer hardware engineer is responsible for installing computer components, doing research and design, and implementing new computer technologies. They are experts on components such as circuit boards, chips, keyboards, routers, printers and monitors. Contributing to a new or customized system that meets a specific need or solves a particular problem can be rewarding. Technology evolves quickly, so engineers must learn constantly to keep up with it. This can be stimulating, overwhelming or both! Hardware engineers often work long hours in research labs, sometimes outside of normal business hours to minimize disruption to end users. At times, their work can be repetitive.
Day in the Life of a Computer Hardware Engineer
The work of a hardware engineer can vary tremendously. For example, some are employed by companies that design and sell computer products. Others work for client companies that have highly customized computer systems.
An engineer at a custom computer chip company is responsible for verifying that the chip being designed will work as desired. Most computer chips are first designed as software, and the engineer writes programs that, when combined with the design, run as if it were a real chip. These simulations test the interactions that the chip will have and check that the chip behaves as expected. This can be a long process (6-24 months) and involves a great deal of testing and retesting.
>A large defense contractor specializes in computer systems that provide solutions to enable intelligence professionals to obtain and decipher timely information that may be key to national security. A hardware engineer employed there develops and produces mission solutions for networking, command and control, battlespace awareness and air traffic management.
Important Characteristics for a Computer Hardware Engineer
Traits that can best serve computer engineers are an aptitude for math and science, an analytical mind and creative problem-solving skills. Someone in this profession should be able to anticipate problems and arrive at cost-effective solutions by gathering and processing information. It also helps to have a balance of technology and business knowledge, in order to keep things in perspective and communicate well with non-technical employees and clients.
Typical Steps for Becoming a Computer Hardware Engineer
The usual path toward a computer hardware engineering career follows these steps:
Start early. Get ahead of the curve by taking classes in calculus, physics and statistics in high school.
Earn a bachelor's degree in computer engineering. Most employers consider this a minimum requirement.
Gain practical experience (and references) through an internship. Doing this while you're earning your bachelor's degree can be critical to landing a job after graduation.
Consider getting a master's degree in computer science, software engineering, or mathematics. This may give you a competitive edge to landing a complex position as a hardware engineer.
Additional tip: While campus-based colleges with computer hardware engineering programs may offer a more traditional way to prepare for this career, some online computer engineering degree programs can compress the amount of time spent studying through accelerated course offerings.
- Computer Hardware Engineers, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/computer-hardware-engineers.htm