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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:

  1. Start early. Get ahead of the curve by taking classes in calculus, physics and statistics in high school.

  2. Earn a bachelor's degree in computer engineering. Most employers consider this a minimum requirement.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

Sources:

  • 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

Computer Hardware Engineer Skills

Below are the skills needed to be computer hardware engineer according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest) and competency level on a scale of 1 to 7 (1 being lowest and 7 being highest).

   
Skill NameImportanceCompetence
Critical Thinking44
Reading Comprehension44.38
Active Listening3.753.62
Speaking3.753.88
Active Learning3.623.88

Computer Hardware Engineer Abilities

Below are the abilities needed to be computer hardware engineer according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest) and competency level on a scale of 1 to 7 (1 being lowest and 7 being highest).

   
Ability NameImportanceCompetence
Deductive Reasoning44.38
Inductive Reasoning44
Oral Comprehension44.62
Problem Sensitivity44
Written Comprehension44.25

Computer Hardware Engineer Knowledge

Below are the knowledge areas needed to be computer hardware engineer according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest) and competency level on a scale of 1 to 7 (1 being lowest and 7 being highest).

   
Knowledge AreaImportanceCompetence
Computers and Electronics4.956.57
Engineering and Technology4.956.35
Design4.676.05
Mathematics4.556.05
Physics45.19

Computer Hardware Engineer Work activities

Below are the work activities involved in being computer hardware engineer according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest) and competency level on a scale of 1 to 7 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest).

   
Work ActivityImportanceCompetence
Interacting With Computers4.955.32
Getting Information4.365.14
Making Decisions and Solving Problems4.245
Processing Information4.245.86
Thinking Creatively4.246.14

Computer Hardware Engineer Work styles

Below are the work styles involved in being computer hardware engineer according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest).

   
Work StyleImportance
Attention to Detail4.64
Analytical Thinking4.62
Integrity4.38
Dependability4.14
Persistence4.1

Metro Areas Sorted by Total Employment for
Computer Hardware Engineer

Listed below are the 10 largest metro areas based on the total number of people employed in Computer Hardware Engineer jobs , as of 2017

   
Metro AreaTotal EmploymentAnnual Mean Salary
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara9,790 $145,870
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward3,710 $138,390
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim3,500 $122,910
San Diego-Carlsbad2,440 $129,450
Baltimore-Columbia-Towson1,710 $125,580
Sacramento--Roseville--Arden-Arcade1,390 $123,590
Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell1,240 $90,650
Detroit-Warren-Dearborn1,170 $86,130
Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue1,160 $129,400
Huntsville1,130 $109,970

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Total employment and salary for professions similar to computer hardware engineers

Source : 2017 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2016-26 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov; O*NET® 23.1 Database, O*NET OnLine, National Center for O*NET Development, Employment & Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, onetonline.org

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