The median annual wage of computer hardware engineers was $98,810 in May 2010. (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% earned less than $61,360, and the top 10% earned more than $147,890.
Computer hardware engineers typically do the following:
Design new computer hardware, creating blueprints 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.
Computer hardware engineers ensure that computer hardware components work together with the latest software developments. Therefore, they sometimes work with software developers. For example, computer hardware engineers give developers of mobile applications information about what kind of software a cell phone can run.
Most entry-level computer hardware engineers have a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering, although a degree in electrical engineering is generally acceptable. A computer engineering major is similar to electrical engineering but with some computer science courses added to the curriculum. Many engineering programs are accredited by ABET (formerly the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology). Some employers 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 background in computer programming usually is needed. This background may be obtained through computer science courses.
Some school programs offer co-ops or internships that can provide job experience. Some large firms or specialized jobs require a master’s degree in computer engineering. Some experienced engineers obtain a master’s degree in business administration. All engineers must continue their learning over the course of their careers to keep up with rapid advances in technology.
Computer hardware engineers analyze complex equipment to determine the best way to improve it. They design new types of information technology devices. They use logic and reasoning to clarify goals, examine assumptions, and identify the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions to problems. They identify complex problems in computer hardware, develop and evaluate possible solutions, and figure out the best way to implement them. Engineers often work on teams and must be able to communicate with other types of engineers as well as with non-technical team members.
Computer hardware engineers usually work in research laboratories that build and test various types of computer models. Most work in high-tech manufacturing firms. Some work in computer systems design firms, research and development firms, or for the federal government. More than 95 percent of computer hardware engineers work in metropolitan areas.