What Does a Computer Hardware Engineer Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

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Image by Alexandra Gordon © The Balance 2019

Computer hardware engineers oversee the manufacture, installation, and testing of computer systems, servers, chips, and circuit boards. They work with peripherals including keyboards, routers, and printers. Another title for this occupation is hardware engineer.

Approximately 73,600 computer hardware engineers worked in the U.S. in 2016. About one in four of them worked for computer systems design services.

Computer Hardware Engineer Duties & Responsibilities

Responsibilities can depend on the needs and requirements of employers, but some common duties include:

  • Diagnose and troubleshoot failed rotational media and solid-state storage devices.
  • Analyze user needs and recommend appropriate hardware.
  • Modify hardware to enable forensic analysis of the media or to change the functionality of the hardware for other purposes.
  • Participate in the design and development of electronic circuits and assemblies.
  • Conduct technical exploitation and examination of high priority digital media.
  • Test and peer review for technical accuracy, standards and compliance to the design.

Computer hardware engineers are considered to be the driving force behind growth in computer technology.

Computer Hardware Engineer Salary

The most highly compensated computer hardware engineers work in research and development.

  • Median Annual Salary: $114,600 ($55.10/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: More than $172,630 ($82.99/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: Less than $66,700 ($32.07/hour)

Education, Training & Certification

Entry into this field relies on education.

  • Education: You'll need a bachelor's degree in computer engineering. Some employers will accept a degree in electrical engineering or computer science. Computer hardware engineers need a background in computer science, so students who major in electrical engineering should take classes in that subject. Some large firms might require a master's degree in computer engineering.
  • Accreditation: Look for an educational program that's accredited by ABET, a professional engineering association. Use the program search tool on ABET's website to find one.

Computer Hardware Engineer Skills & Competencies

In addition to the technical skills you'll acquire through education, you'll also need certain soft skills, or personal qualities, to be successful in this field.

  • Critical thinking: Comparing various solutions to problems will allow you to identify the best one.
  • Reading comprehension: You'll have to do a lot of reading to keep up with changing technology.
  • Communication skills: Computer hardware engineers frequently work on teams, so excellent verbal communication and listening skills are essential.
  • Creativity: You must be able to come up with new ideas for designing computers, devices, and peripherals.

Job Outlook

This occupation is expected to grow on average with all other occupations from 2016 through 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Job growth at about 5% is anticipated as new and more innovative computer hardware is needed to keep pace with software development.

Work Environment

Researching, designing, and development can be solitary work, but you'll also have ample opportunities to work as part of a team, and particularly with software developers. This is a lab- and desk-based occupation.

Work Schedule

Positions in this field are typically full-time, often during normal business hours. Some special projects might demand overtime, as well as working weekends and evenings.

How to Get the Job

CONSIDER AN INTERNSHIP

Participating in an internship can add practical, hands-on experience to your resume. Internships are available through many schools.

CONTINUE YOUR EDUCATION

Education isn't a once-and-done deal in this field. Computer technology is constantly evolving, so it can be critical to keep on top of the inevitable changes and solutions.

Comparing Similar Jobs

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