Computer Hardware Engineers

Summary

computer hardware engineers image
Computer hardware engineers solve problems that arise in computer hardware.
Quick Facts: Computer Hardware Engineers
2012 Median Pay $100,920 per year
$48.52 per hour
Entry-Level Education Bachelor’s degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2012 83,300
Job Outlook, 2012-22 7% (Slower than average)
Employment Change, 2012-22 6,200

What Computer Hardware Engineers Do

Computer hardware engineers research, design, develop, and test computer systems and components such as processors, circuit boards, memory devices, networks, and routers. By creating new directions in computer hardware, these engineers create rapid advances in computer technology.

Work Environment

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

How to Become a Computer Hardware Engineer

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

Pay

The median annual wage for computer hardware engineers was $100,920 in May 2012.

Job Outlook

Employment of computer hardware engineers is projected to grow 7 percent from 2012 to 2022, 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 of the technology innovation takes place with software than with hardware.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of computer hardware engineers with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about computer hardware engineers by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Computer Hardware Engineers Do About this section

Computer hardware engineers
These engineers help create large server farms which are used to store huge amounts of data.

Computer hardware engineers research, design, develop, and test computer systems and components such as processors, circuit boards, memory devices, networks, and routers. By creating new directions in computer hardware, these engineers create rapid advances in computer technology.

Duties

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
  • 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, there are many car parts with computer systems embedded in them. A growing number of medical devices are also designed by computer hardware engineers 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 developments. Therefore, hardware engineers sometimes work with software developers. For example, the hardware and software for a mobile phone are often jointly developed. Hardware engineers may also perform some basic computer programming and test computer code.

Work Environment About this section

Computer hardware engineers
Most hardware engineers work in labs where they test different types of computer models.

Computer hardware engineers held about 83,300 jobs in 2012. The industries that employed the largest number of computer hardware engineers in 2012 were as follows:

Computer systems design and related services20%
Semiconductor and other electronic component manufacturing17
Computer and peripheral equipment manufacturing12
Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences12
Navigational, measuring, electromedical, and control instruments manufacturing7

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

Work Schedules

Most computer hardware engineers work full time. About 1 in 3 worked more than 40 hours per week in 2012.

How to Become a Computer Hardware Engineer About this section

Computer hardware engineers
Most entry-level computer hardware engineers have a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering, although a degree in electrical engineering generally is acceptable.

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

Education

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

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 is usually expected. This background may be obtained through computer science courses.

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 (MBA). All engineers must continue their learning over the course of their careers to keep up with rapid advances in technology.

Other Experience

Some students participate in internships while in school to gain practical experience.

Advancement

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

Important Qualities

Analytical skills. Computer hardware engineers analyze complex equipment to determine the best way to improve it.

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.

Pay About this section

Computer Hardware Engineers

Median annual wages, May 2012

Computer hardware engineers

$100,920

Engineers

$86,200

Total, all occupations

$34,750

 

The median annual wage for computer hardware engineers was $100,920 in May 2012. 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 $63,970, and the top 10 percent earned more than $150,130. 

In May 2012, the median annual wages for computer hardware engineers in the top five industries in which these engineers worked were as follows:

Computer and peripheral equipment manufacturing $109,860
Semiconductor and other electronic
component manufacturing
101,680
Computer systems design and related services101,510
Navigational, measuring, electromedical, and
control instruments manufacturing
97,970
Scientific research and development services95,710

Most computer hardware engineers work full time. About 1 in 3 worked more than 40 hours per week in 2012.

Job Outlook About this section

Computer Hardware Engineers

Percent change in employment, projected 2012-22

Total, all occupations

11%

Engineers

9%

Computer hardware engineers

7%

 

Employment of computer hardware engineers is projected to grow 7 percent from 2012 to 2022, 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 innovation takes place with software than with hardware. Although declining employment in the manufacturing industries that employ many of these workers will negatively affect 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 increase in devices with computer chips embedded in them such as household appliances, medical devices, or automobiles may lead to some job growth for computer hardware engineers.

Job Prospects

Engineers who have a higher-level degree and 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, 2012-22
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2012 Projected Employment, 2022 Change, 2012-22 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Computer hardware engineers

17-2061 83,300 89,400 7 6,200 [XLS]

Similar Occupations About this section

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of computer hardware engineers.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION Help 2012 MEDIAN PAY Help
Aerospace engineers

Aerospace Engineers

Aerospace engineers design aircraft, spacecraft, satellites, and missiles. In addition, they test prototypes to make sure that they function according to design.

Bachelor’s degree $103,720
Computer and information research scientists

Computer and Information Research Scientists

Computer and information research scientists invent and design new approaches to computing technology and find innovative uses for existing technology. They study and solve complex problems in computing for business, medicine, science, and other fields.

Doctoral or professional degree $102,190
Computer and information systems managers

Computer and Information Systems Managers

Computer and information systems managers, often called information technology (IT) managers or IT project managers, plan, coordinate, and direct computer-related activities in an organization. They help determine the information technology goals of an organization and are responsible for implementing computer systems to meet those goals.

Bachelor’s degree $120,950
computer network architects image

Computer Network Architects

Computer network architects design and build data communication networks, including local area networks (LANs), wide area networks (WANs), and intranets. These networks range from a small connection between two offices to a multinational series of globally distributed communications systems.

Bachelor’s degree $91,000
Computer programmers

Computer Programmers

Computer programmers write code to create software programs. They turn the program designs created by software developers and engineers into instructions that a computer can follow.

Bachelor’s degree $74,280
Electrical and electronics engineers

Electrical and Electronics Engineers

Electrical engineers design, develop, test, and supervise the manufacturing of electrical equipment, such as electric motors, radar and navigation systems, communications systems, and power generation equipment. Electronics engineers design and develop electronic equipment, such as broadcast and communications systems—from portable music players to global positioning systems (GPS).

Bachelor’s degree $89,630
Information security analysts

Information Security Analysts

Information security analysts plan and carry out security measures to protect an organization's computer networks and systems. Their responsibilities are continually expanding as the number of cyberattacks increase.

Bachelor’s degree $86,170
Mathematicians

Mathematicians

Mathematicians use advanced mathematics to develop and understand mathematical principles, analyze data, and solve real-world problems.

Master’s degree $101,360
Mechanical engineers

Mechanical Engineers

Mechanical engineering is one of the broadest engineering disciplines. Mechanical engineers design, develop, build, and test mechanical and thermal devices, including tools, engines, and machines.

Bachelor’s degree $80,580
Software developers

Software Developers

Software developers are the creative minds behind computer programs. Some develop the applications that allow people to do specific tasks on a computer or other device. Others develop the underlying systems that run the devices or control networks.

Bachelor’s degree $93,350
Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Computer Hardware Engineers,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/computer-hardware-engineers.htm (visited August 01, 2014).

Publish Date: Wednesday, January 8, 2014