How to Become a Computer Hardware Engineer: Steps to Take from High School
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- What Does a Computer Engineer Do?
- How Much Do Computer Engineers Earn?
- How to Become a Computer Hardware Engineer
Are you thinking about becoming a computer hardware engineer? These engineers develop, plan, and build the hardware components used in manufacturing computers. Many work in research environments developing and testing new ideas in computing hardware. Others may work for companies that create components or manufacture computers for sale. The field of computing technology changes rapidly and offers its professionals options to work on cutting-edge technology like virtual reality or augmented intelligence.
What Does a Computer Engineer Do?
Computers and information technology are found in so many tools used in our everyday lives. We quickly think of personal computers, tablets, and mobile phones, but there are microchips and information technology components in so many things. From the engine to the navigation system, your new car relies on this kind of tech. Smart home devices that provide security, thermostat control—even the refrigerator has a computer. These advances will only continue and they provide computer engineers with many options when it comes to job opportunities.
Specifically, computer engineers:
- Design and build new computer hardware and technology, including laptops, personal computers, and mobile phones.
- Create systems for non-computing use for cars, medical devices, home appliances, and chip readers.
- Work closely with programmers and developers to ensure that hardware meets the needs of new software programs. This could include designing computer chips, circuit boards, hard drives, or printers.
- Work on new and emerging technology.
- Solve problems, seek solutions, and continually learn new skills.
How Much Do Computer Engineers Earn?
Salaries will vary a bit depending on your field and specialties, but overall these are well-paying jobs. The annual median salary for all fields is around $120,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Earners in the top 10 percent made more than $192,000 and the bottom 10 percent earned less than $70,000 in 2020.
Here’s how the median salaries break down by field:
- Engineers in computer, component, and peripherals manufacturing earn $148,000 on average.
- Engineers in research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences earn on average $133,000 per year.
- Federal government jobs pay an average $118,000 annually.
- Semiconductor and other electronic component manufacturing comes in at $115,000.
- Computer systems design and related services pay around $114,000 annually.
Regardless of the field, careers in engineering offer strong salaries and benefits for employees. Along with computer engineering, other high-paying careers include petroleum engineering, aerospace engineering, chemical, industrial, and electrical engineering.
How to Become a Computer Hardware Engineer
The path from high school to working as a computer hardware engineer includes a four-year college or university program. Always aim to be an academically strong and well-rounded student, no matter what you choose to study in college.
Let’s look at the things you can do as a high school student to get started on your way to a career in computer hardware engineering:
- Focus on math and science courses. Consider AP courses in math and physics to prepare for college level work.
- Talk with your school counselor or computer science teachers to explore electives such as robotics or computer aided design.
- Look into STEM internships for high school students.
- Many schools have coding clubs, hackathons, and after-school groups for younger students. Participating and volunteering to lead some of these groups is a great way to have fun, add experience to your application, and may even get you a good letter of recommendation.
- Challenge yourself to score well on your ACT/SAT tests.
- Computer engineers need to be able to communicate well. They work closely with software engineers, developers, and others who aren’t in their field.
- Start looking at prospective colleges and universities and build a list of those schools that have the majors and programs that interest you. Here’s a list of the Best Colleges for Engineering.
When pursuing your college search, you should look for schools with an accredited engineering program. The gold standard for education is certification from the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). Having this credential on your resume will give employers confidence in your ability to succeed on the job.
We know that it can be overwhelming to put together a school list. There’s so much more to choosing a college than the majors they offer. You want to look at other factors like cost, location, size, student diversity, and other opportunities.
Check out CollegeVine’s free chancing engine and school search tool to create a list of possible schools. Input your information such as test scores, GPA, extracurriculars, and your preferred majors. It will also filter for the things you are looking for in a college experience. The chancing engine will take all that information and provide you with a list to begin exploring. If you have particular universities that you are interested in learning more about, the school search tool will provide loads of information for you. You will also get solid advice on how to improve your chances of being accepted.
There’s no major called “computer hardware engineering.” Students who are interested in hardware engineering often major in computer science or electrical engineering with a focus on computing. As you begin your college search, this is something to consider.
Typical college coursework for computer engineering is heavy in mathematics, physics, and electrical engineering, in addition to computer science. Computer engineers need to know how to code and work with software as well as hardware. Talk about your goals with your advisor to build a four-year plan of study.
Computer engineering and computer science students spend summers doing research and internships at their own school or for major employers. You can apply to companies or research opportunities you are interested in pursuing after graduation. This is a great way for you and the potential employer to get to know each other. It’s not uncommon for students to have jobs waiting for them after graduation.
Earn Industry Certifications
While you will not need a state licensure to work as a computer hardware engineer, you may want to earn an industry certification to set yourself apart from other applicants when applying to jobs. Since the field is evolving rapidly, ongoing education is important if you want to stay competitive and productive.
One option to consider is the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying’s PE Electrical and Computer exam. After working in the field for at least four years, you can sit for an eight hour examination. Passing this exam will raise your profile as you move up in your career. It will also make you more competitive if you plan to pursue a master’s or doctorate degree.
While not generally required, you may be a more competitive application at some larger firms if you have a master’s degree in computer hardware engineering. You could pursue a Master of Science in Engineering with a focus on Computer Engineering or a Master of Business Administration. During Master of Science in Engineering, you will learn to work on systems like broadcasting, navigation and communication, and may be able to specialize in the field of your interest. An MBA would be useful if you plan to lead a team of younger engineers or want to start your own business one day.
Beyond that, you can also consider getting a doctorate, which will require many years of work in academia. This will allow you to teach at the university level in the future.
Getting a master’s degree and a doctorate will likely both come with pay increases, a plus, however, it is not necessary to pursue further schooling to have a successful career as a computer hardware engineer.
The field of engineering and computer hardware engineering specifically is vibrant and the need for qualified employees will remain steady. These are well-paying jobs that truly provide unlimited possibilities as technology continues to evolve. If you are good at problem solving, can communicate complex information well, and are interested in constantly growing your skill sets, this may be the right career for you.