Computer Hardware Engineer

Career Information

Computer hardware engineer
A computer hardware engineer works on a circuit board. David Leahy / Iconica / Getty Images

A computer hardware engineer oversees the manufacture, installation, and testing of computer systems, servers, chips, and circuit boards. In addition, he or she works with peripherals including keyboards, routers, and printers. Another title for this occupation is hardware engineer.

Quick Facts

  • In 2015, the median annual salary of computer hardware engineers was $111,730.
  • Almost 78,000 people worked in this occupation in 2014.
  • Computer and computer system manufacturers employ most hardware engineers.
  • Positions are typically full-time.
  • Job Outlook: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment will grow more slowly than the average for all occupations through 2024.

Job Duties

These are some typical job duties described in online ads for computer hardware engineer positions found on Indeed.com:

  • "Diagnose and troubleshoot failed rotational media and solid state storage devices"
  • "Analyze user needs and recommend appropriate hardware"
  • "Modify hardware to either 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"

How To Become a Computer Hardware Engineer

If you want to become a computer hardware engineer, you will need a bachelor's degree in computer engineering.

Some employers will accept a degree in electrical engineering or computer science. If you get an engineering degree, look for a program that is accredited by ABET, a professional engineering association. To find one, you can use the program search tool on ABET's website. Since computer hardware engineers need a background in computer science, students who major in electrical engineering should take classes in that subject.

What Soft Skills Do You Need?

In addition to the technical skills you will acquire through your education, you also need certain soft skills, or personal qualities, to be successful in this field. They are:

  • Critical Thinking: Comparing various solutions to problems will allow you to identify the best one.
  • Reading Comprehension: You will have to do a lot of reading in order to keep up with changing technology.
  • Communication Skills: Since computer hardware engineers frequently work on teams, 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.

What Will Employers Expect From You?

To find out what qualities employers value, we again took a look at job announcements on Indeed.com. Here's what we found:

  • "Strong customer focused attitude"
  • "Strong sense of responsibility, commitment to quality and achieving deadlines"
  • "Must be highly motivated, self-reliant and goal-driven to participate as a member of a cross-functional team"
  • "Demonstrate critical attention to detail and deadlines, and are self-motivated"
  • "Willingness to embrace new development techniques and design aids"

Is This Career a Good Fit for You?

  • MBTI Personality Types: ISTJ, ESTJ, ESTP (Tieger, Paul D., Barron, Barbara, and Tieger, Kelly. (2014) Do What You Are. NY: Hatchette Book Group.)

Take the Computer Hardware Engineer Quiz to find out if you have what it takes to succeed in this career.

Occupations With Related Activities and Tasks

 DescriptionAnnual Salary (2015)Educational Requirements
Electrical / Electronics EngineerCreates and tests electrical and electronic equipment$93,0100Bachelor's degree in electrical engineering, electronics engineering, or electrical engineering technology
Electrical Engineering TechnicianHelps engineers develop electrical and electronic equipment$61,130Associate degree in electrical or electronics engineering technology

Mechanical Engineer

Designs and tests machines, engines, and tools$83,590Bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering or mechanical engineering technology
Photonics EngineerDesigns imaging systems, fiber optics, and lasers$95,900Bachelor's degree in optics, photonics, or physics

 

Sources:
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 (visited December 19, 2016).
Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, O*NET Online (visited December 19, 2016).