How to Become a
Computer Hardware Engineer
Best Education Tracks, Key Skills, and Top Certifications
Although the US Bureau of Labor Statistics only predicts two percent field growth for work in computer hardware engineering, this is one career path still worth pursuing. With computer hardware engineers earning a median annual salary of $119,560 and a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering or computer science being the only education requirement, these jobs are excellent career choices.
Whether you are already a computer programmer or are simply fascinated with computer hardware and software, there is a computer hardware engineering education path right for you. We have gathered information about the best computer engineering education paths, certifications, and skills you will need to succeed.
What Is a Computer Hardware Engineer?
A computer hardware engineer is someone who typically works full-time designing, developing, and testing various computing technologies. Computer hardware engineers ensure computing technology works well with software, and often work side by side with software developers.
Becoming a computer hardware engineer is a great way to gain access to various industries. Vehicles, smart home devices, and even medical devices have hardware components that are tested and improved upon by computer hardware engineers.
What Type of School Should You Attend
to Become a Computer Hardware Engineer?
The most common path to becoming a computer hardware engineer is via a college degree. Most computer hardware engineering jobs will require candidates to have earned a bachelor’s degree, though some higher positions may even require a master’s.
However, if you are not ready to commit to a four-year degree quite yet, there are plenty of options to help you get started in this field. Whether you want to take a few online courses or a computer engineering program, there are plenty of ways to learn.
Best Computer Hardware Engineer Education Tracks
There are a few different educational paths you can take in order to become a computer hardware engineer. While most jobs will require you to have earned a bachelor’s degree, there are other, less time-consuming options to get you started on the right track.
Attending a vocational school, or a trade school, is a path often not thought of when it comes to computer hardware engineering. While you will not be able to earn a computer engineering degree, you can earn a certificate from a trade school that acts as an equivalent to a degree.
Many computer hardware engineering jobs are not attainable without a college degree, but there are also plenty out there you can achieve with a trade school certificate. Even if it seems improbable to land your dream job with a certificate, you can always use a computer engineering or computer science trade school as a first step in your education.
You can study computer science or computer engineering at a community college and earn an associate’s degree before moving on to a four-year school.
Studying at a community college is a great way to save money. The courses are almost always less expensive than those of typical universities. On top of the low cost, class sizes are often much smaller, allowing for more one-on-one learning for students.
Computer Hardware Engineer Degrees
Earning a computer engineering or computer science degree is a must for anyone pursuing a career in this field. These degrees are offered at hundreds of onsite and online colleges and universities around the world. It is important to ensure your degree comes from an accredited program.
The most common accreditations you can look for are the Computer Accreditation Commission, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on College, and the Higher Learning Commission.
Computer Hardware Engineer Courses
Another option to help you learn computer hardware engineering is to take a few independent courses. There are hundreds of computer engineering, computer hardware, and even basic engineering courses available online for a low cost.
Some of the best places you can visit include Udemy and Coursera. You can also visit SkillShare to find a plethora of tutorial-style courses taught by experts in the field. None of the courses will meet the requirements for computer hardware engineering jobs, but they will help you understand the career field better.
How to Become a Computer Hardware Engineer: A Step-by-Step Guide
As is the case with many careers, determining the best place to start can be difficult. Luckily for you, we have created this step-by-step guide you can use to get started on your career journey.
Determine if computer hardware engineering is for you
Before you decide to jump head-first into the world of computer hardware engineering, be sure this is the right career for you. Make sure you have good communication skills, enjoy working with computer hardware, and are ready to dive into this technically challenging environment.
Take a few online courses
We recommend starting your educational journey by investing in a few online courses. As mentioned earlier, there are plenty available through Udemy, Coursera, and SkillShare. These will help you gain a basic understanding of the subject matter, helping you breeze through a degree program
Enroll in an accredited degree program
Now that you have begun your learning journey, it’s time to enroll in a degree program. Do your research and ensure the program you choose is the best fit for you in terms of schedule options, location, and cost. Remember to choose an accredited program as well.
Earn industry certifications
Certifications are not necessarily required for a computer hardware engineering job, but they certainly help. Since this is a tough field to get into, having as many leads on the competition as possible is the key to succeeding in your job hunt.
Consider higher education
Once you have begun working as a computer hardware engineer, you may want to consider pursuing higher education. Having a master’s degree or even a doctorate will allow you to continually advance in your field of work.
Key Computer Hardware Engineer Skills
There are many skills you will need to work a job as a computer hardware engineer. You will need good communication skills, to be a team player, and to understand software engineering a bit. The following three skills, however, are some of the most important.
Verilog is a very common hardware description language. This language is used to describe the behaviors of digital circuits. While working as a computer hardware engineer, it is absolutely vital to understand how to write code in Verilog.
You can learn to use Verilog in many degree programs, but there are also many online courses available for you to enroll in. By choosing an independent course, you are ensuring a strong understanding of the hardware description language.
Computer Programming Skills
Though computer hardware engineers don’t do the same type of work as programmers, they are expected to come from a computer programming background. You will need to know the basics of computer programming before entering this career field.
We recommend researching your dream job positions and finding out which coding languages are most commonly used in those jobs. This way, you will know which coding languages you need to master, and you can begin to hone in on your programming skills prior to job hunting.
Computer hardware design is a subsect of the field of computer hardware engineering. Most computer hardware engineers need to gain at least a basic understanding of engineering design, as it will likely be used at some point in their work.
Engineering design in computer hardware engineering involves designing and creating hardware components. This could mean anything from microchips, scanners, and circuit boards, amongst others.
Computer Hardware Engineer Salary and Job Outlook
In 2020, the median salary for computer hardware engineers was $119,560, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. The job outlook for this career is not the best, with a predicted two percent field growth within the next decade. This does not mean it is an impossible field to get into, but if you are searching for quick and easy career paths, this may not be the one for you.
Entry-Level Computer Hardware Engineer Job Requirements
Most entry-level computer hardware engineering jobs will require candidates to have earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Engineering, or a computer science bachelor’s degree. You will likely need proof of hands-on experience in the field, which can often be completed in college courses, during online courses, or even with an internship.
What Does a Computer Hardware Engineer Do?
Computer hardware engineers work on the hardware aspects of computers. People who work these jobs act as complementary parts to software engineers, and vice versa. As a computer hardware engineer, you will work alongside computer software engineers to ensure all aspects of computing technology are up to current standards.
Analyzes and Recommends Hardware
A large part of computer hardware engineering is analyzing client and consumer needs and recommending the appropriate hardware for those needs. You can do this for individuals, companies, and contracted clients.
You will also analyze current hardware to help troubleshoot and determine if the hardware can be repaired, or if it will need to be replaced. This is more common in entry-level positions but is still considered part of the job.
Designs and Develops Hardware for Various Devices
Often considered the most fun aspect of a computer hardware engineering job is the designing and developing of hardware. Depending on which job position you accept, you may end up working on everything from basic computers to complex medical devices.
This is the part of the job in which you will spend the most time working with computer software engineers, as the software and hardware are often developed at the same time. You will be able to work with a team and express your more creative side in this type of work.
Tests and Reviews Hardware for Accuracy
Once the hardware has been developed, it will need to be tested and peer-reviewed. You will test and review your own hardware creations, as well as evaluate the work of your peers to ensure no bugs have been missed.
To succeed in this part of the job, you will need to not only be able to provide constructive criticism, but also receive it. Your peers and superiors will be checking your own work for issues and room for improvement, and you will have to be able to accept their feedback to improve upon your work.
Computer Hardware Engineer Certifications
One of the best ways to get ahead of the competition in any field is to earn certifications. There are many different certifications out there that will help you succeed in computer hardware engineering, but these are a few of the best.
The CompTIA A+ certification is widely considered to be the best starting place for those interested in careers in information technology and computer programming. It is great to have as a computer hardware engineer because it shows you not only know computer engineering, but you are also an expert when it comes to the fundamentals.
ACMT: Apple Certified Macintosh Technician
Earning the ACMT certification is a good way to show potential employers that you know your way around Apple products. This certification is specifically for those who can specialize in Apple hardware and can easily work on and repair Apple devices.
How to Prepare for Your Computer Hardware Engineer Job Interview
Job interviews can be stressful, especially for jobs in lower demand. By preparing ahead of time though, you should easily be able to ace your next job interview. Be sure to show confidence, expertise, and capability while in your interview.
You can also practice for your interview ahead of time. The following is a list of questions commonly asked by hiring managers during computer hardware engineering interviews.
Computer Hardware Engineer Job Interview Practice Questions
- Do you get excited to learn about new technologies in your work?
- Which areas in computer hardware engineering you find challenging?
- Are you able to explain a technical question and solution to someone with no technical background?
- How have you been able to stay up-to-date in the computer hardware engineering industry?
How Long Does It Take to Become a Computer Hardware Engineer?
Since most entry-level computer hardware engineering positions require a bachelor’s degree, you can expect to take a minimum of four years to become a computer hardware engineer. This is assuming you are able to attend college full-time for four years with no hang-ups throughout the process.
For many, it takes closer to five or six years to become a computer hardware engineer. If you choose to study in online classes or attend a trade school prior to enrolling in a degree program, it will likely take this long. However, everyone’s career path is different, and it may take you more or less time than the average person.
Should You Become a Computer Hardware Engineer in 2021?
Computer hardware engineering is not predicted to be a rapidly growing field in the next decade, so it will be difficult to find positions in this industry. However, the median pay for this job is nearly $120,000, so for many, it may be worth the risk.
If you enjoy working on computer hardware and really want to pursue this career, you should. It is important to keep in mind that it will not be the easiest career path to follow, but it is possible for those who are determined.
Computer Hardware Engineering FAQ
Is computer hardware engineering a good career?
If you enjoy working with computers, this is definitely a good career. The pay is usually very high, most will find the work interesting, and there is always room for growth.
Do software engineers or hardware engineers earn more money?
Both earn a median pay of over $100,000 annually, but computer hardware engineers tend to earn a bit more than software engineers, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Is computer hardware engineering difficult to learn?
Engineering is a challenging subject to learn overall. However, this does not mean computer hardware engineering is the most difficult subject out there to learn. You will just have to study hard.