Computer hardware engineering is a vast field incorporating a number of functions. This includes research and development, design, installation and testing of computing equipment such as processing units, interface devices, servers and network switches. As such, the field offers a variety of options to people who have an interest in the workings of computing hardware.
What Does a Computer Hardware Engineer Do?
A computer hardware engineer can specialize in any number of functions depending on his specific area of interest. Their specific duties include:
- Designing new hardware and conducting upgrades on existing ones to improve performance, functionality and ease of use.
- Testing the hardware to ensure that it is functioning properly and that it is compatible with existing software before going into final production.
- Installing computer hardware and troubleshooting any problems that arise during use
- Conducting research and development on how the efficiency of hardware such as processors, servers and circuitry can be enhanced.
- Assessing the hardware needs of an organization and advise the management accordingly on the specifications of the hardware to procure.
A Bachelor’s degree is a pre-requisite for this profession, which calls for high skill and intellect. A degree in computer science, computer or electrical engineering or other related field will equip you with knowledge in:
- Electronic circuit analysis
- Digital signal processing
- Design micro-processors and other components
- Interaction between computer hardware and software
- Computer programming, language and algorithms
- Embedded systems
Additional qualifications are:
- An advanced degree depending on your chosen area of specialization. For example, you will need a doctorate if you choose to specialize in research and development.
- Certifications such as Certified Computing Professional or Systems and Network Administration Professional offered by industry giants such as Microsoft and Cisco.
- License to operate if you wish to work in the public sector.
- Hands-on experience obtained through internships and on-the-job training.
- Knowledge of technical standards for computer hardware and consumer safety requirements.
Computer hardware engineers also need the following skills to perform their job effectively:
- Creative thinking and complex problem solving skills
- Active listening and interpersonal skills
- Ability to pay attention to detail
- Ability to work in a multi-disciplinary team
- Ability to stay up to date with emerging technologies
- Strategic planning skills
- Project management skills
Computer hardware engineers are paid according to their qualifications, level of experience, the size and capacity of their employers and their ability to deliver products that are functional, easy to use and in demand. The average annual salary in the United States is:
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Hardware engineers typically work in research laboratories and office buildings, rarely venturing out unless when they are going to install hardware at a client’s premises. The work is tiring and although hardware engineers only have to work during the stipulated regular hours, they often work overtime when they have a project at hand. Hardware engineering could also involve numerous hours on a computer screen researching, developing and designing. For some people, this could eventually necessitate the use of glasses. The job also has some interpersonal aspects, particularly when brainstorming with other team members about how to improve on existing hardware.
Although technology continues to revolutionize hardware design, the career prospects are slightly less than bright. This is because most of the technological advances are occurring in software and companies are outsourcing hardware engineering to other countries that have equally skilled but cheaper hardware engineers. Resultantly, it is only the most technologically savvy engineers and who engage in continuous professional development that have bright career prospects. Due to the versatility of the profession, you can also transfer your skills to related field such as network architecture and design to enhance your prospects.
Even though the job prospects are not as good as many other careers in the tech sector if you are passionate about computer hardware and have the right attributes then this might well be the career for you.
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