Pursuing a career as a computer hardware engineer is a smart move. Indeed, with technology now being an integral part of every organisation in the world, there’s a growing demand for hardware engineers in every industry.
From researching to designing and testing computers and equipment to installing computer systems, hardware engineers are leading the way to rapid technological advancements. They are also, undoubtedly, an essential component in every company.
There’s a lot you need to consider before embarking on any career, including salary prospects, educational requirements and key skills. So, if you want to know more about what this occupation entails, read on to find out how to become a computer hardware engineer.
Is it the right job for me?
Before settling on the career path you want to follow, you first need to ensure that it’s the right fit for you. Beyond having extensive technical knowledge, a computer hardware engineer also needs to liaise with a company’s management team, conduct research on the efficiency of hardware equipment and troubleshoot problematic devices, among other things. It’s essential, then, that you find out if this is something you could see yourself doing.
First, do a little research on what the job entails, including the day-to-day duties of the job, work environment, skills you need to succeed in the role and the salary prospects. Start by searching for reviews published online or reach out to professionals in the field. If the daily routine of a computer hardware engineer sounds dull or unappealing to you, then you might need to reconsider if this is the job for you.
Another good way to go about this is to gain some practical experience through an internship or even work shadowing. The more you know about your prospective career, the better prepared you’ll be if you choose to follow it.
What qualifications do I need?
A bachelor’s degree in electrical or computer engineering is usually an essential requirement for an entry-level position. This will give you the necessary foundations in the field, as you will have the opportunity to gain hands-on experience through lab work and solidify your knowledge on subjects including electronic circuit analysis, digital signal processing, design of hardware components and computer programming.
In the US, many engineering programmes are also accredited by ABET, and many employers usually prefer graduates from top engineering schools like Stanford University.
Obtaining a master’s degree in computer engineering could also be a good idea, as it will increase your employability and give you a competitive edge over other candidates. In fact, this is often a requirement by larger companies and corporations. And if you want to take your expertise one step further, then you can also earn a doctorate as a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) or Doctor of Engineering (DEng).
Beyond academia, there a few other necessary credentials you’ll need to kick-start your career. For example, if you want to work in the public sector, you will need to attain a licence to work as a hardware engineer. Meanwhile, if you want to hone your skills further, you could consider other formal training courses such as the BTEC qualification and the SQA National Certificate or SQA Higher National Diploma.
Alternatively, completing an apprenticeship in IT and engineering could be another way for you to follow this career path. In the UK, for example, you can land a higher apprenticeship with a company as an A-level student. From thereon, you can learn the ropes of the job while also getting paid, and you can gradually make your way up to a hardware engineer position.
What skills do I need?
Beyond certificates and diplomas, a computer hardware engineer needs to possess the right combination of technical and transferable skills, including:
- Analytical skills: As a hardware engineer, you are expected to analyse complex equipment and user needs and find the best ways to improve and refine them. Hence why this profession requires individuals to have critical thinking skills and a highly analytical nature.
- Problem-solving skills: When it comes to dealing with complex systems and intricate equipment, problems are bound to arise. Part of your job, then, is to identify these issues, evaluate your options and find the best possible way to resolve them.
- Interpersonal skills: A hardware engineer is often required to work with other teams and cooperate with both technical and non-technical peers. So, you not only need to be able to analyse and resolve a situation but also understand and communicate with others. Beyond the technical side of things, being an active listener and a good communicator are essential qualities.
- Creativity: Hardware engineers don’t only need to maintain but also design new equipment and hardware. Creativity is an essential component of this process, as it will allow you to create blueprints for new, innovative technology. Of course, this is also an essential skill for problem-solving, as you might be required to find a more creative route to address an issue.
- Stress management: Hardware engineering can be a very demanding and hectic job. Depending on the size of the company you’re working for, you’ll need to manage multiple projects at once. Being able to keep your cool in the face of all this pressure, then, is a critical skill to have.
- Technological awareness: As a hardware engineer, you’ll need to keep up with emerging technologies and ensure that all devices are up to date and in good condition. Your tech knowledge will be an invaluable asset to you and your company, so staying informed on new innovations and developments will help you fulfil your role all the better.
How do I land a job?
There’s a diverse range of work opportunities available at your fingertips. Which one you choose will depend on your own interests and professional goals as a hardware engineer.
1. Finding a job
Completing an internship is the best way to enter the profession and potentially land a permanent job in the long-run. Most colleges and universities are affiliated with employers that recruit new graduates and provide on-the-job training. So, if you are still in university, keep your eyes open for any opportunities and try to form industry connections through networking events and job fairs. Some of the most prominent graduate employers include the likes of Accenture, Cisco, Google, IBM and Microsoft.
Alternatively, you can begin your job search by utilising some of the many job boards and search engines out there. Some of the best job sites for engineering jobs include:
- IEEE (US only)
- JustEngineers (UK only)
- EngineerJobs.com (US only, but also has UK and Australia-focused sites)
If you have your heart set on a particular company, it would be a good idea to check the careers section of their website too. Even if there aren’t any current job openings, it won’t do any harm if you reached out to the organisation and expressed your interest in the company.
Another great strategy to do that is to use LinkedIn and form professional connections with companies you’re interested in. Be sure that your LinkedIn profile is in top form before you do, though, as it could be a defining factor for prospective employers. Of course, the same applies to your CV, which should focus on your academic achievements, relevant past jobs and internships, and your transferable skills.
2. Acing the interview
Before heading to your interview, ensure that you’re thoroughly prepared.
First things first, brush up on common interview questions and practise your answers. That way, you won’t get caught off guard if a tricky question pops up.
Beyond the standardised questions, you will also be expected to prove that you have detailed knowledge of complex hardware systems, processes and computer components. The ideal candidate will be able to demonstrate their analytical skills and awareness of the industry by providing examples and referring to past experiences.
The more articulate your answers, the better the impression you’ll make on your recruiters. You may also be given a brief assessment that will test your abilities to resolve a problem under pressure. If that’s the case, take in all the information that they’ll provide you with and walk the interviewer through the process you would follow to find a solution.
Additionally, employers will be looking for a candidate who not only possesses knowledge in the field but who is also well-informed of the company itself as well as what the particular role entails. So, before your interview, do your research on your prospective employer, their company culture and mission, and show how your professional goals align with those of the company.
Computer hardware engineering is a highly technical profession. At a time of constant technological advancements, you not only need to have extensive knowledge on a range of computer components and hardware, but you also need to keep up with the ever-evolving technologies in the industry. Regardless, if this is a field that you’re passionate about, this could be the ideal career for you.
Are you a computer hardware engineer? What other tips would you give? Let us know in the comments section below!
This article is an updated version of an earlier article originally published in October 2014.