10 Important Skills Needed to Become a Computer Engineer

Illustration of a man sitting cross-legged on the floor holding a laptop that is connected to a tower of servers

If you're looking for a role within computer engineering, you're in luck – skilled engineers are in high demand. Whether you want to become a software engineer or a computer hardware engineer, several important skills and qualities are needed to fit the job description.

We've comprised a list of the top skills required to kickstart your career development. Indeed, many of these computer engineer skills are transferrable to many roles within the computing field. If you're a recent graduate or career changer starting their job search, or even an established engineer looking to develop your career prospects, we're here to help.

So, what are the skills required for computer engineer roles? Here are our top 10.

1. Coding and programming

 Basic knowledge of programming and writing code is essential to a role in computer engineering. However, not all businesses use the same programming languages. In GitHub's 2020 State of the Octoverse report, JavaScript, Python, Java, TypeScript and C# were listed as their top-used languages. While few roles will expect you to be an expert in all of these languages, basic knowledge and exposure will help you adapt to your clients' needs. 

There are many different ways to improve your coding skills, but you reap what you sow. Learning in your own time by undertaking projects at home or completing programming challenges online is a great way to improve your proficiency throughout your career.

2. SDLC knowledge

 An SDLC, otherwise known as a software development life cycle, is a standard business practice framework when building software application. Understanding the process is key to delivering high-quality work on time, that meets the client's expectations. 

Though the process may look slightly different in every company, knowing how to plan, prototype, test, deploy and maintain software applications will streamline your work and minimise errors along the way.

 While hands-on experience is the best way to learn, you can also increase your exposure through online resources. 

Websites like TutorialsPoint break down the different SDLC variations, including the Waterfall, Agile and Spiral model.

3. Electrical engineering

 If your computer engineering role focuses on computer hardware, you'll need to have strong electrical engineering knowledge. You'll need a deep understanding of the computer components and how they connect – elements such as the relationship between the processor, cache memory, RAM and how data is delivered through buses.

As well as this, knowing how to test computer hardware using devices such as oscilloscopes and hardware debuggers, may be expected within your role.

So, get cracking! If you haven't already, try messing around with a Raspberry Pi or Arduino to develop your hands-on experience.

4. Networking

 Networking knowledge is crucial as common computer engineering projects often involve some variation of network connectivity, whether that's engineering IoT devices, building a website or programming bespoke services. To be successful in your role, you will need to have a grasp on things like internet connectivity, common protocols, public key infrastructure and more. 

How does a browser load a website? How do common protocols work on servers? Knowing the answers to these questions is vital. In a world where everything is connected, understanding how everything connects is crucial.

Understanding the OSI (open systems interconnection) model, a conceptual framework used to describe the functions of a networking system, is a great place to start.

5. Secure coding

As we progress through the rapidly expanding cybersecurity landscape, it's become common for engineers and developers to create their projects with a layer of security.

Knowledge of common vulnerabilities and the countermeasures could be expected in some work environments. For example, you will need to know how to parameterise your queries to backend databases to mitigate SQL injection vulnerabilities.

Attending cyber security conferences or webinars will help you gain knowledge around common and current attack paths. Or if you would like to try the hacking yourself, platforms like Hack The Box provide penetration labs so you can get into the attacker mindset.

6. Cryptography

 Speaking of secure coding, common security techniques, and methods often involve cryptography. Indeed, understanding cryptography aids in securing local data such as passwords and personal information and helps in securing network connectivity to protect against adversaries between servers and clients.

Whether it's encoding, hashing or encryption, cryptography is a tool for every computer engineer's toolbox. Reading books such as Cryptography Engineering [paid link] will aid your learning and understanding of how to implement cryptography and increase your proficiency effectively. 

7. Code reviewing

 Writing code is one thing but understanding and reviewing code is a skill in itself. Quality code review is essential to making the code more efficient. 

The cost of debugging will only increase as the project progresses through the SDLC, so catching errors early is important for saving time and money.

 The ability to code review your work and the work of others is a great skill to have in computer engineering. 

Get into the habit of commenting on your code to aid code reviewing and read up on what companies like Google are doing to get a sense of best practice.

8. Databases knowledge

 Regardless of what role you take a role in computer engineering, you'll likely come across databases. Whether it's a SQL or NoSQL database, knowing how to query and effectively store big data is essential. You may be asked to craft and programme your own queries to parse through data such as employee information or large-scale analytics.

If you're looking to get some practice in, there are a number of database challenges online that will get you crafting queries for Microsoft SQL, Kibana and more.

9. Communication skills

 A role in computer engineering could be standalone, or part of a team – either way, communication is one of the most important professional skills to hold.

Aside from the standard communication skills you need to perform within a team structure, you also need to be able to communicate effectively with your clients. Understanding their needs, managing stakeholder expectations, explaining road blockers or even report writing – all of this is fundamental communication that you need to excel in your role.

A great way to improve your communication is to watch others – especially those you admire within your workplace or institution. Watch their body language, listen to the way they speak and then put it into practise!

10. Resilience

Having resilience within the computer engineering field is essential. A fast-paced work environment with tight deadlines on projects as well as ever-changing requirements will demand an ability to knuckle down and work well under pressure.

Aside from this, you will be required to learn on the job at some point throughout your career. Maybe the client wants a different programming language. Maybe you're joining a new team with agile methodologies. The ability to hit the ground running, upskill quickly and adapt to your environment will serve you well in any position within computer engineering. 

Look back at the last time you were under pressure and think about how you could have managed the situation differently. Or look into taking certifications like CSM (Certified ScrumMaster) to keep your skills up to date.

As a computer engineer, there’s a number of important skills you’ll need to succeed. But, with so many resources available online, you can hone your skills, develop your expertise and kickstart your career without trouble!

What skills would you add to the list? Let us know in the comments section below!

This article is an updated version of an earlier article originally published in January 2015.