Hardware Engineer Career Guide
Hardware engineers specialize in designing, developing, and testing new computers and devices. People in this career have strong technical skills and the willingness to use their abilities to overcome challenges and meet their employer’s needs.
As a hardware engineer, you primarily need to enjoy working with physical components. However, you also have to understand computer software development to ensure that hardware systems work with the software that a company or consumer will use.
Here is what you need to know if you are interested in this challenging and highly-technical field.
Because computer systems are commonplace today, computer engineering is a surprisingly diverse field. However, whether you work with personal computers, mobile devices, embedded systems, or other products, this job involves using circuit boards, routers, networks, memory, and processors, among other elements. You’ll be working with all of these technologies to create a product that meets a specific set of needs.
In addition to learning to work with these elements, computer hardware engineers receive training at the bachelor’s degree level in processes related to designing, developing, testing, and debugging their products. These programs also often include a programming element to help you understand the needs of software developers who will use your equipment.
Because this is such a specialized career, a master’s degree in computer engineering or a related field can prove useful, as can developing soft skills related to problem-solving, teamwork, and communication.
A hardware engineer’s duties include the design, development, and testing of computer systems and components. You can either work alone or on a small or large team.
Solo or small-scale engineers often work on an entire process themselves, but you may focus on one specific aspect of hardware design or testing if you work for a larger company.
This field is developing rapidly, especially when it comes to embedded systems and mobile devices. This career can involve extended research and development projects related to creating new or improving products.
Here are some of the key roles you may have as a hardware engineer:
- Hardware design: Hardware engineers are involved in designing and developing schematics for new computer hardware and systems.
- Testing and Analysis: Hardware engineers are also tasked with the testing of completed models. They analyze the results and adjust their design or components if needed.
- Updating: Hardware engineers are also involved in updating existing computer equipment and hardware so that it works effectively with new software.
- Overseeing manufacturing: Hardware engineers also supervise the manufacturing of newly designed equipment and hardware models.
- Research: Hardware engineers need to stay updated on the current trends in engineering. You also need to learn about new technology to remain competitive.
Finally, hardware engineers do not need to be experts in computer programming, though some knowledge can be extremely helpful for design and testing. However, engineers need to know hardware description languages (HDLs), which they must use to describe the digital circuits in the hardware.
Organizations and companies in multiple industries use specialized computer systems and hardware in their product development or operations.
Because of such widespread use, hardware engineers can work almost anywhere.
Some of the common industries you can find employment in as a hardware engineers include:
Computer and phone manufacturing
- Automotive and airline industries
- Computer and Information systems
- Health care and pharmaceuticals companies
- Telecommunications industries
- Financial services
While all these industries provide different opportunities, the educational requirements for all hardware engineers are similar.
Given the considerable technical skills required for a career as a hardware engineer, applicants for entry-level positions need at least a bachelor’s degree in information technology. This degree is typically the minimum requirement for employers because it provides you with the foundation for a career in this rapidly-developing field. In an information technology degree program, you’ll learn how all the elements of computer hardware and software work together to create advanced systems. You’ll learn about troubleshooting, problem-solving, and IT fundamentals that will be key to your success as a hardware engineer.
After earning a bachelor’s degree, you may also want to consider certifications to help demonstrate to your potential employers that you have specific skills and knowledge that will qualify you for any roles in hardware engineering.
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To succeed as a hardware engineer, you need both technical (hard) and soft skills. These include the following:
- General programming language skills: Hardware engineers should have general programming skills to develop digital circuit boards and create components that developers and software engineers can use. Some key programming languages for this career include Verilog, C, and C++.
- Engineering design skills: Hardware engineers must use design methods, logic, and problem-solving skills to plan and construct their systems effectively. These skills — usually learned during an undergraduate program — are the main difference between computer hardware engineering and broader programming and computer science fields.
- Circuit board design skills: Hardware engineers should be proficient in designing, testing, and analyzing printed circuit boards, which make up the mechanical and electrical components of a computer.
- Soft skills: You learn soft skills for this career during school, while undertaking an internship, and in an entry-level position.
- Critical thinking skills are essential for creating a design that meets specific requirements. These abilities can also help with problem-solving during testing, deployment, and manufacturing phases.
- Creativity: As designers, hardware engineers must often think creatively to develop systems that solve problems and meet requirements in a new way.
- Communication Skills: While hardware engineers may work alone occasionally, they are often part of a larger team. Communication is essential in this setting. Those who do perform their duties by themselves still need to talk with software engineers, IT staff, or product managers to ensure that their designs effectively meet the project's goals.
These are necessary skills for all hardware engineers regardless of where they work.
How Much Does a Hardware Engineer Make?
The median annual wage for Computer Hardware Engineers was $119,560 in May 2020. The top 10% earned more than $192,110, while the lowest average salary was $70,100. The exact salary can vary depending on education, years of experience, and location. A bachelor's degree is required for an entry-level job, but a master's degree can potentially lead to higher-paying jobs earlier in your career.
What is the Projected Job Growth?
Employment opportunities for hardware engineers should grow by 2% from 2019 to 2029. This is slower than the average for all occupations. The low demand is due to the rise of centralized computing systems. However, the demand for skilled engineers should increase outside of the computer manufacturing industry as companies in different sectors make their own devices and embedded systems. For example, medical device and household appliance companies may hire computer hardware engineers in greater numbers.
What Certifications Does a Hardware Engineer Need?
While certifications are not necessary for some hardware engineering jobs, they can help you advance your career. Some employers working within specific areas or using existing systems and frameworks may seek engineers with relevant certification.
Examples of the most common certifications in hardware engineering include:
Even if you do not work with specific products or brands, a certification can show your commitment to your hardware engineering career.