Hardware Engineer: Job Description, Salary, Duties and Outlook

Hardware engineers, also known as computer hardware engineers, require significant formal undergraduate education. Learn about the training, job duties and other requirements to see if this is the right career for you.

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Computer hardware engineers design, test, and update computer hardware. A bachelor's degree in a related field is typically required. Computer hardware engineers have high-level responsibilities, such as recommending and overseeing the production and assembly of prototypes.

Essential Information

Computer hardware engineers modify the hardware components for computers. They evaluate existing computer systems and use complex problem-solving skills to improve models. Computer hardware engineers typically have a bachelor's degree in computer engineering, computer science or electrical engineering, though some advanced positions may require a master's degree.

Required Education Bachelor's degree in computer engineering, computer science or electrical engineering
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 3%
Median Salary (2015)* $111,730

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Description

Computer hardware engineers are responsible for the hardware configuration of a computer. They update systems by improving the components, layout and design of a computer for increased efficiency. They are expected to increase the speed and function of the computer. They also design the most compact and cost-effective model possible.

Specifically, these professionals analyze existing systems to identify flaws or inefficiencies and use problem-solving skills, including both inductive and deductive reasoning, to make modifications that will increase the functions of the computer. Based on careful calculations and advanced knowledge of electronics, computer hardware engineers develop new designs in the existing components, such as microchips and circuit boards, and then integrate these components in a form fitting layout. These hardware engineers are responsible for the advances in computer systems.

Computer hardware engineers are also responsible for related aspects of computer production. They are required to inspect modified computer systems ensuring that the product meets company standards. They also need to assess customer needs and offer clients technical support.

Salary

The salary for computer hardware engineers is relatively high. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the median annual salary for this type of engineer was $111,730 in May 2015 (www.bls.gov). The top 10% of computer hardware engineers earned $167,100 or more annually.

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  • Computer Engineering Technologies, General
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Duties

Hardware engineers work in industrial plants, production facilities or research laboratories. They may work individually or as part of a team of designers and technicians.

These engineers spend much of their time studying existing models in order to detect flaws and inconsistencies as well as pinpoint areas of improvement. They use their technical and applied mathematical skills for troubleshooting. Based on their findings, as well as their creative abilities, they will then devise more advanced computer systems.

It is essential that engineers have excellent technical writing skills in order to document their findings. They are expected to submit reports analyzing problems along with recommendations for improvements. They may also be required to create blueprints of enhanced versions of the system. Engineers will select additional equipment to support production of the modified computer. They will either write purchase orders or submit documentation to justify the recommendations for the specified equipment.

While much of the work that these engineers do is theoretical, some duties involve the practical application of their ideas. Hardware engineers are required to build or oversee the production and assembly of a prototype based on their recommendations. They then test the prototype to ensure that the computer system operates according to specifications. They may continue to make modifications for optimal results.

They are also required to store data pertaining to system functions and capabilities such as power supply requirements and user abilities.

Additional duties may consist of supervising and training technicians, designers and inexperienced engineers. The engineers are expected to offer continuous technical support to team members. Depending on the firm, an advanced professional may also be asked to offer consulting services to other companies or individuals.

Job Outlook

Job growth for the computer hardware engineering field was expected to be limited. The BLS predicted employment growth of 3% over the 2014-2024 decade, slower than the national average for all jobs.

The BLS also stated that despite the rapid expansion and high demand of computer systems, the industry would face fierce competition from foreign markets. Since companies may choose to outsource part or all of the computer engineering work for cost savings, they will lower the demand for hardware engineers within the U.S. While the domestic industry may decline, the BLS expected that demand for computer chip development would somewhat offset the negative factors affecting growth.

Computer hardware engineers often possess a bachelor's degree in computer engineering, computer science, or electrical engineering. A master's degree is sometimes preferred for advanced positions. The median annual salary for computer hardware engineers was $111,730 in 2015.

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