Computer Engineer: Starting a Career in Computer Engineering

Sep 29, 2019

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a computer engineer. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about training, job duties, licensure and certification to find out if this is the career for you.

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Computer engineers develop computer systems, from hardware to software and everything in between. You'll need at least a bachelor's degree in a computer science-related field to get started as a computer engineer, and engineering licensure may improve career prospects in some cases.

Essential Information

Computer engineers use knowledge of computer science, math and electrical engineering to help design computer systems. Individuals who enjoy working with computers and figuring out what makes them work may enjoy this career. While entry-level positions require only a bachelor's degree, there are graduate degree programs available in this field for those who desire to increase hiring and income potential. Licensure may be desired by some employers, and certification is available for further specialization.

Required Education At least a bachelor's degree;
graduate programs available
Licensure & Certification Licensure is available but not required,
certification in specialized areas available
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028)* Hardware engineers: 6%,
Software engineers: 21%
Median Annual Salary (2018)* Hardware engineers: $114,600,
Software engineers: $103,620

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Computer Engineering Overview

Computer engineers, also known as hardware or software engineers, design and develop computer systems. Hardware engineers are closely related to electrical engineers and focus on the design and installation of computer chips, processors and other hardware components. Software engineers, on the other hand, focus more on applying math and computer science to develop and implement software applications.

These branches of computer engineering often go hand in hand, and professionals in this field typically work among a team of hardware and software engineers. They apply their knowledge to a wide range of applications, such as communication systems, microprocessor circuitry and medical equipment, in a variety of industries.

Education Information for Computer Engineers

Individuals interested in computer engineering can choose from bachelor's, master's and doctoral degree programs, depending on their career interests. Bachelor's degree programs are ideal for entry-level computer engineers. Master's degree programs tend to qualify graduates for advanced positions, such as in upper-level development and research. Those interested in teaching computer engineering may pursue doctoral degrees.


In a computer engineering degree program, the curriculum combines in-class instruction with laboratory studies. Coursework focuses on practical, industry application of math, physics and engineering design principles. Students tend to take courses in system design, software and hardware engineering, computer architecture and operating systems. They may also complete internships, which allow them to apply engineering principles to real-world situations and gain hands-on experience.

Licensure and Certification

While computer software engineers are not state-regulated, hardware engineers are typically required to obtain state licensure. The licensing process includes completion of an accredited, computer engineering degree program and passage of a preliminary exam followed by four years of supervised training in the field. Candidates may then sit for a final licensing exam and, upon passage, become licensed, professional engineers (PEs).

Software engineers may choose to obtain certification to demonstrate their proficiency. Several computer science organizations, such as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Computer Society, offer certification programs geared superficially toward software engineers. Many software companies also award certification to computer science professionals who prove expertise in their products.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), projects job growth for computer hardware engineers to increase as fast as the average over the 2018-2028 decade, and for computer software engineers to rapidly increase in that time. The BLS reported the average annual salaries as of May 2018 for computer hardware and software engineers to be $117,840 and $108,080, respectively.

If you're passionate about computers and love the idea of developing computer hardware or software, then a position as a computer engineer would be ideal for you. While the job outlook for hardware engineers was expected to be above average from 2018-2028, employment opportunities for software engineers are projected to increase much faster than average during the same decade.

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