Computer Engineers: Career Info & Job Description

Explore the education and skills a computer engineer needs. Learn about work duties and employment outlook as well as salary to decide if this is the right career for you. View article »

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  • 0:01 Career Definition
  • 0:34 How to Become a…
  • 1:21 Career and Economic Outlook
  • 2:08 Alternative Careers

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Video Transcript

Career Definition

A computer engineer, also called a software engineer, is responsible for developing, testing and evaluating the software that make our computers work. They may help in the development of new computer games and business applications, or even in the design of entirely new operating systems. A computer engineer may also be responsible for constructing and managing an organization's computer system and supplying technical support. A computer engineer typically works in an office or laboratory environment as part of a team and enjoys a traditional work schedule.

How to Become a Computer Engineer

Degree Level Bachelor's degree or higher
Degree Field(s) Software engineering or computer science
License/Certification Voluntary certifications available
Experience Preferred
Key Skills Strong analytical, multi-tasking, and communications skills; attention to detail
Job Outlook (2014-2024) 17% growth
Median Annual Salary (2015) $98,260 (for computer software application engineers)
$105,570 (for computer software systems engineers)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that those working in computer engineering generally held a bachelor's degree or higher. Bachelor's degrees in software engineering or computer science are a common place to start. Coursework to prepare the student computer engineer will include such topics as database design, systems analysis, critical thinking and technical writing. Because computer technology is a field that is constantly changing, continued education is vital to a successful career in computer engineering.

People who enjoy a career in computer engineering usually have strong analytical skills and are able to focus on many tasks at once. Because computer engineers must sometimes work with customers and clients, the ability to express computer-related information in layman's terms is also valued.

Career and Economic Outlook

The BLS projected that computer software engineers will see a greater than average employment growth of 17% from 2014-2024. In May 2015 the Bureau reported the median annual salary of computer software application engineers was $98,260 with the top 10% earning $153,710 or more. The expected job growth for a computer software systems engineer is projected to be the same for the same period - 17%. However, the median average wage reported in May 2015 is slightly higher at $105,570 with the top 10% earning $159,850.

Alternative Careers

A career in computer engineering is a broad field and offers several alternative career paths. Those interested in working with engineers and developers to create the code for software programs and systems should consider a career in computer programming. After reviewing plans and operational diagrams from software developers, programmers use specialized tools and programming languages to produce the finished product. They also analyze and test existing products to identify and repair errors.

Most entering the computer programming profession earn a bachelor's degree in a computer science field. However, knowledge of programming languages and an associate degree may be sufficient for some employers. Completing an internship is a way to gain valuable work experience desired by many employers. Currently the BLS projects an 8% decrease in job opportunities for programmers between 2014 and 2024. The median annual salary for these professionals was $79,530 in 2015, as seen in BLS figures.

If designing and overseeing the installation of a communication network sounds intriguing, becoming a computer network architect may be a good career option. Along with determining what equipment is necessary, network architects also find ways to secure network data, choose equipment location, communicate plans to management and explore technological advancements that could benefit the organization.

A bachelor's degree in computer engineering, information systems or a related program can open up some job opportunities in the field, but some employers seek candidates with a master's of business administration (MBA) degree. According to data from the BLS, employment growth of 9% is expected for computer network architects from 2014-2024. As reported by the BLS in May 2015, network architects earned a median yearly salary of $100,240.

Another possible career route in this industry is that of a computer hardware engineer. As the name implies, this career focuses on creating, improving, and evaluating the various parts that make up the computers and computer systems such as routers, memory boards, central processing units, video sound cards, network components, etc. More than likely you would work in a laboratory building, testing your ideas; but you could also be involved in the manufacturing or the installation aspect of this industry.

However, due to industry focus on advancing software, the BLS projected that computer hardware engineers will see slower than average employment growth of 3% from 2014-2024. In May 2015, the Bureau reported the median annual salary of computer hardware engineers was $111,730 with the top 10% earning $167,100 or more.

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