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Computer Hardware Engineer Vs. Computer Software Engineer

Sep 27, 2019

Computer software and hardware engineers work together to build the complex components of computers. While hardware engineers manufacture physical components like chips and keyboards, software engineers write programs to teach computers how to function.

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Comparing Computer Hardware Engineers to Computer Software Engineers

Our world runs on computer systems, so nearly every business, government bureau, and non-profit organization needs computer experts on their team. Because computers are so complex, engineers specialize in building either the physical components of computers (hardware) or programming the internal logic to teach computers how to operate (software).

Job Title Education Requirements Median Salary (2018)* Job Growth (2018-2028)*
Computer Software Engineer Bachelor's degree $105,590 21%
Computer Hardware Engineer Bachelor's degree $114,600 6%

Source: *US Bureau of Labor Statistics

Responsibilities of a Computer Hardware Engineer vs a Computer Software Engineer

A computer hardware engineer (often called a computer engineer) builds all kinds of computer systems, from the next generation of smart phones to the control systems in a smart car to a 3D printer. They also work on designing individual computer components. In contrast, software engineers write code to teach computers how to run. Hardware and software computer engineers hold very different skill sets, yet their work comes together in finished computer products.

Computer Hardware Engineer

Most computer hardware engineers work in labs. However, some work in manufacturing plants to ensure top-quality production. They study computer or electrical engineering and have extensive knowledge of the physical components of computers, like circuit boards, processors, chips, and electronic equipment. They display excellent problem-solving and troubleshooting skills. Computer hardware engineers tend to work for computer systems design companies. They spend the majority of their day sitting and often work over 40 hours a week.

  • Assemble and test the electrical components of computers
  • Create models and prototypes
  • Present prototypes to their team, upper-level management, and investors
  • Help a company update their computer systems

Software Engineer

A computer software engineer (often called a software engineer or software developer) designs and writes programs to teach computers what to do. They must be able to think logically, solve recurring failures, and write code in multiple programming languages. Software engineers have the ability to stare at a computer screen for long periods of time, an incredible attention-to-detail, and analytical thinking skills. They typically work in an office setting. However, because every company, government, and nonprofit needs software experts to help their teams run efficiently, software engineers can work in an incredible variety of industries. A successful software engineer can work their way up to become a project lead, senior developer, or chief technology officer.

  • Conduct research and user tests to improve their designs
  • Update existing software systems
  • Test and monitor a software's performance
  • Oversee the implementation of a new software across a company and help train employees to use it effectively

Related Careers

If you are interested in computer hardware engineering, you may also want to consider becoming an electrical engineer, since both jobs allow you to build physical computer components with your hands. If you are more interested in the software side of computer design, consider becoming a back-end developer, another well-compensated career that involves programming and IT expertise.

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