What Does a Computer Engineer Do?

Velina Nenova
Velina Nenova

Updated · Aug 11, 2022

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Do you have the feeling that computer technology is evolving by the hour? Software and hardware become more advanced, and there’s something new and better on the market each year. Computer engineers stand behind these constant innovations.

So what does a computer engineer do exactly?

Let’s find out:

What Is Computer Engineering?

Computer engineering combines electrical engineering and computer science in a broad sense. It branches into: 

  • hardware
  • software
  • and network engineering

Engineering library

Image credit: This is Engineering image library (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Depending on the skills they want to perfect, computer engineers can choose from various fields, such as:

  • robotics
  • research and development
  • hardware and software integration
  • quality assurance
  • building networks
  • testing computer-based systems

Before becoming a separate discipline, computer engineering was a subspecialty of electrical engineering or mathematics. It integrates computer science’s digital logic design elements into technological systems and microprocessors.

Computer engineering work demands:

  • extensive maths and science knowledge
  • strong problem-solving skills
  • interest in new technology
  • working in a team

What Does a Computer Engineer Do?

Computer engineers build, assess, and support computer hardware and software systems. They can also design and test networks, processors, and circuit boards. Overall, these are the people who help computer technology evolve.

What Do Computer Science Engineers Do?

Computer science engineering has its roots in maths, linguistics, and electrical engineering. It covers computation-related matters like programming languages, hardware and software, algorithm analyses, and program design. 

A computer science engineer has the following responsibilities:

  • Hardware, software, and network systems management
  • Software applications development
  • Writing algorithms and coding
  • Designing hardware for personal computers and laptops
  • Developing software for peripheral devices such as scanners or printers

Computer science engineers can pursue possible careers in the IT industry, such as:

  • Database administrators (DBA) — develop and maintain the company’s database.
  • Networking engineers — involves designing and supporting computer networks.
  • System analysts — analyze current issues and find solutions.
  • System designers — logical and physical system design, including databases, procedures, and file inputs and outputs.
  • Software developers — computer programming, coding, software development, and project management.

What Do Computer Hardware Engineers Do?

Computer hardware engineering mainly focuses on the physical components of PCs or laptops. It includes designing, developing, testing, and overseeing hardware, such as:

  • circuit boards
  • computer systems
  • printers
  • scanners
  • routers
  • memory devices
  • processors
  • computer chips
  • keyboards

Computer hardware engineers analyze complex equipment looking for the best possible ways to improve it.

Some of the primary duties of a computer hardware engineer include:

  • Creating computer equipment schematics
  • Designing and testing computer hardware
  • Analyzing test results
  • Changing designs for more efficiency
  • Supervising new hardware production
  • Making existing equipment compatible with new software

Since hardware components must work with the latest software, hardware engineers often collaborate with software developers. Usually, they work in research labs building and testing computer models as part of a team.

Computer hardware engineering job opportunities include the following positions:

  • Electrical engineers — develop, test, and oversee electrical equipment manufacturing such as power generators, radars, communication and navigation systems, electric motors, etc.
  • Aerospace engineers — design, create, and test spacecraft, aircraft, missiles, and satellites.
  • Electronics engineers — develop electronic equipment like GPS devices and portable music players.
  • Hardware engineers — work on computer hardware installations.
  • Computer network architects — build data communications networks like WANs, LANs, and Intranets.
  • Computer and information research scientists — find resourceful uses for existing computer technology and invent new approaches.
  • Network and system administrators — maintain the computer networks and systems within an organization.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, computer hardware engineers’ median yearly pay in 2021 was $128,170.

Where Do Computer Engineers Work?

Computer engineers can work in various environments, including: 

  • company offices
  • universities
  • research departments
  • government institutions
  • or laboratories 

They usually work in a team with other specialists, so good communication abilities are vital.

A forty-hour work week is typical for this profession, although urgent situations may require working overtime. Many of these specialists may have to meet deadlines.

How Much Do Computer Engineers Make?

An experienced computer engineer earns between $86,000 and $136,000 annually. The salary depends on the professional's expertise, job description, and location. 

Typically, more experience and better education result in higher pay. Working in a bigger city also means larger remuneration. Climbing the career ladder in the same company usually leads to more income in the long run.

Currently, computer engineers are in high demand. A computer engineer’s median salary is $102,450 a year (106% higher than the average American salary). Newly graduated students usually earn between $61,000 and $76,000.

Software engineers’ yearly median earnings are about $102,280. New graduates can get a median of $56,856.

Computer scientists’ median salary is $103,160 per annum.

Network engineers can earn between $77,484 and $96,517 on average.

Location is another factor that determines a computer engineer’s salary

The Top 5 states with the highest annual mean wage for computer hardware engineers are:

  1. California—$169,970
  2. Washington—$166,980
  3. Virginia—$139,180
  4. Oregon—$136,150
  5. Nevada—$135,880

How to Become a Computer Engineer?

Computer engineering has a bright future since electronic gadgets are already an indispensable part of our lives. IoT (Internet of Things) devices are also on the rise, so the demand for such professionals is growing. 

Let’s see what it takes to become successful in computer engineering:

Computer Engineering Education

A computer engineering bachelor’s degree is a good starting point to a career in the field. Some employers may hire people with an electrical engineering or computer science degree only, but it’s best if you are knowledgeable in both. So consider signing up for additional courses.

Computer Engineering Students

Image credit: Berkeley Lab (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

If you’re a computer engineering student, it’s a good idea to participate in internships to gain experience before graduating. This way, you’ll be one step ahead when looking for a job.

Some students choose an associate’s degree in computer engineering or computer science to start working sooner. This way, they gain a paycheck and practical experience before finishing their bachelor’s degree.

A bachelor’s degree is the bare minimum for an entry-level position, but additional education, courses, and experience are a huge plus. Moreover, computer engineers’ careers involve constant learning to keep up with the latest technological improvements.

Soft and Hard Skills

Having the proper education isn’t always enough to nail the job. The tech market is highly competitive in terms of soft and hard skills requirements. Let’s see what these include:

Key Soft Skills for a Computer Engineer

Soft skills are the non-technical qualities a computer engineer should have:

  • Problem-solving: Since computer engineers design new products, they’ll have to test them and think of ways to make them most efficient.
  • Analytical skills: These are crucial when looking at multiple test results, examining them, and finding the best solution.
  • Ability to communicate well: Social skills are a must for these professionals since they must convey their ideas and results to other team members and their employers.
  • Critical thinking: Synthesizing data and evaluating information and observations is another key skill a successful PC engineer needs.

Computer Engineer’s Hard Skills Requirements

Hard skills include specific job-related technical knowledge in computer engineering, such as:

  • Operating systems: Computer engineers often have to integrate hardware and software. That’s why they should know all major operating systems well (Windows, Linux, macOS).
  • Quality assurance: Working as a computer engineer entails hardware testing to make sure quality standards are met.
  • Circuitry and microprocessors: Understanding these elements and how electric currents work are essential for any computer configuration.
  • Processing digital signals: Wireless data transfer is another area a computer engineer must master since digital signals are vital for data storage.

Computer Engineering or Computer Science

Deciding between computer science and engineering can be challenging if you want to pursue a tech career. Let’s look at these disciplines’ differences and similarities:

Both professions are currently in demand due to the boom in the tech industry. You can study either if you’re interested in new technology and have strong problem-solving skills. You can expect lucrative salaries and stable career growth in both fields.

Here are some common computer engineer skills you’re likely to need:

  • Thorough understanding of computer hardware and architecture
  • Building and maintaining PC systems
  • Working with a wide variety of software
  • Knowledge of software testing and coding

Computer scientists are usually competent in:

  • Programming languages
  • Operating systems
  • Coding, designing, and testing software
  • Computer networks management
  • Algorithms and structures
  • Basic cybersecurity

Wrap Up

Computer engineers are an integral part of any tech company. The demand for this profession is growing as the industry expands.

Becoming a computer engineer guarantees a good annual income and steady career growth.

However, keep in mind that computer engineering as a college degree requires considerable mathematical knowledge and technical skills.

FAQ.


Do computer engineers code?

Coding is part of the curriculum in computer engineering. Working as a computer engineer demands a firm grasp of programming. Whether or not you’ll code on the job depends on the employer and position, but it’s best to have basic knowledge of the matter.

Is computer engineering hard?

Computer engineering is considered a difficult major that involves studying lots of science and mathematics. Students must be disciplined enough to learn new information and understand complicated concepts. That said, computer engineers get high-paying regular jobs in the long run.

What can you do with a computer engineering degree?

There’s a lot you can do with a computer engineering degree. Some career options are more engaged in engineering than others.

Let’s take a look:

  • Robotics engineer
  • AI designer
  • Network security specialist
  • Technical support
  • Video game programmer
  • Tech products developer
  • Smartphone designer
  • Multimedia programmer
  • Software engineer
  • Hardware engineer
  • Sysadmin
  • Technical writer
  • Web developer
  • Interface designer
  • Database developer
  • Researcher
  • Web designer
  • Information security analyst
  • IT consultant
  • Computer network architect.

Is computer science the same as computer engineering?

Computer science and computer engineering are different fields of study.

Computer scientists prioritize computing theory, algorithms, data analysis, networks, and cybersecurity.

What does a computer engineer do that differs then?

Computer engineers basically focus on designing and building hardware.

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Velina Nenova

Velina Nenova

Velina describes herself as passionate media savvy and a versatile individual with numerous different interests, most a result of her Media & Communications BA. She has also developed a keen interest in Digital Marketing and Advertising. Her never-ending desire to constantly learn new things and enrich herself and her ultimate dream to go around the globe before 45 are her driving forces.

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