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Computer Hardware Engineer


Description

It would be hard to imagine living in a world without computers. Over the last few decades, they have entered our lives and homes and become an imperative part of our technological culture. Without the computer hardware engineers, we would literally be nowhere. They design the insides or internal workings of computers. Computer hardware engineers build, research, plan, design, develop and test computers and related equipment for applications in process and machine control, robotics, instrumentation, environmental monitoring, remote sensing and related engineering and scientific applications.

Computer hardware engineers are similar to electronics engineers, but they work exclusively with computer-related equipment. Computer "hardware" refers to computer chips, circuit boards, computer systems and related equipment such as keyboards, modems and printers. The hardware is the base of the entire system and without it, computers would not exist or function. Other tangible examples of what computer hardware engineers design are as follows: graphics cards, motherboards, memory chips (such as the Pentium chip), disk drives, hard drives, computer monitors and memory components, also known as random access memory (RAM). They are always looking for ways to improve the speed, efficiency, performance and safety of computer hardware systems. These days, these updates happen so often that computers become obsolete within months of invention. How much faster will computers get? There is no limit to what will be possible for a computer engineer to create.

In addition to design and development, computer hardware engineers may supervise the manufacturing and installation of computers and related equipment. The rapid advances in computer technology are largely a result of the research, development, and design efforts of computer hardware engineers. To keep up with technology change, these engineers must continually update their knowledge.

Computer hardware engineers use high tech tools such as computer-aided design (CAD), appropriately designed by computer engineers, to create realistic geometric models of objects which can simulate and analyze the effects and potential problems of designs such as machine malfunctions and breakdowns. They research and evaluate each project to find the most cost-effective solutions to problems while still maintaining recognized engineering standards. They are required to constantly update their skills and knowledge in order to keep up with technological advancements in this quickly changing field.
 
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  Average Earnings  
Lowest 10% of Earners:
$46,190
 
Median Salary:
$72,150
 
Highest 10% of Earners:
$114,880

  Interests and Skills  
Computer hardware engineers should have a natural curiosity and affinity for mechanics, mathematics and electronics. Since imprecise calculations could cause major disasters and expensive mistakes, they must be 100 percent accurate in their calculations. Their jobs are extremely technical, therefore they should be organized, logical and methodical in their working habits. They must be good problem solvers and be able to come up with innovative and creative solutions to potential problems and design work. Computer hardware engineers will also understand the high-tech market and be able to recognize the public and business demand for new products.

Computer hardware engineers must be personable and have strong communication skills. They constantly deal with people from both sides of the professional spectrum, therefore they must be able to communicate ideas and give orders in a clear, concise fashion. Experts recommend that computer hardware engineers be culturally sensitive and have the ability to operate within a global context. Since computers are now an international phenomenon, it is important to sell products overseas and deal with foreign people. Finally, determination, patience and observance are three important characteristics.
 

  Typical Tasks  
  • Plan, design and coordinate the development of computers and related equipment
  • Analyze product and client requirements
  • Develop design specifications, including performance expectations and materials to be used
  • Build prototypes (working models) of a product, including the development of logic and digital circuit designs, and
  • Test and modify the prototype prior to large-scale manufacturing
  • Analyze operating problems and make necessary modifications
  • Determine system performance standards and write product documentation
  • Modify existing hardware to meet specialized needs
  • Supervise and inspect the installation, modification and testing of computers and related equipment
  • Supervise drafters, technicians, technologists and other engineers
  • May sell computer technology
  • Since the computer industry is highly competitive, there may be a great deal of stress and pressure involved in designing hardware because engineers are trying to be the first ones to sell a product on the marketplace. In other words, many other hardware engineers are probably working on the same project, so it can sometimes be a race to see who produces faster and more efficiently. Therefore, there are usually long working hours involved in this career; anywhere from nine to 13 hours a day, possibly including weekend work when deadlines are looming. A typical day is spent in front of a computer or with test equipment however, there may also be a bit of traveling involved to clients' offices for meetings.
  • A new trend becoming very common amongst computer hardware engineers is working from home. If an engineer has the proper equipment, it is possible to telecommute to an office.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Computer hardware engineers work in both the public and private sectors. They are employed in any industry in which computers are used and especially within companies that require complex computer networks. More particularly, they work for computer manufacturers, telecommunications companies, consulting firms, hardware and software research firms, consumer electronics companies and process control agencies. In the public sector, computer hardware engineers work for different government departments, educational institutions, hospitals and research facilities.

  Long Term Career Potential  
There are many advancement possibilities for computer hardware engineers. They could become computer programmers and specialize in developing specific software applications or work as computer support people.

They could also become sales people high-priced hardware or software packages because they are knowledgeable about the design and make up of computers and products. Some may decide to branch out and open up their own computer engineering consulting firm. This way, they can build a solid client base and even work on a freelance basis. Those working in larger organizations and companies, could also become managers and supervisors of junior engineers. Finally, computer hardware engineers with PhDs could also teach at the university level.
 

  Educational Paths  
While still in high school, if this is the career path you are interested in taking, make sure you take courses in mathematics and physics. Most university programs will require these subject areas as prerequisites.

Computer hardware engineers require a bachelor's degree in computer engineering or in a related engineering field. Then, they must also become registered as a Professional Engineer (PEng) within an association of professional engineers to secure employment and practice in their field. Some engineers also get master's degrees in their specific area, or in related fields such as business (MBA). A doctoral degree is generally required for a career in research and development, or teaching.
 

Sources:
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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