Computer Hardware Engineer
A computer hardware engineer could...
|Develop portable storage devices to quickly transfer large amounts of data from one computer to another.||Develop a color printer that creates photograph-quality prints.|
|Engineer the world's fastest central processing unit (CPU) for PC's.||Design a fast video graphics card to enhance the look of video games.|
Key Facts & Information
|Overview||Whether you are playing video games, surfing the Internet, or writing a term paper, computers are an integral part of our daily lives. Computer hardware engineers work to make computers faster, more robust, and more cost-effective. They design the microprocessor chips that make your computer function, along with the equipment that makes computing easy and fun to do.|
|Key Requirements||Creative, inquisitive, logical, detail-oriented, and able to work effectively in a team setting|
|Minimum Degree||Bachelor's degree|
|Subjects to Study in High School||Physics, chemistry, computer science, algebra, geometry, algebra II, calculus, English; if available, electronics|
|Projected Job Growth (2010-2020)||Average (7% to 13%)|
|Interview||Read this interview with Gary Saucier, Senior Engineer at Texas Instruments.|
Training, Other Qualifications
Computer hardware engineers typically enter the occupation with a bachelor's degree, but some basic research positions may require a graduate degree. Computer hardware engineers offering their services directly to the public must be licensed. Continuing education to keep current with rapidly changing technology is important for engineers.
Beginner computer hardware engineering graduates usually work under the supervision of experienced engineers and, in large companies, also may receive formal classroom or seminar-type training. As new engineers gain knowledge and experience, they are assigned more difficult projects with greater independence to develop designs, solve problems, and make decisions. Computer hardware engineers may advance to become technical specialists or to supervise a staff or team of engineers and technicians. Some may eventually become engineering managers or enter other managerial or sales jobs. In sales, an engineering background enables them to discuss a product’s technical aspects and assist in product planning, installation, and use.
Education and Training
Entry-level computer hardware engineering positions require a bachelor's degree in engineering; usually with a focus in computer engineering. In order to be admitted into an engineering program, students interested in computer hardware engineering should focus on getting a well-rounded high school education, including a a solid background in mathematics (algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and calculus) and science (biology, chemistry, physics, and computer science). Bachelor's degree programs in computer or electrical engineering are typically designed to last 4 years, but many students find that it takes between 4 and 5 years to complete their studies. In a typical 4-year college curriculum, the first 2 years are spent studying mathematics, basic sciences, introductory engineering, humanities, and social sciences. In the last 2 years, most courses are in engineering, usually with a concentration in one specialty. Some programs offer a general engineering curriculum; students then specialize on the job or in graduate school.
Graduate training is essential for computer engineering faculty positions and many research and development programs, but is not required for the majority of entry-level engineering jobs. Many experienced engineers obtain graduate degrees in engineering or business administration to learn new technology and broaden their education. Many high-level executives in government and industry began their careers as engineers.
Computer hardware engineers must have complex problem-solving and critical-thinking skills. They must exhibit active learning and active listening in order to make good and informed decisions. They must be able to communicate their ideas clearly and effectively, both orally and in written expression.
Nature of the Work
This video from Intel describes how their engineers designed the latest i7 microprocessor chip and how they test it.
Computer hardware engineers research, design, develop, test, and oversee the manufacture and installation of computer hardware. Hardware includes computer chips, circuit boards, computer systems, and related equipment, such as keyboards, modems, and printers. The work of computer hardware engineers is very similar to that of electronics engineers in that they may design and test circuits and other electronic components, but computer hardware engineers do that work only as it relates to computers and computer-related equipment. The rapid advances in computer technology are largely a result of the research, development, and design efforts of these engineers.
When computer hardware engineers develop new computer products, they consider several factors. For example, in developing a faster microprocessor, engineers precisely specify the functional requirements; design and test all of the different components of the microprocessor; integrate the components to produce the final design; and evaluate the design's overall effectiveness, cost, reliability, and safety. This process ensures the most economical solution'to a technical problem.
Most computer hardware engineers work in office buildings, laboratories, or industrial plants. Others may spend time at production sites, where they monitor or direct operations or solve onsite problems. Some engineers travel extensively to plants or work sites, both here and abroad.
Many engineers work a standard 40-hour week. At times, deadlines or design standards may bring extra pressure to a job, requiring engineers to work longer hours.
On the Job
- Update knowledge and skills in order to keep up with rapid advancements in computer technology.
- Provide technical support to designers, marketing and sales departments, suppliers, engineers and other team members throughout the product development and implementation process.
- Test and verify hardware and support peripherals to ensure that they meet specifications and requirements, by recording and analyzing test data.
- Monitor functioning of equipment and make necessary modifications to ensure system operates in conformance with specifications.
- Analyze information to determine, recommend, and plan layout, including type of computers and peripheral equipment modifications.
- Build, test, and modify product prototypes using working models or theoretical models constructed with computer simulation.
- Analyze user needs and recommend appropriate hardware.
- Direct technicians, engineering designers or other technical support personnel as needed.
- Confer with engineering staff and consult specifications to evaluate interface between hardware and software and operational and performance requirements of overall system.
- Select hardware and material, assuring compliance with specifications and product requirements.
- Store, retrieve, and manipulate data for analysis of system capabilities and requirements.
- Write detailed functional specifications that document the hardware development process and support hardware introduction.
- Specify power supply requirements and configuration, drawing on system performance expectations and design specifications.
- Provide training and support to system designers and users.
- Assemble and modify existing pieces of equipment to meet special needs.
- Evaluate factors such as reporting formats required, cost constraints, and need for security restrictions to determine hardware configuration.
- Design and develop computer hardware and support peripherals, including central processing units (CPUs), support logic, microprocessors, custom integrated circuits, and printers and disk drives.
- Recommend purchase of equipment to control dust, temperature, and humidity in area of system installation.
Companies That Hire Computer Hardware Engineers
Explore what you might do on the job with one of these projects...
- CD Burning: Take it to the Edge
- Computer Sleuth: Identification by Text Analysis
- Customize Your Own Drum Set!
- Game of Life
- Green Your PC: Help Your Computer Save Power
- How Fast is Your Computer?
- Printing Power! Save the Environment, One Printer Page at a Time
- Program to Check a Sudoku Solution
- Programming NANORGs in a Virtual World
- Smart Medicine Cabinet: Build a Sensor That Reminds Patients When to Take Medication
- The Point of a Parabola: Focusing Signals for a Better Wireless Network
Do you have a specific question about a career in Computer Science that isn't answered on this page? Post your question on Science Buddies Ask an Expert Forum.
- BLS. (2009). Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH), 2008-09 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved May 1, 2009, from http://www.bls.gov/oco/
- O*Net Online. (2009). National Center for O*Net Development. Retrieved May 1, 2009, from http://online.onetcenter.org/
- Sloan Career Cornerstone Center. (n.d.). Profiles of Computer Engineers: Gary Saucier. Retrieved September 25, 2009, from http://www.careercornerstone.org/pdf/compeng/saucier.pdf
- Intel Corporation. (2009). Making of Intel Core i7. Retrieved September 25, 2009, from http://intelpr.feedroom.com/?fr_chl=7320b6dbf2be8076acf74c3f9da3c191072c86a5&rf=bm
We'd like to acknowledge the additional support of:
- Motorola Solutions