Computer Hardware Engineer Job Description
A computer hardware engineer contributes to the design, development, and testing of computer components, including circuit boards, processors, and memory cards. This is a highly technical role, requiring precise design, rigorous testing of components, and the ability to analyze test data to enhance performance, eliminate errors, and ensure proper functionality.
This role also involves modifying existing hardware to enhance functionality and operation with new software systems. It can also require designing computer hardware for non-computer devices that incorporate processors, networking devices, or circuit boards, such as mobile phones, vehicles, or Internet of Things (IoT) devices.
Computer Hardware Engineer Duties and Responsibilities
No matter what company or industry a computer hardware engineer works in, they can expect to complete the following duties:
Design and Develop Hardware Components
The primary duty of a computer hardware engineer is the development and design of computer components. This can include a wide variety of technologies, including circuit boards, processors, and networking devices. A computer hardware engineer typically designs these components based on technological specifications, intended use, and their interaction with other computer components (both hardware and software).
A computer hardware engineer is also responsible for testing components throughout the design and development process. This process involves testing the elements individually and in tandem with other computer systems, analyzing data, and making changes to enhance performance and eliminate defects. Each time the hardware is altered, the engineer conducts another series of tests to check functionality and performance.
Create Documents and Specifications
While designing and developing components, a computer hardware engineer also prepares documents to record equipment specifications, outline power requirements, and provide information on configuration. This ensures that a specific component works as intended and can be successfully integrated into the computer or other device. Maintaining thorough documentation also helps with testing and reducing errors by providing a record of changes and fixes.
Collaborate with Software Developers
A computer hardware engineer also frequently works with software engineers and developers during the development cycle of a computer, mobile phone, or other device. This helps guarantee that the hardware is able to successfully run the intended software and helps both teams develop specifications and reduce errors and bugs. This collaboration often results in many rounds of testing and revision to both hardware and software components.
Oversee Manufacturing Processes
Computer hardware engineers also sometimes supervise and direct hardware manufacturing processes to verify that elements are built according to their specifications. A computer hardware engineer may receive a prototype of a design in order to conduct further testing and modifications and to provide input to manufacturing personnel to enhance processes and make updates.
Computer Hardware Engineer Skills and Qualifications
Computer hardware engineers need to be precise, analytical, and technical. Companies typically hire applicants with a bachelor’s degree in a related field and the following skills:
- Computer engineering – most computer hardware engineers use software to aid in design and development, so a background in using design and engineering tools is extremely important
- Analysis – computer hardware engineers also need to be highly analytical, able to conduct tests and interpret the results, and integrate their findings into subsequent iterations of their design
- Manufacturing and prototyping – most computer hardware engineers build components and prototypes during the design process, so familiarity working with electronics and building components is essential
- Communication skills – computer hardware engineers need to create documentation and specifications for components they design and report to other team members throughout the design and development progress
- Process enhancement – the ability to improve efficiency is also important for a computer hardware engineer, since this can reduce development time and eliminate redundant processes
- Team collaboration – many computer hardware engineers also work closely with software engineers or manufacturers, so they need to collaborate across teams and successfully coordinate multiple schedules
Tools of the Trade
Computer software engineers design on computers and frequently build components and prototypes using the following tolls:
- Hardware engineering software (Altium Designer, Orcad, Cadence Allegro)
- Electronics tools (soldering irons, magnifiers)
Computer Hardware Engineer Education and Training
Computer hardware engineers need at least a bachelor’s degree in a related field, which can include computer engineering, electrical engineering, or computer science. Many engineers attend schools accredited by ABET, the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, to help them secure positions after graduation. Most computer hardware engineers also complete coursework in computer programming to expand their familiarity with coding.
Because computer technology is constantly evolving, computer hardware engineers may need to take continuing education courses during their career to maintain familiarity with trends and emerging technologies.
Computer Hardware Engineer Salary and Outlook
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports the median annual wage for architectural and engineering managers as $115,080. The lowest-paid 10 percent of workers in this field earn less than $66,870, while the highest-paid 10 percent earn an annual salary of more than $172,010.
The BLS expects employment for computer hardware engineers to grow 5 percent by 2026, with many of the new jobs emerging in nontraditional fields as companies begin integrating computer technology into more devices.
If you’re interested in finding out more about working as a computer hardware engineer, we found many resources on the web:
Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology – ABET is a nonprofit organization providing accreditation for engineering programs, along with events, networking opportunities, and resources for engineers
Principles of Computer Hardware – expert Alan Clements explores computer hardware design and engineering, breaking computers down to their components and showing how they work together
“8 Essential Tools for a Hardware Design Engineer” – an experienced computer hardware engineer provides a guide to the most frequently used tools of the job
Fundamental Concepts in Electrical and Computer Engineering with Practical Design Problems – this book takes a practical, hands-on look at computer hardware engineering problems and practices, giving readers the opportunity to apply what they’ve learned to real-world situations
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