Hardware Design Engineer Job Description
Hardware design engineers develop, improve, and test components and systems including circuit boards, processors, and memory cards for computers and other devices. This highly technical role requires attention to detail through the design, deployment, and troubleshooting processes, since hardware design engineers need to analyze test data to enhance performance, make repairs and changes to both analog and digital circuitry, and ensure proper functionality.
While many hardware design engineers work with computers, an increasing number of engineers specialize in designing hardware for devices that incorporate processors, networking devices, or circuit boards, such as mobile phones, vehicles, or Internet of Things (IoT) devices.
Hardware Design Engineer Duties and Responsibilities
The hardware design engineer’s specific responsibilities can depend on the type of device they design and their specific role on the engineering team, but many of the core duties remain consistent:
Design and Develop Hardware Components
The foremost duty of a hardware design engineer is developing and designing hardware components including circuit boards, switches, processors, and networking elements. A hardware design engineer examines technological specifications and functional requirements, designing components and systems that will deliver the expected performance while working in tandem with other analog or digital elements of the device.
Modify Existing Hardware
Hardware design engineers make modifications to existing hardware components and systems based on changes in functional requirements or use cases. They may also modify hardware elements to eliminate performance issues that cause the device to malfunction. In this aspect of the role, the hardware design engineer ensures that changes to components work with the system as a whole and do not impede performance.
Hardware design engineers conduct component tests throughout the design process, testing the elements individually and in conjunction with other hardware (and sometimes software) systems. The hardware design engineer then analyzes test data to guide changes, enhance system performance and stability, and eliminate defects. Each time the hardware is altered, engineers need to conduct additional tests to ensure functionality and performance.
Create Documents and Specifications
Hardware design engineers prepare and maintain documents throughout the design and development process. These can include data regarding equipment specifications, power requirements for digital and analog components, and notes on testing or configuration. Rigorous documentation ensures that components and systems work as intended and can be successfully integrated into other devices. Maintaining documentation also helps with testing and troubleshooting by providing a detailed record of changes and fixes.
Oversee Manufacturing Processes
Many hardware design engineers collaborate with manufacturing personnel to ensure that elements are built according to specifications. A hardware design engineer may work closely with fabricators to create a prototype of a design in order to conduct further testing and modifications and modify the design based on this prototype. They also provide feedback to manufacturing teams to update specifications and requirements.
Collaborate with Software Developers
In some cases, a hardware design engineer may also work with software engineers and developers during the development cycle, especially if they are designing hardware for computers, phones, or devices that integrate with software systems. This ensures that the hardware reliably runs the intended software. This collaboration often results in many rounds of testing and revision to both hardware and software components.
Hardware Design Engineer Skills and Qualifications
Hardware design engineers need a high level of attention to detail paired with excellent technical and analytical skills. Companies typically hire applicants with a bachelor’s degree in a related field, along with the following skills:
- Electrical engineering – because they work with both digital and analog circuitry, a background in electrical engineering is a necessity for hardware design engineers
- Prototyping experience – knowledge of manufacturing and prototyping processes can be extremely helpful in this role, since hardware design engineers tend to work with fabricators to develop models and rapid prototypes
- Process enhancement – hardware design engineers should be able to identify opportunities to enhance efficiency to reduce development time and improve device functionality
- Mathematics – this role requires an excellent grasp of mathematics and particularly thorough knowledge of math related to circuitry, signal switching, and processing
- Analytical thinking – hardware design engineers conduct tests and interpret the results, so effective analytical skills and the ability to process data and derive insights from that data is vital
- Communication skills – written and verbal communication is also important in this role, since hardware design engineers create documentation and specifications for components they design and work with other engineers
Tools of the Trade
Hardware design engineers use computers to design components, and they use the following tools to build components and prototypes:
- Hardware engineering software (Altium Designer, Orcad, Cadence Allegro)
- Electronics tools (soldering irons, magnifiers)
Hardware Design Engineer Education and Training
Hardware design engineers need at least a bachelor’s degree in a related field, which can include electrical engineering or computer engineering, depending on their specific industry. Hardware design engineers should seek out degrees from programs accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET).
Hardware design engineers may also need to take continuing education courses during their career to maintain familiarity with trends and emerging technologies as hardware processes and best practices evolve.
Hardware Design Engineer Salary and Outlook
Hardware design engineer salaries can vary based on their specific field and focus. Computer hardware engineers, for example, earn a median annual wage of $115,120, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data. The same data shows that electronics engineers earn a median yearly wage of $97,970.
The BLS expects employment for hardware engineers to grow through 2026, with computer hardware engineering jobs increasing by 5 percent and electronics engineering jobs increasing by 7 percent.
We searched the web and found many resources for further reading if you’re interested in learning more about working as a hardware design engineer:
Institution of Electrical and Electronics Engineers – the IEEE is a professional organization for engineers that provides opportunities to connect and learn about the latest industry developments
Careers in Computer Hardware Engineering – this guide from the Institute for Career Research explores careers in computer hardware engineering and design and provides advice for job-seekers
“8 Essential Tools for a Hardware Design Engineer” – an experienced computer hardware engineer provides a guide to the most useful and versatile tools of the job
The Hardware Hacker: Adventures in Making and Breaking Hardware – discover practical examples of hardware design engineering topics from longtime hardware hacker Andrew Bunnie Huang
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