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Hardware engineers design the technology of the future. Using their solid knowledge of computer components and how they function, these skilled professionals play an important role in the development of a variety of useful products. They may, for instance, create new video game consoles, make improvements to mobile phones, or develop intelligent automotive systems. Hardware engineers frequently work full time in research labs and high-tech manufacturing firms, usually in large metropolitan areas. Some find positions in academia or with the federal government. The career path of a hardware engineer may lead to becoming a senior hardware design engineer, a computer and information systems manager, or a design engineering manager.

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Hardware Engineer Duties and Responsibilities

The responsibilities of hardware engineers differ based on the company for which they work. However, several core duties appear in the job listings that we analyzed, including the following:

Design Hardware

At the heart of being a hardware engineer is dealing with computer components - circuit boards, processors, memory devices, routers, and the like. With project specifications and the desired end product in mind, hardware engineers draw up blueprints and other models before starting the building process. In addition to considerations such as size and power, they especially think about the hardware's compatibility with the software it will run.

Test and Document Progress

Plans that look promising on paper don't always work out. Throughout the development process, hardware engineers test components and modify them as necessary. They may discover, for instance, that software isn't running as desired with the hardware created. By analyzing data and making changes, they work toward a final product that operates seamlessly. Hardware engineers thoroughly document what they fix or alter in order to create a record.

Collaborate with Colleagues

Hardware engineers do not develop or improve products alone. They receive input and advice from software engineers and others involved in designing and testing. Working together throughout the various development stages helps reduce bugs and ensure a better end result. Colleagues from other departments may seek out hardware engineers to answer questions or give suggestions as they conceptualize their own work, such as a software engineer inquiring about the memory needed to support a proposed upgrade.

Hardware Engineer Skills and Qualifications

A strong background in math, science, and computer science is a must for aspiring hardware engineers. They also, however, should be adept communicators capable of conveying instructions in verbal and written forms. Other critical skills include:

  • Teamwork - designing a product involves collaborating with other relevant parties, such as software engineers
  • Creativity - thinking outside the box results in innovative designs and novel solutions to problems
  • Problem-solving skills - the ability to approach complex issues with curiosity and determination rather than frustration serves hardware engineers well
  • Analytic thinking - logically examining the steps taken and the outcome helps hardware engineers make corrections and produce better results
  • Multitasking - hardware engineers may work on different projects simultaneously and need to be aware of competing deadlines and priorities

Tools of the Trade

In the course of their work, hardware engineers often use the following:

Hardware engineering software (such as Altium Designer, Orcad, Cadence Allegro)

Programming languages (such as C++)

Hardware description languages (such as Verilog)

Operating system software (such as Linux and UNIX)

Electronics tools (such as soldering irons and magnifiers)

Hardware Engineer Education and Training

The minimum educational requirement is generally a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering or a similar discipline, though a master’s degree can increase job prospects. Graduating from a school with an ABET-accredited program also may attract a hiring manager’s attention. For hardware engineers looking to move into leadership positions, obtaining an MBA can be a smart move. All in this field should be prepared to continue taking classes throughout their career in order to stay up to date on technological advances.

Hardware Engineer Salary and Outlook

The median annual salary for hardware engineers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), is about $115,000. The lowest 10 percent earn about $66,000 per year, while the highest paid make roughly $177,000. Medical, dental, and vision insurance are common benefits.

In 2016, about 74,000 Americans were employed as hardware engineers. The BLS projects this figure to rise to about 78,000 in 2026 – growth of 5 percent for the decade. An increase in the number of common devices using embedded computer chips is expected to contribute to the need for hardware engineers.

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Helpful Resources

Want to learn more about this STEM career? We’ve compiled the following list of helpful sources to provide you with more information:

Association for Computing Machinery

touted as "the world's largest computing society," this global organization brings together hardware engineers and other tech professionals for career advancement, research, education, and networking

Careers in Computer Hardware Engineering

this book from the Institute for Career Research explores the skills necessary for a job in this field and discusses the many places that seek the services of hardware engineers

Principles of Computer Hardware

the fourth edition of this textbook provides a comprehensive look at computer components and their roles in overall function

How to Build a Computer

want a beginner's look at what it takes to assemble a PC? This ebook goes over the parts involved and provides stepbystep instructions on how they come together to form the final product

Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology

ABET provides accreditation for engineering programs and offers networking opportunities and events for engineers

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