what does a computer engineer do?

At this day and age, we spend a lot of time with computers and expect them to meet more complex needs. This interaction between computers and human beings is expected to increase with time, as computers become more and more integrated into our day to day lives.

This means that there is a need for computer engineers whose role is to research and develop advanced computer technology to meet all the needs of society as well as help them accomplish complex tasks.

To have a deeper insight into the roles of a computer engineer, let’s delve into the journey of becoming a successful computer engineer and the responsibilities of certified computer engineers.

How to Become a Computer Engineer

Becoming a qualified computer engineer needs extensive periods of study that can take four up to six years in college.

In most cases, a majority of the universities offer computer engineering as a sub-discipline of electrical engineering, since it is a blend of electrical and computing elements.

However, for those that want a direct training program or cannot attend the four-year program in electrical engineering, an associate bachelor’s degree in computer science or an associate degree in an IT related field is also acceptable as the first step into becoming a computer engineer.

The associate degree is aimed at equipping the student with the prerequisites of computer engineering after which the student can transfer to the four-year degree program.

While enrolled in the computer engineering curriculum, students are offered comprehensive training on how to match digital devices with appropriate software so as to meet the technological needs of businesses and industries in a global economy; therefore, one may choose to concentrate on the hardware or software specializations.

For those that are enrolled in an electrical engineering program, with emphasis on computer engineering, they get to concentrate more on the hardware to become computer hardware engineers working microprocessors, custom integrated circuits or disk drives.

Nevertheless, students enrolled in other applicable majors such as mathematics and computer science or any other IT related courses, have an opportunity to become computer software engineers or hardware engineers depending on their specialization.

Apart from learning all about computers, computer engineers are also equipped with written and oral communication skills to enable them to communicate effectively to their supervisors and subordinates in a working environment.

Moreover, it is for this reason that students are assigned team project work which also enables them to appreciate ethical and professional responsibilities as well as use their power of reason to find solutions.

Job Description and Work Environment

Using their problem-solving skills, decision making topped with their vast knowledge in computer hardware computer engineers can work in industries, government and private organizations to develop computer design services.

Additionally, computer engineers can work in computer manufacturing companies, where they have a leading role in designing new computer circuits, microchips, and other electronic components.

While working in organizations, computer engineers are expected to monitor the functioning of an operating system and suggest or make any modifications necessary to meet the conformance needs.

With the recent advancements in computer engineering such as; computer architecture, electromagnetic compatibility, telecommunications, and digital signal processing, a smart computer engineer is expected to remain up-to-date on such advances in computer technology and apply the new knowledge in their working station.

As such, high-tech manufacturing firms and labs offer are always on the lookout for computer engineers who can creatively implement new computing technology in their organizations so as to keep their services aligned with the rapidly changing technology.

As technology becomes more absorbed into all spheres of life, it’s not a shocker that current models of cars are incorporating computers into their functioning, therefore computer engineers are needed in such automobile manufacturing companies to ensure a perfect integration of the computer technology and the auto model.

Medical equipment, aircraft models all need to be incorporated with digital devices, so as to improve their functioning and it’s all the work of a computer engineer to do so.

Most employers also require a computer engineer to have a certain level of knowledge in computer software in addition to their specialization in hardware; so as to not only develop and design peripherals and computer hardware, but also develop and manage information systems that support the organization.

Advanced Study for Computer Hardware Engineers

Given the continuous growth of computer engineering and its dynamic role in propelling technological growth, it is safe to say that a degree in computer engineering programs prepares students to be lifelong learners, in an attempt to keep their competence in a rapidly changing field.

Additionally, as much as fresh graduates can find entry jobs with a degree in this field, there are more and better-paying job opportunities when a student advances their study. After working for a period of time, many computer engineers often go for a post-graduate program whereby the employer contributes to their ongoing education fees.

Some employers may demand employees to pursue advanced certifications in hardware or software systems offered by various vendors such as Microsoft System Administration (MCSA), Cisco Network and VM Ware.

These certification exams can be an essential part of job searching or used to advance the company technologically.

For hardware engineers, it can be beneficial to advance education in software development so as to open doors to other job opportunities such as an IT strategist, chief technology officer or chief information officer.

Generally, master’s degree in computer engineering prepares computer engineers for career advancement or for further studies at doctoral (Ph.D.) level.

This course of studies broadly involves student doing a research-based program of study, whereby students are required to complete independent research with a thesis project.

 During this period students are allowed to explore professional interests within computer engineering, depending on their educational goals.

However, the two years of master’s degree study, students are only allowed to concentrate in specialized areas such as hardware, computer architecture, VLSI design, computer-aided systems, and cybersecurity.

For those that specialize in computer architecture, they gain a deeper understanding of the organization of computer systems, functionality and design and are therefore able to build high-performance processors and memory chips.

Specializing in VSLI design enables the computer engineers to build low power digital designs, CMOS technology that is used in constructing integrated circuits (ICs).

Advancing to doctoral studies, computer engineers can then after taking up managerial roles in computer and IT-related firms.

This is because, at this stage, a computer engineer has extensive technical expertise in their field of specialization, and hence can take leading roles in research and/or academia in private organizations and in government.

During this study period, the areas of study are determined by the students and cover many aspects in computing theory, hardware, software, and computer applications.

After successful completion of the doctoral studies, which generally involves research examination and successful defense of the defense before a graduate committee; one can become a university lecturer teaching computer engineering programs.

Some of the essential skills computer engineers gain during the doctoral study period include; technical competence in that an engineer should demonstrate full mastery of their field of specialization whether hardware or software designs, additionally a computer engineer should be able to present their research results effectively to both scientific and non-scientific audiences. But most importantly, a computer engineer should be able to leverage their expertise to solve technological problems.

Elements of a Successful Computer Engineer

As much as a career in computer engineering sounds lucrative with a yearly salary amounting to $75,552 and even $115,120 for more qualified computer engineers, there are certain components that separate a mid-paid engineer to a high paid one.

To start with, in addition to their technical expertise, computer engineers should showcase employability skills like project and time management, critical thinking as well as the already mentioned problem-solving skills.

Since during their line of work they have to work in groups, computer engineer should be team payers and able to listen to others attentively.

In some cases, they may also be relied upon to advise the executive staff on how to new technologies can help improve the service delivery of an organization.

A smart computer engineer should also possess a professional toolbox containing a range of technical tools that include; knowledge in operating system software that is in demand such as Linux and UNIX.

A computer engineer should also be able to conduct circuit testing, digital analysis system, and logic analyzing.

Lastly, an engineer ought to have skills in creating development environment software such as the C programming language and Microsoft Visual Basic.

Job Outlook

As technology is expected to grow, so is the demand for computer engineers projected to grow as well. In fact, according to the United States Bureau of labor statistics, employment of computer engineers is projected to grow by five percent from 2016 to 2026, to meet the demand for new computer hardware due to continuous technological innovations.

Although the demand for software engineers is more than that of the hardware engineers, simply because of increased innovations in software-hardware engineers demand may grow as more businesses outside computer and technology world, begin to design and develop their own computerized devices.

Hardware startup firms with manufacturing computerized chips embedded in devices such as household appliances may lead to job growth for computer hardware engineers.

On the other hand, job opportunities for computer software engineers are expected to grow by 24% in the next ten years to cater to the demand for computer software.

The need for innovative software in insurance companies, other services providing business, is the drive behind the demand for software engineers. Moreover, with the issues of cybersecurity posing threats in the cyber-sphere, firms will need software engineers to protect their information.

Computer Engineering-Related Careers

A career in computer engineering is a gateway to a wide range of career paths with some emerging while others have been there for quite some period of time.

Computer engineers enthusiastic designing and installing computer networks can pursue computer network architect which involves securing network data and exploring technological advancements that could benefit an organization.

Another possible career route related to computer engineering is working closely with engineers and developers programmed tools such as robots to do the heavy manual labor for industries.

Database administrator, web developer, information security analyst, and computer system administrators are all highly related to computer engineering.

Nevertheless, this does not mean individuals computer engineers are only limited to developing with computer hardware and software only.

As a matter of facts, computer engineers especially those that enrolled in a combination of electrical and computer engineering can venture into other career paths such as mechanical engineering and industrial engineering.

Emerging career paths that act as solutions to problems related to technology and use of computers such as the need to save power energy creates the need for computer engineers to design computers that consume less energy.

Another emerging career path for computer engineers is the green information and communication technology also known as Green IT.

This career path deals with creating sustainable computing by using and disposing of computer components in a way that reduces environmental impact.

Even more recently, the growth in the Internet of Things (IoT) creates the need for creating “smart” devices that connect with the existing infrastructure.

From automatic opening doors to a biochip transponder in a farm animal and tire pressure sensors, career opportunities for computer engineers continues to increase.

Final Thoughts

The work responsibilities of a computer engineer may differ from time to time, the primary role of computer engineers to improve, create and advance computer technologies, still remain as their main goal.

However, the shift in responsibilities while still tied to the main objective is what makes computer engineering offer a variety of other fulfilling career paths as well as a strong earning potential.

No matter the career path in computer engineering that one opts to follow, every engineer is expected to demonstrate intelligence, professional experience and a yearning to learn about new technologies to stay abreast of technological advances.

About the author


Geek Life Activated is my little corner on the web. I'm very passionate about tech, and i aim to use this blog to express that. I currently work as a System Administrator, and i love every second of it. I'm still new at it, so i'm learning something new everyday. I'm pretty open to learning new things, so please feel free to correct me if i'm wrong about anything, and you can contact me anytime you want. I'm a very easy person to talk to. :)

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