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How to Become a Hardware Design Engineer: Career Roadmap

Oct 20, 2021

Find out how to become a hardware design engineer. Explore the education requirements, and learn about the experience you'll need to advance your career in engineering.

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Hardware Design Engineers

Hardware design engineers create and design computer hardware components, including circuit boards, microchips, and scanners. They draft different designs and make prototypes to test for accuracy. Some hardware design engineers get involved with manufacturing hardware, whereas others supervise the installation process. Most work is accomplished in a research laboratory. Some projects may require overtime. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), computer hardware engineers can expect a 6%, or average, increase in job growth between 2018 and 2028.

Career Requirements at a Glance

Degree Level Bachelor's degree required; more advanced positions may require a graduate degree
Degree Field Computer engineering, computer science, or electrical engineering
Experience Many employers require experience
Key Skills Math skills, analytical skills, teamwork
Average Salary (2018)* Approximately $117,840 (for computer hardware engineers)

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Step 1: Bachelor's Degree

As reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most employers prefer hardware design engineers who have bachelor's degrees in computer engineering. Applicants can also qualify with degrees in computer science or electrical engineering. Students should look for programs that have been accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, Inc. (ABET).

Most undergraduate programs in computer engineering include courses in computer networks and systems, advanced mathematics, physics, and electrical engineering. Electrical engineering programs may include courses in electromagnetics, electronics, and statistics. Some colleges allow students to choose a concentration that focuses specifically on hardware design; other institutions offer courses that cover both software and hardware design.

Step 2: Certification

Obtaining certification through trade organizations can help hardware design engineers get a job or advance their careers. Many computer hardware and software companies, such as Microsoft and Cisco Systems, offer certification programs for technicians and engineers. Most certification programs require applicants to pass a lengthy exam. Although hardware design engineers don't normally deal with writing computer code, some employers may require applicants to obtain certification in certain computer languages.

Step 3: License

Hardware design engineers need a license if they provide services to the public. While each state may have a different definition of what it means to publicly offer services, licensing requirements can include a degree from an ABET-accredited program, experience, and a satisfactory score on a licensing exam.

Step 4: Graduate Degree

Although a bachelor's degree can open the door to many entry-level positions for hardware design engineers, earning a graduate degree may lead to career advancement. For example, most companies in the computer industry that focus on research and development require a master's or doctoral degree. A graduate degree program in computer engineering usually involves coursework in computer architecture, advanced algorithms, computation applications, and high-level mathematics.

Step 5: Continuing Education

Since technology changes rapidly, the BLS suggests that most engineers pursue continuing education (CE) to keep up with industry trends. Licensed engineers in particular need to take annual CE classes in order to renew their state credentials. Many trade organizations host CE seminars that provide training and showcase new products. Universities and community colleges also offer CE courses that can lead to more career opportunities.

Let's review. To qualify for a job, hardware design engineers need at least a bachelor's degree in computer engineering, computer science or electrical engineering. In May 2018, a computer hardware engineer earned an average annual salary of nearly $117,840 in a field that is expected to grow at an average rate through 2028.

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