Hardware Engineer Career Overview


Updated July 25, 2023

check mark Reviewed by

Our Integrity Network

ComputerScience.org is committed to delivering content that is objective and actionable. To that end, we have built a network of industry professionals across higher education to review our content and ensure we are providing the most helpful information to our readers.

Drawing on their firsthand industry expertise, our Integrity Network members serve as an additional step in our editing process, helping us confirm our content is accurate and up to date. These contributors:

  • Suggest changes to inaccurate or misleading information.
  • Provide specific, corrective feedback.
  • Identify critical information that writers may have missed.

Integrity Network members typically work full time in their industry profession and review content for ComputerScience.org as a side project. All Integrity Network members are paid members of the Red Ventures Education Integrity Network.

Explore our full list of Integrity Network members.

Learn all about computer hardware engineers to determine if this job is right for you. Find career opportunities, average salaries, and expected skill sets for hardware engineers.

ComputerScience.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Are you ready to discover your college program?

Credit: Hinterhaus Productions / Stone / Getty Image

Hardware engineers design and develop computer systems and their physical components. Their work also involves the extensive testing and modification of initial designs, along with maintenance tasks like applying product updates.

On many custom projects, hardware and software development needs overlap. Hardware engineers often collaborate with software engineers and developers to ensure seamless compatibility.

Some employers use alternate job titles to refer to hardware engineering roles. Common examples include computer hardware engineer, computer vision engineer, and computer engineer.

Computer engineers typically work full-time hours in offices and laboratory settings. Employers in the public and private sectors hire them to lead and supervise product development operations. Entry to the profession typically requires at least a bachelor's degree in computer science, computer systems engineering, or a related field. Many hardware engineers also hold one or more industry-standard professional certifications.

This career guide explores computer hardware engineering duties, common skills, and career pathways. Discover resources to learn more about the field and connect with relevant educational opportunities.

History of Computer Hardware Engineers

Computer engineering emerged as a professional specialty in the U.S. labor market during the 1940s and 1950s. At the time, early computer systems were in their initial stages of development. Electrical engineers migrated into the developing field of computer science. As computers became more advanced and complex, engineers adopted specializations focused on their systems and components.

Many influential tech industry pioneers performed tasks now associated with computer engineering. Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak ranks among the best-known examples. Industry observers widely credit Wozniak's engineering expertise with making the Apple II one of the first home computer systems to achieve commercial success.

With computers becoming an entrenched feature of everyday life, demand for specialized engineers exploded. Higher learning institutions increasingly began to offer computer science programs focused on engineering. Professional organizations also developed uniform standards for certification.

Today, computer hardware engineers typically complete degrees before earning certifications. Some engineers build their knowledge bases by combining self-led and on-the-job training.

What Does a Hardware Engineer Do?

Hardware engineers usually work on computer systems, components, and computerized products for consumer markets. Their main duties include testing, modifying, and maintaining the products they build.

Most components must work alongside networking and software tools. Ensuring compatibility with networked systems and specialized applications adds an additional level of complexity to their work.

The following sections explain the specific soft and hard skills shared by many successful computer engineers:

Key Soft Skills for Hardware Engineers

  • Analytical Thinking: Engineers examine the functionality of system parts by designing, building, testing, and troubleshooting computer hardware.
  • Creativity: These professionals must infuse prior knowledge with their imagination to envision new possibilities and methods. Problem-solving, a common activity for hardware engineers, also involves creative and critical thinking.
  • Critical Thinking: Hardware engineers with strong critical thinking skills often have an easier time learning and applying new skills and technologies. Furthermore, computer hardware engineers with critical thinking skills often have greater leadership potential and advance further in their careers.
  • Communication Skills: Depending on their company, position, and project, hardware engineers may often work alone. However, hardware engineers sometimes work on teams and must communicate through writing and speaking with software engineers, technicians, and clients.
  • Problem-Solving: Hardware engineers should know how to identify and address hardware-related problems. These professionals test and troubleshoot their work to recommend solutions and updates.

Key Hard Skills for Hardware Engineers

  • Computer-Aided Design: Computer engineers make extensive use of CAD platforms to visualize designs and prototypes.
  • Operating Systems: Common examples of operating systems include Windows, iOS, Linux, and Unix. Components and units manufactured for niche purposes and industries may involve uncommon and special-purpose operating systems.
  • Computing Languages: Hardware engineers often use familiar programming languages such as C and C++. Their work also involves a unique class of languages known as hardware description languages (HDLs).
  • Circuit Design: Computer engineering focuses heavily on designing and integrating computer circuitry into parent systems. Advanced circuit design and development proficiencies are a requirement among many employers.

A Day in the Life of a Hardware Engineer

Computer hardware engineers perform an array of diagnosis, design, and testing tasks, depending on employer needs. They use creativity to design computer equipment and hardware.

Computer hardware engineers also employ analytical and problem-solving skills to identify and fix problems with hardware designs, media, and storage devices. These professionals also ensure compatibility between hardware and software by collaborating with software developers,

Hardware Engineer Salary and Career Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects job growth of 5% for computer hardware engineers from 2021–2031. May 2021 BLS data indicates a median salary of $128,170 per year for computer engineers and demonstrates that salaries vary by industry and region, sometimes significantly.

Payscale data shows that average hardware engineer salaries follow a consistent trend of increasing with experience.

BLS and other labor market analysts expect demand for computer engineers to continue rising as computerization becomes increasingly prevalent in many industries. However, the profession's projected growth rate remains modest compared to many technology professions. BLS ascribes this disparity to the higher level of innovation focus on the software development side of the industry.


Annual Median Salary

Source: BLS

How to Become a Computer Hardware Engineer

Hardware engineers usually prepare for their careers by earning bachelor's degrees from accredited computer science or computer engineering programs. Learners interested in particular engineering specializations sometimes continue studying at the graduate level.

Many computer hardware engineers also hold industry certifications. These credentials can help engineers broaden their appeal to prospective employers. Leading organizations offering hardware engineering certifications include Apple, BISCI, Cisco, and CompTIA.

Some accomplished computer engineers are self-taught, while others combine on-the-job training with tech bootcamps or other self-directed education. Individuals with strong technical aptitudes are generally more likely to follow these alternative paths. In such cases, certifications are strongly recommended as they provide an additional level of skills validation.

The following pages offer further information and insights:

Computer Engineering Degree Programs

Computer Engineering Degree Programs

Connect with accredited undergraduate and graduate educational programs for aspiring computer engineers.

Computer Science Professional Certifications

Computer Science Professional Certifications

Multiple organizations provide credentialing programs and certifications valued by employers. Learn more with this guide.

Similar Specializations and Career Paths

Learners interested in hardware engineering can also explore overlapping tech industry roles. The following list describes five similar career paths and specializations to consider.

  • Network Architect: Computer network architects design, develop, and create digital communication networks. Many work on a contract basis for clients who need in-house networking solutions. Professionals usually graduate into the architect role after multiple years of experience as network or systems administrators.
  • Software Developer: Software developers create and test applications for desktop and mobile computing systems. The profession also includes software engineering roles, which cover similar tasks with a stronger emphasis on conceptual design.
  • Information Technology Architect: IT architects design and update networked and non-networked communication, computing, and data storage systems. IT includes specialized database architect and administrator roles.
  • Information Security Analyst: Infosec analysts design the standards and systems organizations use to protect their proprietary and sensitive data and information. The role shares similarities with other cybersecurity professions but covers non-digital and offline information storage.
  • Electrical/Electronics Engineer: Electrical engineers lead the design, research, and development activity for electrical systems and equipment. Electronics engineers fulfill a similar set of duties but with a specific focus on consumer electronics components and products.
Career Required Education Required Experience Median Annual Salary Projected Growth Rate (2021-2031)

Network Architect

Bachelor's degree

5 years or more



Software Developer

Bachelor's/master's degree

2 years or more



IT Architect

Bachelor's degree

5 years or more



Information Security Analyst

Bachelor's degree

5 years or more



Electrical/Electronics Engineer

Bachelor's/master's degree

4 years or more



Source: BLS

Resources for Hardware Engineers

The following resources focus on professional organizations that offer advanced career development programs. The associates also host educational conferences and industry events, which double as strong networking forums.

Professional Organizations for Hardware Engineers

  • Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers: This global organization counts more than 370,000 members in nearly 170 countries to offer continuing education, professional development opportunities, conferences, technology publications, and several kinds of community groups. IEEE also plays a role in setting industry technology standards.
  • Computing Research Association: Unifying academic, governmental, and industrial sectors to improve the world through innovative computing research, the CRA gathers and publishes data, news, and other resources. It also features active committees, conferences, graduate student cohorts, and job-finding resources.
  • National Society of Professional Engineers: In addition to its continuing education offerings and advocacy work, NSPE creates community through interest groups, state societies, and other communities. Membership comes with 15 free online courses through NSPE's professional engineering institute.
  • Association for Women in Computing: Founded in 1978, the AWC supports women's advancement in computing-related careers such as system analysis, programming, technical writing, and consultants. With chapters at schools across the United States, AWC provides continuing education, mentoring, and networking opportunities for women in computing.

Computer Hardware Engineer Questions

  • Can anyone be a computer hardware engineer?

    Computer hardware engineers have strong mathematical aptitudes. They also must possess advanced component and system design and development skills. Anyone whose abilities match these requirements can become a computer engineer.

  • What skills do you need to be a hardware engineer?

    Successful hardware engineers possess advanced abilities in CAD, computer languages, operating systems, circuit design, and system design. Important soft skills include collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving, and communication.

  • What do entry-level computer hardware engineers do?

    Entry-level hardware engineers often work full-time for technology manufacturing companies. These professionals help guide the manufacturing, installation, and testing of computer-related products.

  • Do hardware engineers need to know coding?

    Hardware engineers apply general computer programming and coding skills to many design, research, development, and testing tasks. They also require advanced knowledge of specialized computing languages, including hardware description languages.

Page last reviewed on Jan 19, 2023

Recommended Reading

Take the next step toward your future.

Discover programs you’re interested in and take charge of your education.