How to Become a Hardware Engineer


Updated February 13, 2023

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Computer hardware engineers play a critical role in the design and development of computer components and systems. These professionals' contributions have changed the face of manufacturing, business, and everyday life.

Our devices continue to get smaller, more efficient, and more accessible. According to PEW Research Center, the percentage of Americans with smartphones grew from 35% to 85% between 2011 and 2021. Hardware engineers' research and innovations make this rapid growth possible.

Here, we examine the typical paths to become a hardware engineer. Discover what education and experience these professionals need and learn what they can expect along the way.

What Is a Hardware Engineer?

Hardware engineers create computer components like circuit boards and processors. These engineers also take part in designing and developing computer-integrated products such as cars, electronics, and appliances.

Hardware engineers manage the physical development process, including design, testing, and manufacturing. They often collaborate with other computer science professionals during research and ideation stages.

Hardware engineers seek ideas and solutions that meet the needs of their employers, stakeholders, and end users. They also work closely with manufacturers and software engineers to integrate their work into the overall system or product.

What Education Do Hardware Engineers Need?

Most people need at least a bachelor's degree to become a hardware engineer. These professionals usually study a computer-related or engineering field such as computer engineering, electrical engineering, or computer science. At minimum, hardware engineers should have a grasp of programming, computer hardware and software, and engineering principles.

Graduate degrees can help these engineers qualify for positions with greater responsibilities and higher salaries. According to O*NET Online, 48% of positions in this field require a bachelor's and 34% require a master's degree. Some employers only hire graduates of ABET-accredited programs.

Engineers can use continuing education to stay abreast of technological changes. Certificate programs and coding bootcamps provide specialized training ideal for updating an engineering skill set. Combined with a bachelor's degree, these credentials can help engineers qualify for leadership roles.

How Much Experience Do Hardware Engineers Need?

Professional experience can help aspiring hardware engineers land entry-level positions. Many bachelor's programs feature internships that allow students to gain practical experience and on-the-job training while they study. Most senior-level roles, however, demand more substantial experience.

New bachelor's graduates may qualify for junior engineering positions. This experience can lead to mid-level, senior, or principal engineer roles. While each organization has its own guidelines for each title, many mid-level engineers have two years of experience and senior engineers have at least four years.

Certifications for Hardware Engineers

Certification requirements for becoming a hardware engineer vary by organization. There are no industry-wide requirements, but some employers prefer computer hardware engineers with vendor-specific or neutral certifications.

Certifications help prove a professional's experience and industry knowledge. Candidates must usually meet experience and education criteria and sit for an examination. After becoming a hardware engineer, professionals can pursue certifications to help them qualify for senior positions.

Some credentials require renewal through continuing education.

BICSI ICT Certification: BICSI provides information and communications technology certifications in areas like data center design and communications distribution design. Candidates need at least two years' experience in the field.

CompTIA A+: CompTIA's A+ certification covers a broad section of IT support, including networking, security, operating systems, and computer hardware. This credential has two examinations, and renewals require 20 continuing education credits.

Certified Hardware and Technology Engineer: The Global Association for Quality Management's CHTE credential recognizes computer service professionals with installation, maintenance, and troubleshooting experience. Certification candidates must complete 20-25 course hours and pass an examination.

How Do I Become a Hardware Engineer?

The path to become a hardware engineer can vary, but many employers prefer candidates with an ABET-accredited bachelor's degree in computer engineering or a bachelor's in computer science. Some organizations and positions require a master's degree.

As a result of their 4-6 years of education, computer hardware engineers should have critical thinking skills, general programming expertise, and hardware design abilities. They also need to manage the steps of the hardware design lifecycle and troubleshoot any issues that arise.

Once employed, computer hardware engineers must navigate an ever-changing field. Continuing education courses, certificates, and bootcamps can help these professionals stay up to date.

Steps to Becoming a Hardware Engineer

Bachelor's Degree Path

  • Earn a Bachelor's Degree: Aspiring computer hardware engineers can pursue disciplines like computer engineering, information technology, and computer science. These programs provide in-depth hardware and software knowledge and teach students how these components work together as a full system.
  • Complete an Internship: Undergraduate interns gain valuable practical skills and experience before graduation. Learners have access to on-the-job training and mentorships that they can carry long into their careers.
  • Build a Portfolio: The best portfolios present projects from school, internships, and hobby builds. Job-seekers can use their portfolios to highlight skills relevant to computer hardware engineering.

Master's Degree Path

  • Earn a Bachelor's Degree.
  • Complete an Internship.
  • Pursue a Master's Degree: Graduate-level computer hardware engineering and computer science programs offer many specialization opportunities. Degree-seekers can focus on areas like computer engineering technology, networking architecture, hardware systems, and cyberphysical systems. Master's studies delve deeper into hardware design and development than bachelor's programs.
  • Complete a Graduate Internship: A graduate internship can provide advanced practical experience in students' target fields. Internships can help students develop their professional networks and may lead to long-term jobs.
  • Develop Professional Experience: Many organizations hire computer hardware engineers beyond the entry level. To gain qualifying experience, professionals can work as engineering technicians, IT support technicians, or entry-level engineers.
  • Obtain Certification: Certifications help professionals stand out from their peers and qualify for more advanced roles. These credentials can come at various points in a career, but candidates must usually meet education and experience requirements.
  • Build a Portfolio.

Should I Learn How to Be a Hardware Engineer?

When deciding to become a hardware engineer, aspiring professionals should consider their interests and goals. These professionals work with physical computer components, including circuit boards, networks, and memory storage devices. The design and development process includes considering how these innovations look, function, and fit into other systems.

Along with design and engineering skills, computer hardware engineers need analytical, leadership, and communication abilities. Much of these professionals' work takes place within or affects the computer and manufacturing industries.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 5% growth for computer hardware engineers between 2021 and 2031. While a focus on software engineering may slow growth in the hardware field, the need for computer processors, components, and physical systems should keep these professionals in demand.

The Job Hunt

The process for becoming a hardware engineer requires many of the same steps as other STEM fields. Students can begin their job search before graduation, leveraging their school's career fairs, internships, and career services resources. Aspiring engineers can also join professional engineering associations to access these organizations' networks, conferences, and job boards.

Below, we highlight some of the more popular and useful job boards for computer hardware engineering.

  • DICE: One of the most popular tech job boards, Dice boasts more than 4.6 million members across the country. Job-seekers can use personalized search options to connect with tech organizations and recruiters. Dice also provides industry news and career development resources.
  • IEEE Computer Society Career Center: The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers offers several job resources for its members, including a job board. Users can post their resumes and receive targeted alerts when a match comes in.
  • Society of Women Engineers Career Center: SWE's career center serves more than 45,000 job-seekers and over 20,000 technology and engineering employers. Members receive access to curated job postings, along with career advice.
  • Ladders: This site specializes in careers that pay over $100,000. Engineers here can focus on higher-end engineering positions and employers.
  • LinkedIn: With more than 875 million profiles, LinkedIn is the world's largest professional network. Job-seekers can upload and promote their professional information, find job postings, and learn about organizations.

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FAQ About Becoming a Hardware Engineer

  • Are there a lot of steps to become a hardware engineer?

    No. Most professionals only need to take some common steps to become a hardware engineer. The process typically includes completing a bachelor's degree and internship, then applying for entry-level positions.

  • Which degree is best for becoming a hardware engineer?

    The best degree for becoming a hardware engineer depends on the person, but a bachelor's in computer or electrical engineering is common. Hardware engineers can also major in related fields like computer science and information technology.

  • Can I learn how to be a hardware engineer without going to college?

    Yes. People can learn hardware engineering in many ways, including self-study and bootcamps. However, most employers require or prefer a bachelor's degree, so finding a job may be challenging for candidates without a college education.

  • How long does it take to become a hardware engineer?

    Most hardware engineers need a bachelor's, so candidates should count on at least four years to earn their degree. Advanced training, such as a master's degree or a bootcamp, may add more time.

Page last reviewed on Jan 18, 2023

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