Person repairing a computer graphics card What Is Computer Engineering?

What Is Computer Engineering and What Do Computer Engineers Do?

Computer engineering is an engineering discipline that combines electrical engineering and computer science. Most of the work in this discipline deals with designing and maintaining software and hardware for computer systems. To put it simply, computer engineering makes it possible for computers to function.

Computer engineers work on the physical components of a computer, such as circuits and hardware. These professionals are involved in every step of the process, designing, testing, and maintaining systems. Keep reading to learn more.

What Is a Computer Engineer?

A computer engineer designs, tests, and maintains the different parts that make up circuit boards, central processing units (CPUs), and other hardware. They also develop technologies to keep computers up-to-date with user preferences. Computer engineers make sure that hardware and software components work together smoothly.

A common route to kickstart a career as a computer engineer is to pursue an engineering major at a university. The typical level of education expected for a computer engineer is a bachelor’s degree. Many companies also expect potential employees to have completed an internship or gained relevant work experience in the past. Computer engineering is a complex discipline where you will learn a lot.

What Does a Computer Engineer Do?

Computer engineers are basically electrical engineers that are involved in both hardware and software development. They combine electrical and computer science knowledge to create reliable computers, electronic devices, and digital systems.

On a larger scale, they are responsible for testing computers, hardware, and software to make sure that they are usable by the general public. They monitor everything from conception to the testing phase. These professionals are responsible for reporting and fixing any errors.

Computer Engineering Skills

Becoming a computer engineer requires developing certain skills. You will learn most of these skills as you study and work on different projects or simulations. Computer engineers often earn university degrees, which offer a balanced combination of theory and practice.

Before you can start work as a computer engineer, you need to have a strong foundation in computer programming and electrical engineering. You will also benefit from data security, analytical, and mathematical skills.

Computer Programming

It’s important that you master some common coding languages. You will be involved in hardware design, circuit design, and software design. All of these require that you know how to use programming languages. Some of the most popular languages are Python, JavaScript, R, and C#. 

Electrical Engineering

Computer engineers need to have a strong grasp of electrical engineering concepts. A computer engineering program will teach you the skills you need in this field, particularly when it comes to processors, cache, RAM, and databases.

Securing Data

Data storage is an important part of computer engineering, so computer engineers need to learn database management. You need to be skilled with cryptography and other aspects of data security. Security skills are necessary for ensuring that data reaches the intended receiver without being accessed by other parties. 

Testing and Analytical Skills

Since your job involves testing hardware, software, computers, and other electronic devices with computer functions, you need the right skills to get accurate results. Strong analytical and critical thinking skills combined with testing capabilities allow you to interpret findings and data. With strong problem-solving skills, you can easily provide solutions for any problems you encounter.

Mathematical Skills

You simply cannot work as a computer engineer without mathematical skills. Computer engineers need math and statistics knowledge to come up with the right results and equation models. 

Types of Computer Engineering

There is a wide range of specializations in computer engineering, from robotics to wireless networks. It is a discipline that covers many topics. Here are some of the options that you can consider.

Computer Hardware Engineering

A computer hardware engineer is mostly involved in researching, designing, and developing computer systems. They work on physical components such as circuit boards, electronic circuits, processors, and memory devices. You are responsible for ensuring that the computer system functions without errors.

Computer hardware engineers are also responsible for testing the hardware that they create. This hardware is going to be used for commercial purposes so it needs to be safe for general use. Additionally, the hardware must be compatible with the software systems in the computer. 

Software Engineering and Software Development

Software engineers work on computer programs and ensure that they are working properly. They are attuned to the needs of the users and use this knowledge as a base for their designs. These professionals are also responsible for monitoring and testing software programs.

A software developer designs programs and applications. There are also opportunities in this field to work as a quality assurance analyst or tester to guarantee the functionality of a software program.

Computer Programming

There is a wide variety of programming languages that a computer engineer must learn to excel in the job. Languages like Python, SQL, and JavaScript are some of the most relevant ones. 

Computer programming languages feed commands to the computer and instruct it what to do. This is a field that you must master if you’re interested in pursuing security and cryptography for database protection.

Computer Robotics

To develop fully functional robots you need expertise in a variety of computer science fields, including artificial intelligence, computer engineering, electronic engineering, and, naturally, robotics. The computer system is what makes robots operational, so computer engineering is an essential part of the process.

Computer robotics combines computer engineering with applied mathematics and electrical engineering. Mathematics is used to find the right models to estimate the scale of the robot’s capabilities.

Computer and Network Security

A career as an information security analyst also requires a command of computer engineering. Familiarity with computers and hardware components is needed to apply security measures to network systems. This is an in-demand specialization because organizations and businesses have a lot of confidential data to protect.

A computer engineering degree can teach you many of the responsibilities of an information security analyst. For example, data can be encrypted by using software that optimizes a computer’s security. Other technical skills and knowledge on security enhancements can also be acquired in a computer engineering degree.

How to Become a Computer Engineer

Green matrix displayed on a black background What Is Computer Engineering?
There are many different learning pathways to become a computer engineer.

An engineering degree program at a university is one of the most common options for aspiring computer engineers. A good alternative, however, is to attend a coding bootcamp that offers computer engineering programs.

Coding Bootcamps

Coding bootcamps cover disciplines that can develop your knowledge of computer engineering technology. For example, popular bootcamps like General Assembly or Flatiron School offer software engineering programs. If you are interested in network security, there are cyber security bootcamp programs that you can attend.

Computer engineering also plays a role in graphic design and computer-aided design. If you want to delve into computer graphics, there are coding bootcamps too that will teach you the fundamentals. You can also attend a coding bootcamp program to learn a particular programming language.

Online Computer Engineering Courses

There are a lot of free and affordable courses online to learn computer engineering. Purdue University offers Master’s Degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering via edX. Like Coursera and Udemy, edX is a massive open online course (MOOC) provider. These platforms make it easy to take courses online in different engineering fields.

MOOC platforms also have courses and specializations in related disciplines. Coursera offers specialization courses on Python, which is an important programming language in computer engineering.

Computer Engineering Degree Programs

Most companies prefer to hire engineering graduates. A bachelor’s degree will qualify you for many entry and mid-level positions, but some higher positions may require advanced degrees.

Completing a computer engineering program proves employers you have expertise in the field. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics states that a computer engineering major is similar to electrical engineering but with the introduction of computer science courses.

Computer Engineer Salary

Job seekers looking for opportunities in the computer engineering field will be met with a wide variety of options. Salaries are above average because of the high demand for these professionals. According to Payscale, the average salary for a computer engineer in the US is $75,097

Your salary will also depend on what type of computer engineer you are. For example, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that a computer hardware engineer earns an average salary of $119,560 per year. If you are an entry-level computer engineer, expect to earn less. 

Is Computer Engineering a Good Career Path?

Yes, computer engineering is a relevant and rapidly expanding field. There is a growing need for computer engineering professionals to keep up with fast advances in technology. This does not just mean professionals who can build personal computers but also those who can work on mobile computing and other fields in computing technology.

Moreover, most career paths related to computer engineering show promising job growth. For example, in the next decade, job openings for software developers will rise by 22 percent while those for security analysts will grow by 31 percent. However, the job outlook for computer hardware engineers will experience a decline of 2 percent over the same period.

If, as an engineering student, you work hard to build your knowledge and accumulate hands-on experience, you will most likely thrive in this industry. This means one day could one day be working on life-changing, innovative solutions that expand the computer engineering field.

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