Do you enjoy figuring out how things were made and how they work? Are you passionate about emerging technologies, such as new computing platforms and hardware? If so, perhaps a career in computer engineering is the right choice for you.
What is computer engineering, and what can you do with a computer engineering degree? Explore this detailed guide to learn more about this exciting and meaningful career path.
What Is Computer Engineering?
Computer engineering is a hybrid field that blends the principles of electronic engineering with the applications of computer science. This field applies theories and concepts from mathematics, science, computing and engineering to solve technical challenges. Specifically, computer engineers specialize in designing computing hardware.
Computer hardware consists of all of the “hard” or tangible components, including:
- Networking components — adapters, switches, routers and modems
- Input devices — keyboards, mouses, cameras, microphones and touchscreens
- Output devices — printers, audio devices and monitors
- Data storage devices — hard disks, flash storage and solid-state drives
- Microprocessors — CISC, RISC and EPIC
- Memory chips — read-only memory (ROM), random access memory (RAM) and nonvolatile rewritable flash memory (NVM)
Of course, computer hardware wouldn’t be very useful without software. Computer engineers must also integrate software into the hardware. Because of this, computer engineers often have a good working knowledge of software competencies such as programming languages and software debugging.
Although a good working knowledge of software is important, computer engineering is typically focused more on hardware than on software. However, a computer engineer’s focus can differ from one company to the next. For example, at one organization, a computer engineer may be devoted entirely to hardware development, while, at another, they may be expected to wear multiple hats.
What Do Computer Engineers Do?
A computer engineer is responsible for researching, designing, developing and testing new computing technology, such as circuit boards, processors and routers. The daily tasks of any given computer engineer will largely depend on the project on which they are currently working. In general, however, these professionals can do any of the following:
- Apply the principles of electronic engineering to the design of new computer hardware and develop the schematics of computer components and equipment for manufacturers
- Evaluate computing technology prototypes and test them to determine any potential problems
- Assess the results of thorough evaluations and make any necessary adjustments to the design of the technology
- Supervise and provide expert guidance on the manufacturing process for new computer components
If you were to envision a computer engineer hard at work, you might think of someone designing a new laptop. Although these professionals certainly do make laptops and desktop computers, they can actually work on a wide variety of products that rely on computing technology. These include everything from cars and satellites to home appliances and even robotic medical devices.
What Jobs Can You Get With a Computer Engineering Degree?
A qualified computer engineer may pursue work in a number of different industries. Since virtually every facet of society and business relies on computing technology, computer engineers are needed just about everywhere, including in the following sectors and industries:
- Electrical and electronics
- Higher education
- Governmental agencies
Within these various industries, computer engineers can take on a variety of job titles. As a computer engineering degree graduate, you may be qualified to pursue work as a:
- Software quality assurance analyst and tester: They are responsible for designing and implementing programs that examine software for any problems. As a software quality assurance analyst and tester, you will investigate software for risks and defects and report your results to the developers. You will then review the ways in which to solve those problems.1
- Computer network architect: These professionals are responsible for designing, building and implementing data communications networks. They can work on local area networks, wide area networks or intranets.
- Computer hardware engineer: They research, design and test computer systems and components. This can include networks, routers, memory devices, processors and circuit boards. As a computer hardware engineer, you won’t just work with computers, as you can also design devices used in cars, medical devices and home appliances.2
How To Become a Computer Engineer With a Computer Engineering Degree
You can begin the process of becoming a computer engineer while still in high school. You are advised to speak to your guidance counselor about adding as many relevant courses to your schedule as possible. Some examples of good classes to take in high school include computer science, programming, introduction to engineering and calculus.
Computer engineers are expected to have at least a bachelor’s degree. Although some professionals may enter the field with a general degree in computer science, it’s preferable to earn a degree that specifically focuses on computer engineering. A computer engineering degree teaches the essential competencies in the design, development and testing of new computing technologies.
A baccalaureate computer engineering degree can enable you to pursue an entry-level job in the field. At some point, however, you may want to return to school to earn a postgraduate degree. A master's degree in computer science isn’t a universal requirement among employers, although many do prefer to hire or promote professionals who hold this credential.
In lieu of or in addition to a master’s degree, you can enhance your qualifications and advance your skills by earning one or more voluntary certifications. Some examples of computer engineering certifications are as follows:
- CompTIA A+
- CompTIA Server+
- Building Industry Consulting Services International (BICSI) Technician
- Apple Certified Macintosh Technician (ACMT)
Essential Skills and Characteristics of Computer Engineering Professionals
A number of skills and qualities can be helpful to computer engineering professionals, including:
- Analytical reasoning
- Critical thinking
- Commitment to lifelong learning
Where Can You Learn More About Computer Engineering?
There are many resources available to students who would like to learn more about computer engineering and the career path of a computer engineer. If you are still in high school, you are encouraged to speak with your guidance counselor about your career plans as they may be able to connect you to job shadowing opportunities and internships in the computer engineering field.
Internships are also a valuable resource for baccalaureate students. A career services staff member on campus can assist you in identifying local opportunities.
Beyond internships and job shadowing, you may want to explore the resources available from professional organizations. There are multiple professional organizations dedicated to computer engineering and its related fields, such as:
- The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM)
- The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) Computer Society
- The American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES)
- The National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE)
- The Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers (SASE)
- The Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE)
- The Society of Women Engineers (SWE)
- The American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE)
These organizations differ in the types of resources they offer, and you do not need to be a working professional to take advantage of these resources. For instance, some of these professional organizations offer resources that are specific to K-12 students or collegiate learners, and some even offer scholarship opportunities.
You can pursue your dream of becoming a computer engineer by applying for enrollment at Grand Canyon University’s College of Science, Engineering and Technology. GCU is pleased to offer our new degree program, the Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering, which has been designed to prepare graduates to meet the challenges of today’s tech field. You can graduate with advanced skills in computer engineering that are immediately applicable across a range of work environments.
To learn more about joining GCU’s dynamic tech learning community, click on Request Info at the top of your screen.
1 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, What Software Developers, Quality Assurance Analysts, and Testers Do in July 2022.
2 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, What Computer Hardware Engineers Do in July 2022.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.