What you really need to become a computer hardware engineer is a set of tools, diagnostic devices, and a great idea. However, the field of computer hardware engineering is moving so rapidly that it will serve you well to seek the formal training that will put you on a road to success. You should first work towards a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering. Since the field is somewhat of a hybrid of electrical engineering and computer science, you will need a strong aptitude for physical and software design. After that, you might pursue professional certification and then a master’s degree.
Step 1: Is Computer Engineering for Me?
You will first want to ascertain whether or not computer or hardware engineering is for you. Some are attracted to the high salaries that computer hardware engineers take home, but that is not a solid foundation for such a demanding career. Most computer hardware engineers find that they have a natural proclivity for the basic skills computer hardware engineers employ every day. As children, for instance, many computer hardware engineers spend endless hours creating with building toys, gradually integrating motors, circuit boards, and even computer programming. Lego brand toy sets are a favorite among budding computer hardware engineers.
Consider whether you enjoy working with your hands, soldering small items to a circuit board for hours on end. You should also have an aptitude for writing computer code and finding new solutions for old problems. Computer hardware engineers also have a strong mathematical aptitude and complete at least one year of Calculus before they graduate from high school. In fact, strong mathematical ability is not optional, and you will need deep scientific aptitude as well.
Step 2: Attend an Accredited Engineering Program
Once you know that you must be a computer hardware engineer, you will need to find an accredited engineering program that supports your long-term goals. For computer hardware engineers, the gold standard for education is certification from the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. Though you can find an undergraduate program that is regionally accredited, employers will look most kindly on those with ABET credentials. There are ABET programs in every state and they have accredited 776 academic institutions in over 31 countries.
You should also seek out the programs that are best suited to your career goals. For instance, some programs might put more emphasis on software integration to hardware rather than the hardware itself. You will also want to see that your program has the facilities necessary to carry out the research you’re most interested in. Thus, if you have a keen interest in robotics, seek the schools who are supporting those sorts of projects. Other students might be more interested in nanotechnology and how to create super small computers that will one day be virtually invisible in our daily lives.
Step 3: Earn Industry Certifications
While you will not need a state licensure to practice your profession, unlike your civil engineering friends, you will likely want to continue your education. In fact, since the field for computer hardware engineers is evolving at such a rapid pace, ongoing education is imperative if you wish to remain competitive and productive.
Since you will be constantly learning, you should consider a professional certification. When a nationally recognized computer engineering association certifies your skills and knowledge, you instantly raise your status in the field. You can often add letters to the end of your name, and verifiable credentials will always set you apart when it comes time to look for a job, or even when applying to graduate school.
One option to consider is the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying’s PE Electrical and Computer exam. You can sit for that 8-hour examination after you accrue at least four years of experience in the field.
Step 4: Enroll in Graduate School
Though you can likely have a very successful career as a computer hardware engineer with a Bachelor’s degree and industry certifications, at some point you should consider graduate school. You could take one of two routes. You could pursue a Master of Science in Engineering with a focus on Computer Engineering or a Master of Business Administration. An MBA can be particularly useful if you would like to move up into management with your firm, or if you wish to branch out and start an entrepreneurial enterprise of your own.
Many computer hardware engineers feel that pursuing an MBA can help them round out their skills. That is, the non-analytical aspects of a business degree can be a fantastic counterbalance to the quantitative analytical approach that is typical of an computer hardware engineer. Not only will you learn how to better integrate and motivate a team, but you might also gain insights into your end-users and thus generate even better electronic devices.