Computer hardware engineers research, design, develop, and test computer hardware and supervise its manufacture and installation. Hardware refers to computer chips, circuit boards, computer systems, and related equipment such as keyboards, modems, and printers. (Computer software engineersoften simply called computer engineersdesign and develop the software systems that control computers. These workers are covered elsewhere in the Handbook.) The work of computer hardware engineers is very similar to that of electronics engineers, but, unlike electronics engineers, computer hardware engineers work exclusively with computers and computer-related equipment. (See electrical and electronics engineers elsewhere in the Handbook.) In addition to design and development duties, computer hardware engineers may supervise the manufacture and installation of computers and computer-related equipment. The rapid advances in computer technology are largely a result of the research, development, and design efforts of computer hardware engineers. To keep up with technological advances, these engineers must continually update their knowledge.
The number of computer hardware engineers is relatively small compared with the number of computer-related workers who work with software or computer applications. Computer hardware engineers held about 74,000 jobs in 2002. Almost 40 percent worked in computer and electronic product manufacturing. Almost one-quarter worked in professional, scientific, and technical services firms, many of which provided services to the computer industry. Many of the rest were employed in the telecommunications.
Computer hardware engineers may face competition for jobs because the number of degrees granted in this field has increased rapidly and because employment is expected grow more slowly than average. Although the use of information technology continues to expand rapidly, the manufacture of computer hardware is expected to be adversely affected by intense foreign competition. Also, this industry is expected to continue to experience very high levels of productivity growth, which will even affect computer hardware engineers. The utilization of foreign computer hardware engineering services also will serve to limit growth. In addition to job openings arising from employment growth, other vacancies will result from the need to replace workers who move into managerial positions, transfer to other occupations, or leave the labor force.
Median annual earnings of computer hardware engineers were $72,150 in 2002. The middle 50 percent earned between $56,490 and $91,730. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $46,190, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $114,880. Median annual earnings in the industries employing the largest numbers of computer hardware engineers in 2002 were:
Semiconductor and other electronic component manufacturing
Computer and peripheral equipment manufacturing
Computer systems designs and related services
According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, starting salary offers in 2003 for bachelorís degree candidates in computer engineering averaged $51,343 a year; masterís degree candidates averaged $64,200.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2004-05 Edition,
Computer Hardware Engineers, on the Internet at
(visited July 09, 2004).