What is a Computer Engineer?

Most people own or have ready access to a personal computer. These marvels of modern technology have revolutionized everything from the way we get our news to how we communicate with friends and relatives to how we entertain ourselves. However, the traditional PC or laptop is only one type of computer. Virtually every modern machine and process is computer-controlled. Some computers are tiny, as in the smallest cell phones and MP3 players.

Other computers are actually massive networks of thinking machines, working on terabytes of data and cranking out billions of calculations per second. The common factor making these machines possible is the Computer Engineer. Computer Engineering differs from Software Engineering and Computer Science in that it focuses on the actual hardware that’s responsible for performing the work. Software is the set of instructions used by a computer to get work done.

Without Computer Engineers designing the hardware platform it runs on, software would be so many useless bits of data. While they need to know the principles of software operation, Computer Engineers are responsible for designing the components of a computing system. Whether that computer is in the Stealth Bomber or under your car’s hood, all computers have similar components and functions, varying mostly in size, shape and application.

Computer Engineers design everything from the Central Processing Unit to primary and secondary memory storage to input and output methods. Even if they are using off-the-shelf components, they’re responsible for making sure the integration works flawlessly.


Computer Engineering degrees are available at all education levels: undergraduate, master’s and doctorate (PhD). Most undergraduate Computer Engineering programs allow you to specialize along one of several tracks because the entire career field is simply too broad to cover in an undergraduate program.

As you progress in your Computer Engineering career, you’ll be able to study increasingly complex topics in hardware and software systems. Occupying the top tier of Computer Engineering jobs are professionals with vast experience designing the overall system to control things like a passenger airliner, the International Space Station, or a nuclear power plant.

Computer Engineering requires a combination of skills from other engineering disciplines, and most colleges will require the same courses as prerequisites for their degrees. You’ll likely study mathematics up through Calculus, basic software programming, physics and electronic or electrical engineering basics.

Once your prerequisite courses are completed, you start the heart of the curriculum in Computer Engineering. In your upper level courses, you’ll learn how computer-controlled systems are designed from the bottom up. Microprocessor design, firmware creation and circuit boards are just a few of the topics you’ll study. The creation of a single computer is just the beginning. Advanced courses in Computer Engineering teach the techniques for integrating large numbers of computers into complex networks capable of solving massive computational problems.

There are many delivery methods for studying Computer Engineering. There are over 150 universities that offer an undergraduate program, and most top-tier state and private colleges offer Master’s and PhD programs also. You might also pursue a Computer Engineering degree with any of the reputable online colleges.

An undergraduate Computer Engineering degree typically takes four to five years to complete. A Computer Engineering Master’s Degree will normally be completed in two years on a full-time basis, and a doctorate can easily take three years to complete.

Career Advancement

Just like their educational background, the job market for Computer Engineers is very broad. Rewarding careers are found in many areas. Robotic manufacturing, security equipment, medical diagnostic devices and personal electronics virtually all have some sort of computer in them.

The breadth of this industry means there are many opportunities to expand your skills as well as move up in responsibility and compensation.


According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Computer Hardware Engineers make a median annual salary of $98,610. Jobs in Computer Engineering are, like many other high-paying careers, most available in the Northeast and Southwest. Jobs in Computer Engineering are expected increase by 9% annually. The job market is expanding, and average salaries in the field are respectable.

Studying Computer Engineering can lead to a very rewarding career at the cutting edge of technology. Since virtually every modern device you own has some form of microprocessor in it, there is a growing need for Computer Engineers to design and integrate them. The job market is expanding, and average salaries in the field are respectable.

If you love math and science and want to be a part of the growing technology world, look into one of the many available Computer Engineering college degrees and get started in a rewarding career.

Professional Associations

There are many professional associations that Computer Engineers can join in order to enhance their interaction with fellow professionals. Probably the largest and most prestigious is the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM). The ACM claims to have more than 100,000 members as of 2011.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) is another professional association that Computer Engineers would find interesting. The IEEE helped spawn many future Computer Engineers because the fields of computers and electronics are so closely related.

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