How to Become a Computer Engineer

Updated November 9, 2023

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Tech professionals with computer engineering backgrounds can pursue in-demand jobs that pay much higher than average. For instance, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects computer engineering jobs to grow 5% from 2021-2031, which is as fast as average.

The BLS reports that these professionals earned a median annual salary of $128,170 in 2021, over double the median salary of all workers.

Most computer engineering careers require a degree in computer engineering, computer science, or electrical engineering. A bachelor's serves as the minimum for entry-level positions in the field.

This guide provides a detailed explanation of how to become a computer engineer, including schooling, experience, and certification.

What Is a Computer Engineer?

Computer engineers design, develop, test, and refine computer systems, software, and equipment. The profession encompasses hardware engineering, software engineering, and network engineering. Computer engineers may also work in subsectors like cybersecurity, robotics, and artificial intelligence.

Though some computer engineers freelance, most hold regular jobs with technology companies. Often working in offices or research and development laboratories, these professionals often lead teams of quality assurance analysts and testers.

Computer Engineering Education Requirements

Computer engineers often hold at least a bachelor's degree. Employers may prefer to hire graduates from an ABET-accredited program. Computer engineering professionals need a strong background in both computer science and electrical engineering. Earning a master's degree in computer engineering can help professionals pursue higher-paying jobs with greater advancement potential.

Internship Opportunities

Many computer engineering students choose to pursue internships. These valuable opportunities help new labor market entrants expand their networks and develop their professional skills.

Many major technology companies offer computer engineering internships, including:

  • Google: This Silicon Valley giant regularly updates its engineering and technical internship postings.
  • Microsoft: Students and recent graduates may qualify for this leading tech company's varied internship programs.
  • Intel: This computer hardware developer and manufacturer welcomes thousands of student interns.

Many of these resume-enhancing opportunities integrate interns with professional teams working on real-world projects. Some internships also pay modest stipends.

Certifications for Computer Engineers

Employers maintain varying standards for job openings and promotions. Computer engineering professionals can stay up-to-date in their field by pursuing certifications. Optional credentialscan boost a professional's credibility and demonstrate a commitment to ongoing development.

Many institutions offer certification programs, including private companies and professional organizations. Examples of computer engineering certifications include:

Computer engineers can also pursue professional engineering licensure through the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying.

What a Computer Engineer Does

A computer engineer's key duties include designing hardware or software, testing designs, and researching new tools.

Computer engineers fall into three broad categories: hardware engineers, network engineers, and software engineers. All three kinds of computer engineers design, build, and test new technology solutions. Hardware engineers create and maintain physical products. Network engineers design and maintain systems, while software engineers create and upgrade new programs and applications.

People with a knack for science and math, along with an educational background in computer science or physics may enjoy this career. Computer engineers interface with clients, vendors, other technology specialists, and even artists and storytellers to make new computer products come to life. Professionals may work in corporate, government, or educational research institutions. They may serve in finance, healthcare, the military, and technology.

Although computer engineers are in high demand, the role is not without its challenges. Staying informed about new research and trends, bridging the gap between technology and business, plus adapting to team leadership roles can present challenges for new engineers.

Primary Duties

  • Designing Computer Hardware: After using engineering tools to design new computer hardware, engineers test and analyze the product. Then, they update the design to improve usability concerns. Once manufactured, these products need continuous upgrading. Sometimes engineers reconfigure current hardware rather than building a new product.
  • Writing Computer Software: Although many computer engineers design physical products, building computer software and applications forms the core of a software developer's job. Using programming languages such as C++ or JavaScript, engineers can develop packaged applications. Often, though, they create customized tools or databases for their employers or customers.
  • Creating and Testing Robots: Computer engineers may work as part of a team to develop, create, test, and manage intelligent machines or robotic systems. In this role, professionals may conduct research on robotics and robot development and work with CAD or CAM tools to build the machines.
  • Researching New Tools in Computer Engineering: Computer engineers need to stay up to date on new tools emerging in technology. Research is ongoing in areas such as data science, machine learning, computer security, distributed computing, and human-robot interaction. Companies use this research to develop new tools. Engineers who stay informed of new developments provide meaningful value to their companies.
  • Managing Teams of Engineers: Some computer engineers move from tool development to management and leadership roles. As team leaders, engineers must understand the project's details, keep an eye on overall goals, and ensure that their team stays motivated and well resourced.

Nonstandard Duties

  • Drone Software Engineering: Companies use drones for aerial surveillance or to take pictures for marketing and advertising. Engineers help develop the software and hardware that advances drone technology. They can serve in the commercial, consumer, or military markets.
  • AI Consulting: AI consultants help companies leverage artificial intelligence tools to improve business outcomes. This work might involve programming computer applications that use machine learning. However, not all AI consulting focuses on program development. Some professionals help corporate leaders understand the value of machine learning solutions and select appropriate AI-powered tools for their companies.
  • Video Game Development: Computer engineers can design software programs for video games. In this role, engineers work with artists, writers, and animators, providing the coding that brings their creative vision to life. Though most video games function as entertainment, some games serve as educational tools, therapeutic interventions, or even as experimental tools in blockchain finance and business.
  • Virtual Reality Design: Engineers use new technologies such as visualization, mapping, and 3D modeling to form immersive digital worlds. Beyond daily use in games and shopping, virtual reality plays an important role in national security, education, sports, mental health, and medical training. Companies such as Microsoft, Samsung, and Facebook invest in hiring engineers who can create new hardware to support virtual reality.
  • Blockchain Development: Responsible for researching, analyzing, developing, and executing blockchain applications, computer engineering professionals use programming languages to design blockchain architecture and infrastructure. Companies that see value in decentralized applications often hire engineers and programmers who can work with blockchain technology. Outside of cryptocurrency, blockchain functions in the supply chains, internet of things, and data application sectors.

How Do I Become a Computer Engineer?

The steps to become a computer engineer start with a bachelor's degree in computer engineering, computer science, or electrical engineering. Candidates with graduate degrees can pursue higher-paying positions with greater responsibilities.

Steps to Becoming a Computer Engineer

  1. 1
    Earn Your Degree. A bachelor's degree as the minimum education needed to become a computer engineer. Some employers prefer that applicants earn their degree through an ABET-accredited program.
  2. 2
    Pursue an Engineering Internship. Computer engineering students can gain practical experience by completing an internship before or after they graduate.
  3. 3
    Gain Professional Experience. Many computer engineers can advance to computer and information systems manager positions after they gain experience in the field.
  4. 4
    Pursue Optional Certifications. Computer engineers can pursue optional industry certifications and credentials to stay ahead of emerging trends and practices.

Should I Become a Computer Engineer?

Computer engineers have a strong understanding of engineering and technology concepts. Many work in research laboratories or in the manufacturing sector designing and testing computer components. Becoming a computer engineer involves getting a bachelor's degree in the field. Students typically take classes in math, physics, and computer science.

These professionals need critical thinking skills to develop solutions for various problems. They also need strong communication abilities to work well on a team. Many computer engineers complete continuing education throughout their careers to stay on top of emerging issues and trends in the field.

In deciding whether to become a computer engineer, you should carefully consider your interests, skill set, and personal objectives.

What Is a Typical Day for a Computer Engineer?

Most computer engineers work 40 or more hours a week. During critical phases of project development, engineers may also need to work nights or weekends.

Not every day in the life of a computer engineer is about programming and meetings. These professionals design or develop software, meet with engineering staff, design or test prototypes, and review new products for regulatory compliance.

Computer engineers also spend time completing documentation, a tedious but key component of their work. Engineering team leaders hire staff members, train new hires, and work with technicians and developers.

Industry and corporate culture determine a large part of a computer engineer's working environment. For example, tech startups eager to bring their product to market may require longer hours and less structured job roles than industry giants or government agencies.

Computer engineers who work in highly regulated industries, such as healthcare or finance, may have a different experience than those in educational or entertainment companies with less stringent regulations.

Each computer engineer's career and daily tasks are impacted by the industry, along with their company, role, education, and experience.

The Job Hunt

Many bachelor's programs offer practicums, work-study programs, and internships. These opportunities provide students with excellent networking opportunities. They also double as a great way to get your foot in the door with prospective employers. College career centers and on-campus recruitment campaigns may also provide valuable job search resources.

Job boards and professional organizations maintain exclusive employment listings. Below are several job boards for prospective computer engineers:

  • IEEE Computer Society Jobs: Open to IEEE members, this portal's exclusive listings also include resume hosting and job alerts.
  • Stack Overflow: A leading technology job portal since 2008, Stack Overflow attracts more than 100 million visitors per month.
  • Dice: Dice features opportunities for emerging and established tech professionals. Users can apply precision job search filters to find the most relevant opportunities.
  • Indeed: As the most widely visited job search website, Indeed attracts more than 250 million users a month. The site consistently hosts a high volume of computer engineering opportunities.
  • LinkedIn: This popular professional networking platform's job portal features millions of vacancies. Job-seekers can also use LinkedIn to research prospective employers.

Where Computer Engineers Work

Computer engineers often work in research laboratories or offices. Some laboratories are part of a major corporation, while others belong to technology startups, research universities, or government agencies. The highest-paid computer engineers work at research and development centers or computer and peripheral equipment manufacturing firms.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistcs, California employs more computer hardware engineers than any other state with 6.3 computer engineering roles for every 1,000 jobs in the San Jose area. Washington, however, pays higher mean salaries than California, and Colorado has the highest concentration of computer hardware engineers in the country. Some non-metro areas in Mississippi, Iowa, West Virginia, and Virginia also offer many computer engineering jobs with strong salaries.

Software engineers also enjoy strong job markets and high wages in California and Washington. However, Virginia and New York provide many well-paying jobs for these professionals, too. States with non-metro areas that offer favorable employment outlooks for software engineers include Vermont, Montana, and Wisconsin.

While urban markets like San Jose, Seattle, and New York pay the highest salaries, living in less population-dense areas may offer a slower-paced lifestyle and better work-life balance.

Major employers of computer engineers include companies such as Apple, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft. Government agencies like NASA and the U.S. Department of Defense also employ many computer engineers, along with educational and research institutions like the Johns Hopkins University of Applied Physics.

While corporations typically pay more than government agencies, computer engineers in the public sector often get to work in cyberdefense and other national security jobs.

Resources for Future Computer Engineers

What Is a Computer Engineer?

What Is a Computer Engineer?

This resource provides a deep dive into a computer engineer's job description, typical duties, and work environments.

Salary and Career Outlook for Computer Engineers

Salary and Career Outlook for Computer Engineers

The job outlook for technology professionals is bright. On this page, you can explore computer engineering career trends and earning potential.

Day in the Life of a Computer Engineer

Day in the Life of a Computer Engineer

Before you decide to become a computer engineer, learn more about a typical day on the job.

Computer Engineering Degrees

Computer Engineering Degrees

Finding an accredited computer engineering program marks the first step in your career journey. Explore your options here.

Questions About Becoming a Computer Engineer

  • How long does it take to become a computer engineer?

    The steps to become a computer engineer include earning a bachelor's degree and gaining work experience. A bachelor's degree takes around four years to complete.

  • What degree do I need to become a computer engineer?

    To become a computer engineer, you need at least a bachelor's degree. Many schools offer programs in computer engineering, but some candidates have backgrounds in electrical engineering or computer science.

  • What experience do I need to become a computer engineer?

    Computer engineering students take computer science courses to learn coding. They also complete internships to gain hands-on experience in the field.

  • Is it easy to become a computer engineer?

    Computer engineer education requirements are demanding but attainable. Students typically need a strong background in math and science. Graduates can pursue high-paying jobs in an in-demand field.

Page last reviewed Dec 1, 2022

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