Computer hardware engineers research, design, develop, and test computer systems and components such as processors, circuit boards, memory devices, networks, and routers. By creating new directions in computer hardware, these engineers create rapid advances in computer technology.


Computer hardware engineers typically do the following:

  • Design new computer hardware, creating blueprints of computer equipment to be built
  • Test the completed models of the computer hardware they design
  • Analyze the test results and modify the design as needed
  • Update existing computer equipment so that it will work with new software
  • Oversee the manufacturing process for computer hardware
  • Maintain knowledge of computer engineering trends and new technology

Many hardware engineers design noncomputer devices that incorporate processors and other computer components and connect to the Internet. For example, there are many car parts with computer systems embedded in them. A growing number of medical devices are also designed by computer hardware engineers with a computer system and the ability to connect to the Internet.

Computer hardware engineers ensure that computer hardware components work together with the latest software developments. Therefore, hardware engineers sometimes work with software developers. For example, the hardware and software for a mobile phone are often jointly developed. Hardware engineers may also perform some basic computer programming and test computer code.

Work Environment

Computer hardware engineers held about 83,300 jobs in 2012. The industries that employed the largest number of computer hardware engineers in 2012 were as follows:

Computer systems design and related services 20%
Semiconductor and other electronic component manufacturing 17
Computer and peripheral equipment manufacturing 12
Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences 12
Navigational, measuring, electromedical, and control instruments manufacturing 7

Computer hardware engineers usually work in research laboratories that build and test various types of computer models. Most work in high-tech manufacturing firms.

Work Schedules

Most computer hardware engineers work full time. About 1 in 3 worked more than 40 hours per week in 2012.

Education and Training

Most computer hardware engineers need a bachelor’s degree from an accredited computer engineering program.


Most entry-level computer hardware engineers have a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering, although a degree in electrical engineering or computer science generally is acceptable. A computer engineering major is similar to electrical engineering but with a heavy emphasis on computer science curriculum.

Many engineering programs are accredited by ABET (formerly the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology). Employers may prefer students from an accredited program. To prepare for a major in computer or electrical engineering, students should have a solid background in math and science.

Because hardware engineers commonly work with computer software systems, a familiarity with computer programming is usually expected. This background may be obtained through computer science courses.

Some large firms or specialized jobs require a master’s degree in computer engineering. Some experienced engineers obtain a master’s degree in business administration (MBA). All engineers must continue their learning over the course of their careers to keep up with rapid advances in technology.

Other Experience

Some students participate in internships while in school to gain practical experience.


Some computer hardware engineers can advance to become computer and information systems managers.

Important Qualities

Analytical skills. Computer hardware engineers analyze complex equipment to determine the best way to improve it.

Creativity. Computer hardware engineers design new types of information technology devices.

Critical-thinking skills. These engineers use logic and reasoning to clarify goals, examine assumptions, and identify the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions to problems.

Problem-solving skills. Computer hardware engineers identify complex problems in computer hardware, develop and evaluate possible solutions, and figure out the best way to implement them.

Speaking skills. Engineers often work on teams and must be able to communicate with other types of engineers as well as with nontechnical team members.


The median annual wage for computer hardware engineers was $100,920 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $63,970, and the top 10 percent earned more than $150,130. 

In May 2012, the median annual wages for computer hardware engineers in the top five industries in which these engineers worked were as follows:

Computer and peripheral equipment manufacturing  $109,860
Semiconductor and other electronic
component manufacturing
Computer systems design and related services 101,510
Navigational, measuring, electromedical, and
control instruments manufacturing
Scientific research and development services 95,710

Most computer hardware engineers work full time. About 1 in 3 worked more than 40 hours per week in 2012.

Job Outlook

Employment of computer hardware engineers is projected to grow 7 percent from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all occupations. A limited number of engineers will be needed to meet the demand for new computer hardware because more innovation takes place with software than with hardware. Although declining employment in the manufacturing industries that employ many of these workers will negatively affect the growth of this occupation, computer hardware engineers should be less affected than production occupations because firms are less likely to outsource their type of work.

An increase in hardware startup firms and the increase in devices with computer chips embedded in them such as household appliances, medical devices, or automobiles may lead to some job growth for computer hardware engineers.

Job Prospects

Engineers who have a higher-level degree and knowledge or experience with computer software will have the best job prospects. Job applicants with a computer engineering degree from an ABET-accredited program will have better chances of landing a job.

For More Information

For more information about computer hardware engineers, visit

Association for Computing Machinery


For more information about ABET-accredited college and university programs in applied science, computing, engineering, and technology, visit