Career Spotlight: Computer Engineer


By Gwen Myslinski

Computer EngineerDo you ever wonder how your computer, Smartphone and other digital "toys" got to be so "smart?" They aren't really smart; they were built with advanced technology by computer engineers.

Education and Training 

Computer engineers combine principles and techniques of engineering and computer science. However, it is more than a blend of the two fields; computer engineers understand cyber security, networking, design automation, machine intelligence, computer software, embedded systems, etc.

Hardware vs. Software

There are two major specialties in computer engineering: hardware and software. Computer hardware engineers generally research, design, develop and test computer equipment, while computer software engineers generally design, construct and maintain computer programs. Computer engineers require a basic understanding of both disciplines, but often times specialize in one or the other. Generally hardware is applied to items like computer chips, circuit boards, computers, telephones, modems, printers — anything that can be physically held. Software is designed to operate the hardware. Once it's designed, it needs to be constructed, tested and maintained then applied to the hardware it was designed for.

Job Outlook 

Computer engineers can expect to earn some of the highest starting salaries in engineering. For example, an entry level computer engineer's starting salary is estimated at $65,000 according to Graduates can work in fields that include: wireless communication, computer manufacturers, chemical companies, defense contractors, automobile control systems, telecommunications, consulting, transportation, games and toys, manufacturing, consumer goods, robotics, etc. The number of computer software engineers is expected to rise rapidly, while hardware engineers will increase, but not nearly as fast because, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, "more innovation in computers now takes place with software than with hardware."

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Classroom Discussion

  • Besides the hardware components mentioned above, what other critical items might you find in a standard household machine?
  • A bit holds one piece of information. What about a byte? Kilobyte? Megabyte?