What is computer engineering? (Plus industries and skills)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 3 January 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Computer engineering is a multi-discipline role that combines computer science with engineering methodology. Understanding the meaning of computer engineering might help you determine if this career path is for you. Increasing your knowledge about computer engineering can help you develop a more comprehensive understanding of technology in your industry. In this article, we discuss what computer engineering is, the role of a computer engineer and the salary you can expect in this role.

What is computer engineering?

When considering the question, 'What is computer engineering?', it's important to understand its relevancy in technological industries. Computer engineering is a branch of engineering that combines electronic technology with computer science principles, to design hardware and firmware for different computer systems and modern technological devices. Students studying computer engineering learn how to design prototypes, implement microchips, circuits, processors, conductors and other components used in modern computer systems.

Computer engineers also learn to create firmware, a critical software program installed on a small memory chip within a hardware device. It provides instructions on how the operating systems and applications run the hardware. You can use firmware technology in a range of areas, including medical appliances, consumer electronics, aircraft, machine learning and artificial intelligence.

Related: Computer skills: definitions and examples

What does a computer engineer do?

Computer engineers have applications in various fields, including artificial intelligence, machine learning and the development of medical devices. A degree in computer engineering can lead to opportunities in the development of artificial intelligence, virtual reality, mobile apps, robotics or operating systems. Jobs are also available in companies of all sizes, from small start-ups to giant corporations. Computer engineer duties include:

  • researching software and hardware

  • creating and testing hardware components, such as microprocessors and circuit boards

  • writing and testing software for computers and mobile devices

  • managing operating systems

  • designing and testing robots

  • planning, setting up and testing networks

  • creating innovative programmable support

Related: IT skills: d**efinitions and examples**

How much does acomputer engineer earn?

Most computer engineers work full time, although you can work part-time, freelance or as a contract employee. Your salary can depend on your degree, experience and size of the company you work for. The specific role you take on and the industry you work in may also affect your pay. The national average salary for a computer engineer is £29,669 per year.

What are the requirements for becoming a computer engineer?

Becoming a computer engineer has various requirements, including:

Education

A bachelor's in computer science or a closely related subject is useful for most positions in this industry. You may want to choose a degree that focuses on a specific field like computer engineering, mathematics or electrical engineering, depending on your specific interests. A degree in computer engineering is also a solid starting point to pursue a master's degree.

Getting a master's degree in business administration, besides a bachelor's degree in computer engineering, might benefit an engineer interested in corporate leadership. Computer engineers may get master's degrees in computer science to further focus their skills on a particular field. A PhD is helpful if you have an interest in research or teaching positions.

Training

Many computer engineers' training takes place through hands-on projects, lab work or internships. Once hired, a computer engineer can get training from their employer on their specific processes and requirements. Computer engineers might also attend conferences and seminars to learn new skills. It's possible to learn about the latest innovations in computer frameworks, new programming languages and other technologies at a conference. You may also learn from your colleagues, build up a network of contacts and stay up to date on the latest industry trends.

Get relevant certifications to showcase your skills

Computer engineers may learn various software, hardware and programming languages by obtaining multiple certifications. Here are specific examples of certifications for computer engineers:

Cisco

Cisco provides certificates at distinct levels for computer engineers at various phases of their careers. It includes the Cisco Certified Network Associate, which teaches installing, monitoring and troubleshooting Cisco infrastructure products. A Cisco Certified Network Professional can take part in network planning, implementation and troubleshooting. Cisco Certified Design Professional teaches students advanced routeing protocols and integration methodologies.

Microsoft

A Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator (MCSA) certification demonstrates expertise with Microsoft systems, such as SQL 2016, Azure and Universal Windows Platform. The company offers the Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer (MCSD), which requires candidates to be proficient and knowledgeable in Microsoft Systems and helps them to further specialise in development.

Professional Software Engineering Master Certification

This certificate shows expertise in twelve areas, including software engineering, management and quality control. To get this certificate, applicants pass two exams administered by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). Ensure this is relevant to your chosen field before pursuing this certification.

Certified Information Security Manager

Offered by a non-profit called ISACA Professional Association, this certification shows that an engineer can design and oversee information security systems. To get this certification, applicants have at least five years of experience in information security and pass an exam. Those who get this certification can renew it every three years and they might require you to submit verification of continuing education.

Skills required to be a computer engineer

Computer engineers also need many soft and hard skills that allow them to work effectively. Here are some examples:

Programming and coding

Computer engineers can be familiar with programming in various languages, including JavaScript, Python, SQL, C++ and HTML. While it's not expected to be fluent in all of them, most engineers are proficient in one or two programming languages. Some languages may be more relevant to your specific tasks than others.

Related: Technical skills: definitions and examples

Analytical

A computer engineer's job requires them to identify a problem, develop a solution, implement the resolution and troubleshoot the outcome. This can require a rigorous examination of each element and a detail-oriented approach to completing a task. This skill is usually one that develops during your studies.

Communication

Engineers collaborate with clients, supervisors, team members, marketing departments and other technical employees. Open and transparent communication helps all team members understand a specific plan or instructions. A successful project may be far more likely to succeed if all stakeholders are clear about their responsibilities.

Teamwork

Computer engineers collaborate with researchers, designers, systems experts, testers, salespeople and marketing personnel to launch products or work on projects. Software engineers can share tips for getting input and ideas, take responsibility for tasks and collaborate with team members on all projects. Knowing how to communicate complex technical concepts to a variety of different people is useful in this career path.

Computer engineer work environment

The environment of a computer engineer can allow you to work remotely outside of a traditional office setting. Computer engineers can expect a highly technical job environment, working with computers, laptops, mobile phones and tablets. If you specialise in hardware, you may also manage keyboards, circuit boards and monitors. Computer engineers can collaborate with other engineers, technical specialists and customers in their work, either physically or virtually. You may sit at a desk for lengthy periods while working at a computer.

Industries for computer engineers

Computer engineers may find a job in different sectors and can work in a variety of capacities. Here are some examples of industries where computer engineers can find work:

  • software or hardware organisations

  • defence contractors

  • aeronautical firm

  • federal government

  • financial enterprise

  • healthcare industry

  • gaming and entertainment businesses

  • research institutions

  • educational institutions

How to become a computer engineer

Here are some steps you can take to become a computer engineer:

1. Undertake an undergraduate degree

Pursuing a bachelor's degree in education can be helpful for entry-level positions in computer engineering. Consider studying engineering, computer science or a closely related field. This can be useful if you want to specialise in a computer engineering field, such as big data analytics or networking. Sometimes, a master's degree may be preferable. A doctorate degree can help you develop a career in research or education.

2. Gain work experience

It's helpful to have some experience in technology before applying for a computer engineering job. You may show your abilities to operate in the industry by gaining experience as an IT support expert or computer technician. Consider doing an internship throughout your undergraduate career to get practical experience and establish crucial industry contacts.

3. Earn certifications

You can pick from various software, hardware and security certificates from corporate or third-party organisations. These can show your proficiency with multiple programming languages, operating systems and software testing methodologies. If you have a preferred industry, research what's expected of computer engineers in this field to start effectively developing your career.

4. Create a CV

List your education, skills and work experience in chronological order, starting with the most recent and relevant. Include the names of the companies and the duration of your employment. Also, include technical abilities like computer languages and soft skills like communication or teamwork. If you have earned any certificates, add them to your CV.

5. Search for positions

Find a job in your desired industry and location. Ensure that you meet the job's basic requirements and follow the application guidelines to ensure hiring managers see your CV and cover letter. It might be beneficial to personalise your application materials to the position to differentiate yourself from other applicants.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries‌ ‌may‌ ‌‌vary‌‌ ‌depending‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌hiring‌ ‌organisation‌ ‌and‌ ‌a‌ ‌candidate's‌ ‌experience,‌ ‌academic‌ background‌ ‌and‌ ‌location.‌

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