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How to Become a Computer Engineer

Home >> Career Search Article Directory >> How to Become a Computer Engineer

How to become a Computer Engineer

What computer engineers do

Computer engineering is a broad field that can encompass a combination of several electrical engineering and computer science disciplines which involve computer systems. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov, 2012) lists a number of computer-engineering-related fields, including many under the broader term of “computer and information technology occupations.” Each specialty is broken down as follows:

  • Computer and information research scientists create new technologies and apply new uses to existing technology. The computing problems they solve can be applied to numerous industries, including business, science and medicine.
  • Computer programmers write software programs with computer code, turning the designs created by software developers and engineers into a language that computers can understand and execute.
  • Computer support specialists are Information Technology (IT) workers who assist people with computer software and hardware problems at organizations. Their ranks include technical support specialists and help-desk technicians.
  • Computer systems analysts examine a company’s current computer-systems setup and suggest improvements. They are the link between the business and information technology sides of an organization.
  • Database administrators employ software to manage large sets of data in areas like finance and inventory management. They ensure that data is readily available and protected against cyber threats.
  • Information security analysts, web developers and computer network architects utilize information technology (IT) to help their companies. Security analysts guard against cyber attacks, web developers create websites to boost a company’s internet presence, and computer network architects design the internal networks used by a company’s employees.
  • Network and computer systems administrators oversee the daily functions of a company’s computer systems, working with local area networks (LANs), wide area networks (WANs), and other systems, to ensure network stability.
  • Computer hardware engineers are the problem solvers of computer hardware. Their research and development efforts are responsible for the leaps and bounds of progress made in computer technology.
  • Software developers function as designers in the world of computer programs. They help create applications people use on a computer or other digital device. Some may create the baseline software that operate and control various devices.

How to become a computer engineer

The path to becoming a computer engineer varies, depending on which area of specialization is chosen. But while the amount of education may differ, anyone interested in going into this field should likely have an aptitude for—and possibly have focused on in high school—computer science, computer languages, mathematics and statistics. Some college, at the minimum, is usually required to enter any of the areas while some occupations often require postgraduate degrees, the BLS reports. According to the BLS, the entry-level education required for each occupation is as follows:

  • Computer and information research scientists: A Ph.D. in computer science or a related subject is required for most computer and information research scientist jobs. 
  •  Computer programmers: Although most computer programmers have a bachelor's degree, an associate degree will suffice for some employers. Most programmers specialize in a few programming languages.
  • Computer support specialists: Due to the variety of skills required for this job, there isn’t just one way to enter the occupation. Some computer support specialist positions require a bachelor’s degree, whereas for others, an associate degree or postsecondary classes may suffice. Training programs are often offered after hiring. 
  • Computer systems analysts: A bachelor’s degree in computer or information science is common but not always necessary. Individuals with business or liberal arts degrees who can write computer programs may be hired as analysts by some firms. 
  • Database administrators: Database administrators usually have a bachelor’s degree in a computer-related subject. They usually bring relevant work experience to the position.
  • Information security analysts, Web developers and computer network architects: Most have a bachelor’s degree in a computer-related field; some areas require relevant job experience.
  • Network and computer systems administrators: These positions usually require a bachelor’s degree. Some jobs only require an associate degree or professional certification as well as relevant work experience.
  • Computer hardware engineers: A bachelor’s degree in computer engineering is common for most computer hardware engineers entering the field, but sometimes a degree in electrical engineering is acceptable.
  • Software developers:  A bachelor’s degree in computer science is typical for most software developers, as well as solid skills in computer programming.

More information about these professionals can be found at sources like the National Workflow Center for Emerging Technologies and the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM).

No guarantee of employment is implied by the previously mentioned educational and how to become steps. Additional licensing, certification or training may be required before employment.

Career outlook for computer engineers

Computers are a vital and necessary component in most people’s lives, and professionals in this field  made an annual salary between $50,000 median per year to over $100,000 as of May 2011 (BLS, 2012).

According to the BLS, the national median wage in 2011 for each occupation, followed by the highest 10 percent of earners nationally and the lowest 10 percent of earners nationally in 2011 (BLS.gov, 2012):  

Computer and information research scientists

$101,080 / Highest 10-percent: up to $151,660 / Lowest 10-percent: up to $56,800  

Career Outlook: Employment of computer and information research scientists is expected to grow by up to 19 percent nationally from 2010 to 2020 according to the BLS. There tends to be a shortage of these skilled workers, so computer and information research scientists are likely to enjoy excellent job prospects. 

Computer programmers

$72,630 / Highest 10-percent: up to $115,610 / Lowest 10-percent: up to $41,710

Career Outlook: The BLS reports employment of computer programmers is expected to increase by up to 12 percent nationally from 2010 to 2020. Because computer programming can be done remotely from any location in the world, companies often hire programmers in countries that offer lower wages.

Computer support specialists

$47,660 / Highest 10-percent: up to $81,190 / Lowest 10-percent: up to $28,980

Career Outlook: The BLS reports employment of computer support specialists is expected to grow by up to 18 percent nationally from 2010 to 2020. Those with bachelor’s degrees and a solid tech background should have the best job opportunities.

Computer systems analysts

$78,770 / Highest 10-percent: up to $120,060 / Lowest 10-percent: up to $49,370

Career Outlook: Employment of computer systems analysts is expected to grow up to 22 percent nationally from 2010 to 2020 according to BLS. As organizations rely more on computer systems, demand for these workers is expected to increase.

Database administrators

$75,190 / Highest 10-percent: up to $116,870 / Lowest 10-percent: up to $42,360

Career Outlook: Employment of database administrators is projected to grow up to 31 percent nationally from 2010 to 2020 reports the BLS. Swift growth in data collection by businesses, as well as the increased need for better database security measures, contribute to the growth of this occupation.

Information security analysts, web developers and computer network architects

$77,990 / Highest 10-percent: up to $124,860 / Lowest 10-percent: up to $42,770

Career Outlook: Employment of information security analysts, web developers and computer network architects is projected to grow up to 22 percent nationally from 2010 to 2020 says the BLS.  Job prospects for these various fields range from favorable to good.

Network and computer systems administrators

$70,970 / Highest 10-percent: up to $112,210 / Lowest 10-percent: up to $43,400

Career Outlook: Employment of network and computer systems administrators is expected to grow up to 28 percent nationally from 2010 to 2020 based on BLS figures. As firms invest in newer and faster technology, demand for these workers is strong and is likely to grow.

Computer hardware engineers

$98,610 / Highest 10-percent: up to $147,610 / Lowest 10-percent: up to $62,400

 Career Outlook: The BLS expects employment of computer hardware engineers to increase up to 9 percent from 2010 to 2020. This is slower than the average for all occupations. Because innovations in computers now occur more on the software side than on the hardware end, demand has decreased for new types of computer hardware.

Software developers

 $89,280 / Highest 10-percent: up to $136,490 / Lowest 10-percent: up to $54,980

Career Outlook: Employment of software developers is projected to grow up to 30 percent nationally from 2010 to 2020. The demand for computer software is driving the rapid growth in this occupation, states the BLS.

 

Quick Facts: Computer and Information Research Scientists

2011 National Median Pay   

  $101,080 per year

$48.59 per hour

Entry-Level Education         Doctoral or professional degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training    None
Number of Jobs, 2011       25,160
Job Outlook, 2010-20   19% (About as fast as average)
Employment Change, 2010-2020       5,300

Quick Facts: Computer Programmers

2011 National Median Pay

   $72,630 per year

   $34.92 per hour

Entry-Level Education       Bachelor's degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation   None
On-the-job Training     None
Number of Jobs, 2011    320,100
Job Outlook, 2010-20         12% (About as fast as average)
Employment Change, 2010-2020    43,700

          

Quick Facts: Computer Support Specialists

2011 National Median Pay        

   $47,660 per year

 $22.91 per hour

Entry-Level Education        Some college, no degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training    Moderate-term on-the-job training
Number of Jobs, 2011     632,490
Job Outlook, 2010-20          18% (About as fast as average)
Employment Change, 2010-20  110,000

Quick Facts: Computer Systems Analysts

2011 National Median Pay    

  $78,770 per year

  $37.87 per hour

Entry-Level Education     Bachelor's degree

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

None
On-the-job Training    None
Number of Jobs, 2011      487,740
Job Outlook, 2010-20      22% (Faster than average)
Employment Change, 2010-20        120,400

  Quick Facts: Database Administrators   

2011 National Median Pay

$75,190 per year

    $36.15 per hour

Entry-Level Education  Bachelor's degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation 1 to 5 years
On-the-job Training   None
Number of Jobs, 2011       108,500
Job Outlook, 2010-20     31% (Much faster than average)
Employment Change, 2010-20     33,900

Quick Facts: Information Security Analysts, Web Developers, and Computer Network Architects

2011 National Median Pay  

$77,990 per year

   $37.49 per hour

Entry-Level Education  Bachelor's degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation        1 to 5 years
On-the-job Training         None
Number of Jobs, 2011   272,670
Job Outlook, 2010-20       22% (Faster than average)
Employment Change, 2010-20          65,700

Quick Facts: Network and Computer Systems Administrators

2011 National Median Pay        

$70,970 per year

$34.12 per hour

Entry-Level Education  Bachelor's degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training  None
Number of Jobs, 2011 341,800
Job Outlook, 2010-20        28% (Faster than average)
Employment Change, 2010-20      96,600

Quick Facts: Computer Hardware Engineers

2011 Median Pay 

   $98,610 per year

$47.41 per hour

Entry-Level Education  Bachelor's degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training        None
Number of Jobs, 2011   71,990
Job Outlook, 2010-20      9% (Slower than average)
Employment Change, 2010-20     6,300

          

Quick Facts: Software Developers+

2011 Median Pay        

   $89,280 per year

 $42.92 per hour   

Entry-Level Education      Bachelor's degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training       None
Number of Jobs, 2011   539,880
Job Outlook, 2010-20     30% (Much faster than average)
Employment Change, 2010-20        270,900

 

Sources

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook: Computer and Information Research Scientists

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Handbook: Computer Programmers

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Handbook: Computer Support Specialists

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook: Computer Systems Analysts

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook: Database Administrators

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook: Information Security Analysts, Web Developers, and Computer Network Architects

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook: Network and Computer Systems Administrators

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook: Computer Hardware Engineers

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook: Software Developers

Association for Computing Machinery (ACM)

National Workflow Center for Emerging Technologies (NWCET)

Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics

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