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What is Computer Engineering? An Overview

By DeVry University

February 1, 2024

7 min read

 

If you have an interest in information technology or have always been intrigued by the functionality of computer hardware, you may want to prepare to pursue a career in computer engineering. But what exactly is computer engineering, and what does a computer engineer do? In this article, we will answer those questions and do our best to describe the technical and workplace skills this important IT role requires as well as the potential job outlook for this role.

Computer Engineering/Computer Engineering Technology: A Problem-Solver’s Career

The field of computer engineering/computer engineering technology combines electrical engineering/technology and computer science to develop new technology. In a field that focuses heavily on research and development, testing, and quality assurance, computer engineers participate in the creation of robotics, networks, and other computer-based systems. It’s a field that may have a strong appeal to technology enthusiasts who consider themselves to be problem-solvers.

What Does a Computer Engineer Do?

Whether specializing in software, hardware, or network engineering, computer engineers perform a multi-faceted role that varies according to an organization’s technology goals and requirements. 

Software engineers concentrate on computer programming and application development. They also participate in software design, creating and maintaining a broad range of software systems that might include everything from operating systems, to the applications in smart phones, to enterprise solutions.

Hardware engineers design, develop and maintain the physical components of computer systems. This encompasses processors, memory and storage devices. Hardware engineers ensure that all computer hardware components are working together seamlessly to deliver the desired functionality and user experience. This is referred to as system integration.  

Network engineers are responsible for planning, designing and maintaining networks and communication systems. Their mission is to ensure the secure and efficient transmission of data across local and wide-area networks and the internet.

Continually adapting to an ever-changing information technology landscape, computer engineers frequently expand their knowledge of engineering technology into emerging fields that include cyber security, digital logic design, power management, and computer architecture.

How to Become a Computer Engineer

If you’re preparing to pursue a career in computer engineering/engineering technology, the career path includes several key steps, including education, industry-recognized certifications and work experience.

Education in computer engineering

Many positions in computer engineering technology require a bachelor’s degree in computer science or a related field. Some computer engineers might earn a master’s degree to specialize their knowledge in a particular subject, and all engineers will need to continue education throughout their careers to keep up with ever-evolving technologies.

If you’re just starting out in the pursuit of a computer engineering technology or related career, a bachelor’s degree is a good way to begin your journey. At DeVry, our Bachelor’s Degree in Engineering Technology can help you gain practical experience for the engineering field, including building your knowledge of systems, processes, technical operations and preparing you to respond to real-world situations. Coursework in this online program curriculum covers communication of methods and findings, collaboration and complex problem-solving, digital literacy, industrial IoT, machine learning, automation and control, and more. At DeVry, we also offer an Associate Degree in Engineering Technology.

Computer engineering certification

In many areas of IT, industry-recognized certifications may benefit entry-level job seekers and experienced professionals alike. Here’s a partial list of resume-boosting computer engineering/engineering technology-related certifications:

CompTIA A+: Covering computer engineering topics like operating systems, hardware systems, operational procedures, mobile and networking devices, this widely-held certification verifies skills with 2 rigorous exams.

• Certified Information Security Manager (CISM): The CISM is for computer engineers who want to focus their careers on network security. CISM covers security risk management, incident management, information security governance and information security programs.

• AWS Certified Machine Learning, Specialty: Intended for data scientists, cloud architects or anyone who performs artificial intelligence and machine learning using the AWS cloud. Certification candidates provide solutions for business problems using AWS services.

Some foundational and early-career computer engineering/computer engineering technology certifications are:

PCEPTM - Certified Entry-Level Python Programmer: A well-recognized certification throughout the industry, this credential validates the holders skills in programming in Python, which is a programming language that is utilized across many applications.

• CompTIA Security+: Cyber security professionals need to know how to look for and prevent vulnerabilities with devices, systems, and applications. This certification gives holders the foundational skills to perform a variety of security functions as well as verify their abilities in risk analysis, operational technology and automation.

Gaining experience in computer engineering

Before applying for entry-level jobs in computer engineering, you should try to gain some experience in the field via an internship. While you’re still in school, consider an internship program to obtain hands-on experience in a real-world work environment. Internships are also a great way to make valuable industry connections, which can be beneficial at any stage of your career.

Computer Engineering Skills

To be effective, computer engineers need a medley of technical skills (also referred to as hard skills) and soft skills (also called workplace or interpersonal skills). Together, these competencies allow computer engineers to do their work with technical proficiency while thriving in environments that require teamwork and collaboration.

Technical skills

Microprocessors and circuitry: It is essential for computer engineers to be knowledgeable in these components, as they make up the foundations of computer systems. This knowledge is essential in understanding how to generate electrical currents and transfer information physically.

Quality assurance and testing: To ensure components and systems function correctly, engineers do a lot of testing. A solid foundation in this skill allows them to emphasize major functions, such as cyber security, and find appropriate workarounds for the minor issues as they arise.  

Digital signal processing: Modern data storage, the internet and speech and video processing depend on digital signals. Computer engineers develop the systems that allow data to be transferred via wireless communications, making this an essential technical skill.

Operating systems: Because their job often requires the integration of hardware with software, computer engineers need to have extensive knowledge of operating systems like Windows, MacOS and Linux. 

Soft skills

Communication: Strong communication skills allow computer engineers to collaborate more effectively with other team members, and also to interact with other employees, managers and stakeholders. Because they may be required to regularly communicate with non-technical stakeholders and make technical topics understandable for these audiences, computer engineers can expect their written and verbal communication skills to be tested and refined over time.

Problem-solving: Often balancing performance with the cost or availability of resources, these engineers need to be skillful problem-solvers when faced with flaws in systems and the resulting need to find alternative ways of achieving desired outcomes. 

Critical thinking: The ability to conduct testing and alterations in a product’s design requires objectivity as well as tenacity. This skill enables computer engineers to engage in the kind of outside-the-box thinking that brings forth new perspectives and methodologies.

Analytical skills: Achieving a desired result often requires multiple rounds of testing and careful analysis of the test data. Locating local issues within a larger system requires engineers to conduct testing, record the data and then analyze the results. 

Computer Engineering Job Outlook

Jobs for computer engineers can be found in a wide range of industries. Companies hire computer engineers for a mixture of projects varying in size and complexity. Tech giants like Apple, Google and Microsoft employ them, as well as telecommunications firms like AT&T and Verizon, and automotive industry players like Tesla and General Motors.

Will there be an increased need for computer engineers in the coming decade? The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects employment of computer hardware engineers to grow 5% from 2022 to 2032, faster than the average for all occupations, with about 4,600 job openings for these professionals projected each year, on average, over the decade.1 This growth is projected on a national level and local growth will vary by location. This projection is not specific to DeVry University graduates and may include earners at all stages of their careers.

The BLS attributes this growth to the need for engineers to design parts for manufactured products that use processors, such as appliances, automobiles and medical devices. As new technologies expand, however, the BLS notes that an expected rise in software innovation may temper the demand for hardware engineers.

Prepare to Pursue Your Computer Engineering Career with DeVry

If you’ve been considering a career in computer engineering technology/engineering technology, DeVry can help get you started. Our online Bachelor’s Degree in Engineering Technology will help prepare you to apply the skills, knowledge and techniques required to solve a variety of technology problems in today’s business world. 

Fortified by DeVry’s decades of experience in technology education and designed to meet the needs of 21st-century engineering technologists, this hands-on program delivers a curriculum that is aligned with today’s relevant industry certifications and accredited by the Engineering Technology Accreditation Commission (ETAC) of ABET.

Concerned about the time it may take to earn your degree? At DeVry, choose the schedule that best fits your professional goals and busy life. You can earn your bachelor’s degree in as little as 2 years and 8 months2 on an accelerated schedule, or 4 years on a normal schedule. Classes start soon.

2Per 12-month period, accelerated schedule assumes completion of 3 semesters, enrollment in 12-18 credit hours per semester and continuous, full-time year-round enrollment with no breaks. Normal schedule assumes completion of 2 semesters and full-time enrollment in 12-18 credit hours per semester.

1Growth projected on a national level. Local growth will vary by location. BLS projections are not specific to DeVry University students or graduates and may include earners at all stages of their career and not just entry level. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/computer-hardware-engineers.htm

2Per 12-month period, accelerated schedule assumes completion of 3 semesters, enrollment in 12-18 credit hours per semester and continuous, full-time year-round enrollment with no breaks. Normal schedule assumes completion of 2 semesters and full-time enrollment in 12-18 credit hours per semester.

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