How to Become a Computer Engineer

This article provides in-depth information into What is a Computer Engineer? What Computer Engineer do? Degrees for Computer Engineer, Steps to become Computer Engineer and much more.


What does a Computer Engineer do?

A computer engineer works in varied roles including development, deployment and maintenance of computer systems, networking and infrastructure. Computer engineers work with hardwares and softwares ensuring that both are seamlessly integrated and functioning properly. 

Computer engineers use their extensive knowledge of computer programming and hardware and software design to make computing applications and platforms more efficient and effective.

There are two main avenues for computer engineers: hardware and software engineering. Software Engineers create, test and debug applications and programs that run on computers, mobile devices and more. On the other hand, hardware engineers work on computer components and systems, designing circuit boards, microprocessors, routers and other embedded devices.

 There are many career options for computer engineers right from robotics to wireless networks and operating systems to aircraft design. 

Steps to become a Computer Engineer

With the increase in demand for technological advancements, the need for qualified, trained and skilled computer engineering professionals have also increased.  Following are the steps to become a computer engineer:

Step1. Associate Degree

For students who cannot afford to attend a four years bachelor’s degree program initially may opt for an associate degree program in computer engineering or related IT field. Community colleges and trade schools offer associate degree programs in computer science and other IT fields. When applying for an associate’s degree program in computer science, students must ensure the courses they complete in their two years are transferable to a four years bachelor’s degree program. This can save up time as well as money. 

Step2. Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

A Bachelor’s degree program is the basic requirement for most entry level jobs in computer engineering. The common curriculum will include coursework in data structures, programming, software design and systems analysis. It will also consist of advanced training depending on the chosen curriculum which may include enterprise architecture, software quality and testing, R&D and artificial intelligence. While choosing a program, students must ensure that the program is accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET).

Step3. Work as an Intern

While pursuing bachelor’s degree programs, it is important that students intern with companies to gain work experience and to know how the industry works. Students pursuing degree programs in computer engineering may intern with companies that design and implement products such as operating systems, middleware, computer games and utility applications. Students may opt to intern with non tech companies that use computer technologies for their operations like billing, inventory and payroll. Students can gain experience as IT support specialists or computer technicians before landing a real job in computer engineering. An internship during college is a great way to get hands on experience and make connections in the industry. 

Step4. Get Certified

Although certification is not mandatory, students who opt for certifications along with their bachelor’s degree program have better chances of landing a job early. There is an array of hardware, software and security certifications from corporations and third party organizations. These certifications will help you demonstrate your expertise in different programming languages, operating systems and software test procedures.

Step5. Land a Job

Most computer engineers land an entry level job in computer engineering after completion of their bachelor’s degree program. Students must locate job openings in their desired industry, ensure that they meet the minimum qualifications for the job and follow the application instructions so that hiring managers receive their resume and cover letter. 

Step6. Higher Studies

Those that are interested in software engineering may find entry level software engineering jobs but better  paying positions management jobs typically come with a master’s degree. Mostly hardware engineers pursue a master’s degree or those that want to rise to management or leadership roles pursue a master’s of business administration degree program. The pay increases once you have a master’s degree to  your credit. For those that want to teach in colleges and universities can opt for doctorate programs or can opt for working with IT firms as Chief technology officer or as IT strategist.

Types of degrees for Computer Engineer

Associate Degree

Students can select two educational paths at the associate degree level. They are: Electronics and Computer Technology or pre-engineering with a computer and electrical engineering emphasis. Associate degree program in Electronics and computer technology offers carreer focused program that allows students to either continue their education at bachelor’s degree level or they are made eligible to land an entry level job in the field of computer engineering after graduation.

While pre-engineering is designed primarily for students who want to pursue a four year’s bachelor’s degree program in computer engineering. Both the programs introduce students to fundamental principles in computer engineering and electronics design, including programming, communications and networking, electronic systems, computer hardware and software, electronic systems, instrumentation and maintenance and repair. Depending on the school, these programs typically take 2 years or require 65 -72 credit hours to graduate. 

Bachelor’s Degree

There are three primary degree formats at the bachelor’s level- Bachelor of Science in Computer Science and Engineering (BSCSE), the Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering (BSCE), and the Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering Technology (BSCET). While the curriculum varies by program type, each program features a balanced approach to the study of computer engineering with an emphasis on the design, integration and support of computer hardware, software and network systems.

The curriculum is divided between general education and computer engineering classes and typically requires 120 to 128 credit hours to successfully complete the program. The aim of the program is to develop the foundations of technical skills in students. Students study programming languages, databases, electro-mechanical systems and computer and network architecture.

Master’s Degree

Master’s degree in computer engineering is designed either for those who want to pursue higher studies or those that want a career advancement. Depending on the student’s professional and educational goals, there are two programs at master’s degree level to choose from - Master of Science in Computer Engineering or a Master of Engineering in Computer Engineering.

While master’s of science is a research based program requiring students to complete independent research that culminates with a thesis project, master’s of engineering is a professionally focused program aiming to allow students opportunities of exploring professional interests both within and outside the field of computer engineering. Master’s degree typically requires 30 to 33 credit hours which is equivalent to two years of full time study to be completed successfully and allows students to concentrate their program in specialized areas like hardware and computer architecture, software,cyber security, computer communications and networks to name a few. 

Doctoral Degree

Those that want to pursue a career in academia, applied research and the government, may pursue doctoral degree programs in computer engineering. In order to pursue a doctoral degree program in computer engineering, students must complete their master’s degree and an additional 32-36 credit hours. Areas of study in a doctoral program are determined by student’s interest and faculty research areas. This area of interest may cover a multitude of aspects in computing theory, software, hardware and computing applications. Earning a PhD in computer engineering includes a research examination, comprehensive examinations, a dissertation and a successful defense of the dissertation before a graduate jury.

  • Online computer engineering degrees and schools: One of the major benefits of online degree programs is convenience. Through online programs, students can gain industry specific skills and prepare themselves for the professional world. Below are the three factors that students should keep in mind while opting for online degree programs in computer engineering:

  • ABET Accreditation: While choosing an online program for computer engineering students should ensure that it is accredited by The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, Inc (ABET). ABET reviews multiple criteria of computer engineering programs including curriculum, student performance, student outcomes, faculties, facilities and resources.

  • Faculty experience and professional background: the caliber of the department's faculty and instructors determine the quality of the program and subsequent success rate of the students. For an online degree program in computer engineering students should review carefully each faculty member’s background, education and professional experience. Students should opt for programs where faculty members have real world or research experience in their field of interest.

  • Specializations and breadth of Instruction: Students should review the curriculum of each potential program so as to ensure they are provided with fundamental instruction in both electrical engineering and computer science. Students should also examine the progression of learning.

Concentrations to consider for Computer Engineering

Following are the program concentrations for computer engineering:

Associate Degree

the most important concentrations during associate degree are:

  • Networking and Internet Technologies: this subjects introduces students to the fundamentals of networking including database concepts, database design and client-server programming. Students learn SQL and other internet applications.

  • Object Oriented programing: This subject teaches students about object oriented design programming languages, data manipulation, sorting, algorithm analysis, design, and implementation. Students learn a few programming languages like C++ and Java.

  • Data Communication and Networking: It teaches students the fundamentals of C language including structure, style and operators. Students learn about algorithm programming, UNIX, PHP, and the C language.

Bachelor’s Degree

Following are the concentrations to consider during bachelor’s degree:

  • Applied programming: This subject concentrates on the study of computer programming design that has applications to engineering problems. Students also learn about mathematical operation

  • Mobile App Development: In this subject students learn about the fundamentals of mobile application including platforms, design and programming. Students basically learn about mobile application platforms, user interface, mobile software development kits etc.

  • Embedded Systems: This concentration provides knowledge of the components of embedded systems including assembly language programming, computer organization and processing. Students also learn about I/O interfaces, Computer organization, assembly language programming and multi thread programming

  • Advanced Programming: this subject broadly studies the C language including structure, style and operators. Students also learn the introduction to programming design in regards to problem solving. Students learn to use INIX, PHP and other C languages.

Master’s Degree

Following are the concentrations to consider during the master’s level:

  • Distributed Computing: students learn about distributed computing with an in-depth study of information processing. Students are taught about the Byzantine Agreement, resource allocation

  • Advanced Computer Networks: students learn the principles and protocols used in network systems, including wireless, mobile, data centre and internet networks. Students learn about complex network systems, network visualization and mobility issues.  

  • Computer architecture: This concentration is an advanced study of the organization of computer systems, functionality, design and performance. Students learn about high-performance processors, memory hierarchies  and quantitative analysis

Job concentrations for computer engineers

Software Developer

Software developers are familiar with a host of programming languages and frameworks such as NET, C++,  Java. Software developers are responsible for coding and testing computer programs, designing and developing new applications, updating existing applications and documenting processes. 

Network and computer system administrators

Network administrators are responsible for administering corporate network services, coordinating network upgrades, analyzing network performance and managing network security. Network administrators have experience with protocols and fundamental principles of LAN and WAN operations.

Computer Network architects

Computer Network architects are commonly known as network engineers. They identify the business requirements for corporate data and voice networks. They are responsible for installing networks, system backup, security and network enhancement. They make recommendations for improving and maintaining network performance.

Big data

Engineers who deal with big data are responsible for harnessing and transforming data into unseeable, actionable insights. This has led to a revolution in the computer science and engineering world.

Nanotechnology

Computer working in nanotechnology explores new techniques to design and manufacture electronic components which are increasingly smaller, faster and more reliant computing systems. Nanotechnology merges with mechanical engineering, material science, electrical engineering, biology and applied physics.

Stand out skills for a computer engineer

To be successful, computer engineer must possess both hard and soft skills which are as follows:

  • Analytical: A computer engineer has to be detailed oriented and must be meticulously analytical since their job includes identifying problems, developing a solution, implementing the solution and trouble shooting the result.

  • Teamwork: Computer engineers work in a team with designers, testers, system experts, security experts, researchers, marketing employees, sales team to launch a product. This is where teamwork comes into play. Computer engineers must be able to accept responsibilities, delegate work and share ideas with all team members. 

  • Programming and coding: It is important for computer engineers to be fluent in  a few languages because they need to code in multiple languages such as python, java, javascript, SQL etc. Although it is not necessary to know all the languages, it is important to know at least a few of them. The more languages they know, the better it is for the advancement of their career.

  • Time Management: A computer engineer has to often juggle between several projects or multiple aspects of one large project. They should know the importance of time and be good with time management so that they are able to prioritize tasks, make and adhere to deadlines and create timelines for work completion.

  • Good Communication Skills: Computer engineers work with various people like clients, managers, teammates, sales and marketing teams and technicians and hence it is important to have clear and open communication. Computer engineers must be able to use non technical terms so that the communication process remains open even with those unfamiliar with the tech industry. 

Computer Engineer Salaries

Computer Engineer