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Computer Engineering Degree Programs

What Does a Computer Hardware Engineer Do?

Computer hardware engineers are responsible for the design, development and testing of electronic hardware for computer systems. Computing relies on a vast array of different hardware products. Computer hardware engineers develop the devices and technologies found at every physical point of the computing experience. This includes microstructures like the individual transistors used in a CPU, to the largest integrated systems used to power information systems, global networking, telecommunications and automated manufacturing. Literally every piece of computing hardware used today was at one time a plan in the mind of a computer hardware engineer.

Here are the core competencies of the computer hardware engineer job role:

  • Create original hardware components and/or complete devices for various industries
  • Analyze existing hardware and improve it through modifications
  • Ensure that hardware designs comply with international safety regulations
  • Implement new technologies into the creation of new products
  • Produce custom hardware for specialized users and industries (e.g., NASA)
  • Understand industry standards for computer hardware production

Computer hardware engineers can be found working in corporate research and design (R&D) departments, manufacturing and production plants, government science agencies, and in the Armed Forces. Hardware engineers must be able to effectively communicate with people in other departments, especially safety and quality personnel, marketing customer representatives, and technical writers who create documentation for new products. Hardware engineers must be lifelong learners, constantly updating their knowledge of new materials and processes.

Computer engineers often specialize in a particular family of computer hardware. Examples of such families include consumer computers like laptops, tablets and videogame consoles; integrated systems like those found in appliances, vehicles and other manufactured goods; networking components like routers, switches and wireless transmitters; and specialized hardware created for unique industries like aeronautics, shipbuilding and space exploration.

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What Education Do You Need to be a Computer Hardware Engineer?

Career seekers looking to get into computer hardware engineering will typically need a bachelor's degree in computer science or computer engineering. Some employers will also accept a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering, as there is a lot of commonality between the two disciplines. A bachelor's degree program in computer science or computer engineering typically takes four years of full-time attendance at an accredited college or university.

Another option is to take an associate degree program in computer science or electrical engineering. An associate degree program generally takes two years to complete, making it more affordable on average than a full bachelor's program. Another advantage of associate degree programs is that they usually offer more options for taking some (if not all) courses online.

Students looking to enter the industry at a higher level should consider a master's degree in computer science or computer engineering. A master's of science degree in one of these majors requires first earning a bachelor's degree, then attending up to three years of full-time graduate school studies.

Here are some examples of courses found in most computer science and engineering degree programs:

  • Microprocessors and microcomputers
  • Programming for embedded systems
  • Operating systems and systems deployment
  • Wireless networking
  • Information system security
  • Computer architecture
  • Digital signal processing
  • Semiconductors
  • Agile software development processes
  • Software testing and quality assurance

What Training Do You Need to be a Computer Hardware Engineer?

Being a computer hardware engineer requires being a lifelong learner, as hardware technology is constantly changing and evolving. After graduation, some engineers continue to update their skills and knowledge by taking additional courses and workshops. Some of these courses are of the traditional classroom variety, but more and more they are taken online as self-paced courseware or real-time classes led by an online instructor.

Hardware engineers also keep up-to-date by subscribing to technical publications, attending webinars offered by vendors and industry associations and actively participating in engineering communities and other peer groups.

One of the most popular industry associations for computer engineers is the IEEE Computer Society. This branch of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers is devoted to computer science and technology, and has offices in the US, Japan, China, India and Singapore. The IEEE Computer Society sponsors numerous technical conferences and events every year, and maintains a vast digital library for computer engineers looking for ongoing training resources.

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What is the job outlook for computer hardware engineers?

Employment opportunities for computer hardware engineers are expected to increase according to the BLS. The job market for these computing professionals is expected to see fierce competition from international markets in the coming years.

Job TitleProjected 2012-2022 Growth
Computer Hardware Engineers-U.S.3.1
Source: 2015 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2014-24 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.

An upshot of the outlook for this profession is that computer hardware engineers are most likely to find gainful employment in the computer systems design industry. The BLS reports that computer systems design and related services is expected to outpace most other industries nationwide in terms of growth.

What sort of salary can computer hardware engineers expect?

As is the case with many engineering professions, computer hardware engineers are likely to see larger salary figures than average, at the entry level and beyond. Here is one sample of data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

 

 

What Does a Network Engineer Do?

Computers keep people connected; network engineers are the people who keep computers connected. Network engineers design, set up, test and build local area networks (LANs), wide area networks (WANs), intranets, extranets and other networked information systems that are called upon to provide service to anything from a dozen PCs in a small business, to thousands of users connected to a global network. Network engineers are also commonly placed in charge of administering a network once it has been built, or to manage a team of network technicians to achieve this purpose.

Here are the core competencies of the network engineer job role:

  • Create designs for information networks based on client requirements
  • Plan and oversee the deployment and configuration of networking hardware
  • Install, configure, and maintain networking software as required
  • Create and manage disaster recovery and business continuity plans
  • Manage system backups and restores
  • Troubleshoot network issues and oversee any necessary repairs
  • Monitor network performance and implement improvements
  • Create server clusters for large data management systems (big data)
  • Manage network security in whole or in part with other experts

Network engineers are tech-savvy problem solvers who often spend hours in front of a whiteboard, brainstorming and visualizing complex solutions to all sorts of networking issues. They work in any number of environments, anywhere computer networks are found. Corporations, small businesses, nonprofits and community centers, every level of government from municipal to federal -- all of these groups either hire or contract network engineers to support their activities. Some engineers choose to work as independent contractors, while others join a service contracting agency.

Some network engineers specialize in designing, building and maintaining large data centers, specialized buildings that house hundreds or thousands of computers in highly controlled environments. Data centers are rated for their durability, their disaster-proof features (including the ability to survive catastrophic events like earthquakes and floods) and their overall capacity for hosting network and data storage functions.

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What Education Do You Need to be a Network Engineer?

The majority of network engineer positions call for a bachelor's of science degree with a related computer technology major. A bachelor's of science degree program generally takes four years of full-time attendance at an accredited college or university. There are some variances of this degree which will also be considered by employers, including the following:

  • Bachelor in Computer Science
  • Bachelor in Technology
  • Bachelor in Information Technology
  • Bachelor in Computer Information Systems
  • Bachelor of Networking Technology

It's also possible for candidates to get a start in the industry by earning an associate degree or a technical school diploma in one of the specialties listed above. Associate degree programs typically take less time and money than a bachelor's degree program, and can open the door to a junior networking engineer position.

What Training Do You Need to be a Network Engineer?

Computer networking usually requires having a large body of foundation knowledge, as well as working knowledge of networking software tools and platforms. A bachelor's degree program aims to cover a large portion of these two bodies of knowledge, but network engineers will often augment their schooling with additional training and by earning industry certifications.

Here are some of the core areas of foundation knowledge for network engineers:

  • TCP/IP networking
  • Network protocols and scripting
  • Local area network (LAN)
  • Wide area network (WAN)
  • Storage area network (SAN)
  • Virtual private network (VPN)
  • Routing and switching
  • Intranets and extranets
  • Wireless networking
  • Network design
  • Network monitoring and optimization
  • Networking security management
  • Networks and regulatory compliance

Network engineers typically work with networks built with Microsoft Windows Server, Unix, or an enterprise version of Linux.

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Network Engineer Salary and Job Outlook

What is the job outlook for network engineers?

Network engineers are also sometimes referred to as Computer Network Architects, which is how the BLS categorizes this job role. Demand for net engineers is expected to grow as companies continue to broaden and expand their use of traditional, wireless, and mobile networks.

What is the salary for network engineers?

The BLS has detailed salary statistics for the job role "Computer Network Architects", a common variation used for net engineers. The compensation for this job role continues to impress many candidates looking to enter the field.

Source: 2015 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2014-24 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.

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What Does a Cloud Engineer Do?

Cloud engineers, a subset of the larger category of network engineers, are responsible for designing, deploying and maintaining cloud networks and their related services. While network engineers and cloud engineers have more in common than not, there are some aspects of cloud networking that require more specialized knowledge and skills. Sometimes, as is the case with Internet giant Google, cloud networks are accessed by millions of users around the world on a daily basis. However, today's organizations are also deploying "private clouds" to provide services to their own employees, which help to enable today's more mobile workforce.

Here are the core competencies of the cloud engineer job role:

  • Design and build different cloud architectures, including public and private clouds
  • Oversee the creation and management of cloud service models, such as Software as a Service (SaaS)
  • Provide cloud client compatibility across numerous types of computing devices
  • Manage cloud security issues, which are often more complex than with conventional networks

Cloud-based services have grown in features, complexity and popularity in recent years. Early cloud-based service offerings were mostly based around communication, such as web-based email and online chat clients. These early cloud-based services were designed for the desktop computing paradigm which dominated the first half of the Internet's history. There are still plenty of web-based email services available today, but they are just one small piece of much larger cloud service offerings.

Cloud engineers can be found working for web companies that own and operate social media properties: Facebook, Tumblr, Ello and others. They are also hired by corporations to create private clouds for mobile employees to access work-related services when they travel. Most major software companies offer cloud-based storage services to their customers, such as Microsoft's OneDrive and Apple's iCloud.

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What Education Do You Need to be a Cloud Engineer?

Because they are a subset of network engineers, cloud engineers usually have similar education backgrounds. The majority of cloud engineers have a bachelor's of science degree with a major like the ones listed below:

  • Computer Science
  • Information Technology
  • Computer Information Systems
  • Networking Technology

A bachelor's of science degree typically takes four years of full-time study at an accredited college or university. Cloud engineers commonly start their careers in network engineering, and then move into the cloud engineering specialization. They may also transfer over from other related job roles such as database administrator or system analyst.

What Training Do You Need to be a Cloud Engineer?

Cloud engineers need all the skills and knowledge of a network engineer, along with additional skills relevant to the cloud computing specialization.

Here are some of the core subjects a cloud engineer may need to add to their skill set after graduation:

  • Public, private and hybrid cloud
  • Delivering Software as a Service (SaaS)
  • Cloud storage solutions
  • Deploying Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)
  • Creating and managing virtual servers
  • Cloud security strategies
  • Monitoring and optimizing cloud services
  • Microsoft Hyper-V virtualization
  • VMware vSphere virtualization
  • Linux virtualization

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What's the job outlook for cloud engineers?

Although people have been talking about "the cloud" for well over two decades, it's really been in the last 6-8 years that cloud technology has been leveraged by both the private and public sectors. The growth in cloud technology is reflected in recent job outlook statistics from the BLS:

Job TitleProjected 2012-2022 Growth
Computer Network Architects-U.S.8.7
Database Administrators-U.S.11.1
Network and Computer Systems Administrators-U.S.7.9
Source: 2015 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2014-24 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.

What's the salary for cloud engineers?

Job TitleBottom 10% Annual WageAnnual Median WageTop 10% Annual Wage
Computer Network Architects-U.S.56230100240155250
Database Administrators-U.S.4546081710127080
Network and Computer Systems Administrators-U.S.4746077810124090
Source: 2015 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2014-24 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.

 

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What Does a Big Data Engineer Do?

Big data engineers are responsible for developing, creating, implementing and maintaining large-scale data solutions for companies, universities, research laboratories and government agencies. This role comes with a challenging set of requirements. Big data engineers are experts in data warehouses, including all aspects of scalability, fault tolerance and disaster recovery. They are usually prolific in several software programming and scripting languages, including Java, Python, SQL and C++. They collaborate with other experts to create data analysis interfaces and other solutions.

Here are the core competencies of the Big Data Engineer job role:

  • Develop and oversee the building of big data hardware and software infrastructure
  • Support and maintain data systems; monitor performance and implement improvements
  • Translate business requirements into relevant system specifications
  • Create technical documentation for existing big data systems
  • Work with developers to create data analytic tools for users
  • Ensure that data systems are fully protected from disasters
  • Collaborate with network security experts to secure data systems

Big data continues to gain traction in the larger information system and technology industry. The rapid growth in mobile computing has exponentially increased the amount of data travelling across the Internet, and much of this data is valuable to researchers, marketers and national security organizations. Big data engineers are required to build and maintain the systems used to wrangle all of this information.

Big data engineers work for large Internet companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter. Many public and private scientific institutions require Big data systems to manage massive volumes of research and experiment data. Major online retailers like Amazon, Staples, Alibaba and Wal*Mart must collect and manage huge amounts of customer data. And of course, government departments and law enforcement agencies continue to have growing requirements for very large data solutions.

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What Education Do You Need to be a Big Data Engineer?

Big data engineers require a mix of network engineering, software programming and information system expertise. Because of this, most BD engineers move into their field after spending time in another career specialization.

The gold standard for education in this field is still a bachelor's degree of science with one of the following majors:

  • Computer Science
  • Computer Engineering
  • Information Technology
  • Computer Information Systems
  • Networking Technology
  • Software Engineering

Due to the high level of requirements for a BD engineer, it's not uncommon for employers to expect candidates to have a master's degree in computer science.

What Training Do You Need to be a Big Data Engineer?

A BD engineer is often responsible for designing and building the systems and platforms used by other big data workers. This activity typically requires knowledge and skills spanning several different technology areas, including networking, database management and software programming. To this end, engineers often need to beef up their university education with additional training.

Some of the subjects a BD engineer needs to have a working knowledge of include the following:

  • Network design and optimization
  • Server hardware and mass storage solutions
  • Data warehouse design and management
  • Data encryption and additional security
  • Database management system interfaces
  • Programming with R, Python, Java and SQL
  • Building and managing Hadoop clusters
  • Building interfaces for data analytics programs
  • Data collection and privacy laws
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What's the job outlook for big data engineers?

Due to the relative newness of the field and the vast and complex skill sets required, there is a widely reported shortage of all types of big data experts, including big data engineers.

Job TitleProjected 2012-2022 Growth
Computer and Information Research Scientists-U.S.10.7
Computer Network Architects-U.S.8.7
Computer Occupations, All Other-U.S.3.3
Source: 2015 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2014-24 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.

What's the salary for big data engineers?

As the job role of big data engineer is relatively new, there are no official salary numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as of 2013. Related statistics are challenging to report, as the big data engineer role encompasses multiple disciplines.

Job TitleBottom 10% Annual WageAnnual Median WageTop 10% Annual Wage
Computer and Information Research Scientists-U.S.64300110620170610
Computer Network Architects-U.S.56230100240155250
Computer Occupations, All Other-U.S.4532085240129700
Source: 2015 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2014-24 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.

When it comes to computer engineers, the most relevant professional IT certifications are offered by the vendors who make the most popular hardware and software tools and components used in the profession. Vendors who offer certification programs for their products include Microsoft, Cisco, Oracle and Red Hat Linux.

Other industry organizations who offer relevant computing technology certifications include CompTIA, IEEE and ITIL.

For software engineers, there are numerous industry certifications available for most popular programming languages, including Java, Python, C++ and Ruby.

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Sources
"15-1199.02 – Computer Systems Engineers/Architects," O*NET OnLine, 2015, https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/15-1199.02
"15-1132.00 – Software Developers, Applications," O*NET OnLine, 2015, https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/15-1132.00
"15-1133 Software Developers, Systems Software," U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2014, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes151133.htm
"Computer Hardware Engineers," U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2015, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/computer-hardware-engineers.htm
"Scaling the Facebook data warehouse to 300 PB," Facebook, April 10, 2014, https://code.facebook.com/posts/229861827208629/scaling-the-facebook-data-warehouse-to-300-pb/
"Beginner's Guide to Python," Python, December 17, 2014, https://wiki.python.org/moin/BeginnersGuide
"Principles behind the Agile Manifesto," Agile Manifesto, 2001, http://agilemanifesto.org/iso/en/principles.html
"The state of Agile software development in the UK," Computer Weekly, November 26, 2013, http://www.computerweekly.com/news/2240209932/The-state-of-agile-software-development-in-the-UK
The Perl Job Site, 2015, http://jobs.perl.org/
"College & Career Info," IEEE Computer Society, 2015, http://www.computer.org/web/students/career

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