What Is a Computer Engineer? 2024 Career Guide

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Learn about the career of a computer engineer, including what they do, their earning potential, and how to become one.

[Featured image] A computer engineer is coding on two computer screens.

Computer engineers combine knowledge of computer science and electrical engineering aspects to build and improve the capabilities of computers as well as enhance the functionality and accessibility of devices. Their primary role is to create developments in computers and computerized systems that power phones, cars, appliances, communication networks, and more. Typically, computer engineers work for computing companies in the tech field or in industries like automotive, government, aerospace, and telecommunications. Employing computer engineers allows companies and organizations to ensure they’re updated with the newest technologies, networks, and systems. Read on if you’re interested in becoming a computer engineer and whether this career path suits you. 

What is computer engineering?

Computer engineering is a multifaceted field, with specific duties and functions depending on the industry you work in and the needs of the hardware and software components. These processes typically involve designing, building, implementing, and continually maintaining different computer components. Successful computer engineers utilize principles from numerous fields like computer science and mathematics.

Read more: What Is Computer Engineering? Career Guide + FAQ

What does a computer engineer do?

Computer engineers design, develop, and maintain computer components and systems, often specializing in a particular area of computer engineering, including hardware, software engineering, and networks. Computer engineering is an evolving field, with certain specializations growing with the expansion of technologies such as artificial intelligence and robotics. 

Read more: Computer Science vs. Computer Engineering: How the Jobs Differ

Computer engineer tasks and responsibilities

Your daily responsibilities as a computer engineer vary depending on factors such as the industry you work in and your job description. Here are some common tasks computer engineers perform:

  • Designing, developing, and testing various computer hardware and software products

  • Developing and maintaining information technology components such as networking systems and circuits

  • Troubleshooting and testing system capabilities and analyzing results to make any necessary adjustments

  • Collaborating with developers, clients, technical support, and others to ensure the best product quality and compatibility between hardware and software

  • Researching advancements in relevant computer engineering methods and technology to improve innovation

What tools do computer engineers use?

Regarding engineering components, you can implement different tools to simplify the hardware and software development process. Here are some tools that computer engineers may use: 

  • GitHub provides a central location for sharing and collaborating on projects with other hardware and software engineers. It also has useful project management features used for performing code reviews. 

  • MATLAB is used to analyze and design systems with a matrix-based language. 

  • Computer-aided design (CAD) platforms are used by hardware engineers to visualize prototypes.  

Types of computer engineers

In the computer engineering field, there are different specializations to consider. Three common specializations are hardware engineering, software engineering, and network engineering. Here’s a further breakdown of each:

  • Hardware engineering: Hardware engineers design and build the physical, technological components of a computer, such as the memory storage or processor. They also perform important testing to see how the different components work together.

  • Software engineering: Software engineers rely on computer programming skills and engineering principles to design, create, test, and maintain software systems or applications. Software engineers differ from software developers because engineers contribute throughout the process, from initial design to implementation, whereas developers focus primarily on designing systems and applications.

  • Network engineering: Network engineers create and maintain computer network systems and communication systems. This involves designing network hardware and establishing protocols that allow local area networks and wide area networks to transmit data in a secure and efficient manner. 

Computer engineer salary and job outlook

As a computer engineer, your salary can vary depending on certain factors such as years of experience, education level, and industry. Here is a breakdown of average annual salaries in the US for different computer engineers, according to Glassdoor (as of March 2024): 

As the world continues to digitalize, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that computer engineers are in high demand with a faster-than-average job outlook compared to all other occupations. The following are projected job growth for the different types of computer engineers according to the BLS from 2022 to 2032: 

  • Computer hardware engineers: 5 percent [4]

  • Network engineers: 4 percent [5]

  • Software engineers: 25 percent [6]

Read more: Computer Engineer Salary: Your Guide

How to become a computer engineer

To become a computer engineer, you’ll need to meet both the education and skill requirements. Once obtaining those, consider earning certifications to ensure you’re equipped with the latest information and skills in your field. 

Education requirements

Computer engineering roles typically require at least a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering, software engineering, computer science, or a related field to qualify. Earning a degree from an Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) program is preferred by some employers and beneficial in ensuring you meet hiring standards set by the ABET. Continuing your education to earn a master’s degree is a great option for increasing your earning potential and career growth opportunities.

Technical skills 

Depending on the area of computer engineering you specialize in, certain skills are more relevant than others. Technical skills represent the practical aspects of your role, here are some valuable ones that computer engineers need:

Workplace skills

In addition to having strong technical skills, developing the following workplace skills can help you succeed in computer engineering. This type of skill contributes to how productive you are in a work environment, here are some to have: 

  • Creativity

  • Communication

  • Problem-solving

  • Critical thinking 

  • Analytical thinking

  • Teamwork

Certifications and other professional credentials

Earning a certification demonstrates your latest skills and knowledge in the field to your employer. Depending on the type of computer engineer you are, consider exploring the certifications that relate to your profession. Some jobs might require a specific certification, so it’s a good idea to research some job listings of roles you’re interested in before preparing for a certification exam.

Read more: Are IT Certifications Worth It? When to Get Certified in Your IT Career

Computer engineering careers come with numerous job titles and potential specializations. Beyond hardware, software, and network engineering, here are other job titles you may come across or choose to pursue during your career:

Read more: Top 5 Entry-Level Computer Science Jobs + How to Get One 

Getting started with Coursera

If you’re interested in starting a career in computer engineering consider the Computer Science: Programming with a Purpose from Princeton University on Coursera. This course serves as an introduction to basic programming principles in Java and object-oriented programming. If working in electronics engineering interests you, you can learn more about the components of electronics and their applications by taking Introduction to Electronics from Georgia Tech. Upon completion of either program, earn a shareable certificate to include in your resume, CV, or LinkedIn profile. 

Article sources


Glassdoor. “How much does a Hardware Engineer make?, https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/hardware-engineer-salary-SRCH_KO0,17.htm.” Accessed June 27, 2024.

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