What Is Computer Engineering? Career Guide + FAQ

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Learn about computer engineering and how to become a computer engineer.

[Featured Image] A computer engineer in a gray T-shirt leans against a server tower.

What is computer engineering?

Computer engineering is a branch of computer science and electrical engineering. This field of study combines several disciplines to design and develop software and hardware systems. You can learn more about computer engineering and how to become a computer engineer in the following article. 

What's the difference between computer science and computer engineering? 

Although computer science and computer engineering are closely related, they have a few key differences. Both require critical thinking, problem-solving and communication skills, and technical expertise. However, computer scientists focus more on theorizing and developing ways to use software to solve real-world problems. They must be able to work with programming languages such as Python and Java.

Computer engineers typically work more closely with hardware and computer systems as a whole. Computer engineering students gain programming skills to assist with software design but generally focus their studies on disciplines like electrical engineering and physics.

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

What do computer engineers do?

Computer engineers work with all aspects of computer operating systems, from software to robotics. As a computer engineer, you’ll work closely with other engineers and programmers to design computer systems and test their functionality. You’ll remain current with the latest technology and update software and hardware to keep systems running smoothly.

Where do computer engineers work?

Computer engineering professionals work in research labs, private sectors, and federal, state, and local governments. To become a computer engineer, consider pursuing the specialization or focus area that interests you most. You can start researching engineering jobs by browsing job posts. Even if you aren't yet ready to apply, this exercise can help you understand the differences in responsibilities and pay from industry to industry.  

How much do computer engineers make?

The average annual salary for computer hardware engineers in the US is $139,088, according to Lightcast™ [1]. For computer engineers more broadly, Glassdoor lists an average salary of $95,375. This figure includes an average base pay of $89,920 and $5,455 in additional pay. Additional pay insights may include profit-sharing, commissions, and bonuses [2]. 

Read more: Computer Engineer Salary: Your 2023 Guide

How to become a computer engineer

Sixty-six percent of computer engineers have a bachelor's degree, 14 percent have a master's degree, and 11 percent have an associate degree [3]. Twenty-eight percent of computer engineers with a degree pursued a computer engineering major. Other relevant areas of study include computer science and electrical engineering. 

Read more: Types of Engineering Degrees: Your Guide

If you don't plan on earning a degree or are considering switching from another role, you may supplement your experience with certifications or engineering programs. Here is a beginner-friendly option you can use to build a strong foundation of computer engineering knowledge:

  • Introduction to Hardware and Operating Systems. This online, self-paced course can be completed in just 17 hours. By the end, you'll be able to identify and describe internal desktop and laptop computer components, interfaces, and peripherals. You'll also earn a certificate from IBM, an industry leader in technology.

Essential workplace and technical skills for computer engineers

  • Knowledge of operating systems

  • Understanding of computer network and hardware architecture

  • Digital and microprocessor engineering design

  • Debugging and troubleshooting

  • Strong written and verbal communication skills

  • Problem-solving and analytical skills

  • Critical and creative thinking

Computer engineering specializations

You can choose to specialize in a specific area of computer engineering by taking courses related to the field. A specialization shows prospective employers you have expertise in that field and can give you an advantage against non-specialized computer engineers vying for the same job. Focus areas to consider include computer communications and networking, software, architecture, and cybersecurity. For example, you can specialize in the Internet of Things (IoT) by earning a certificate in IoT Devices from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Engineering experience

The more experience you have as a computer engineer, the more employment prospects you’ll likely have. Internships and work-study programs can give you early career experience to list on your resume. You can find employment and internship opportunities via various job boards, including general employment boards like ZipRecruiter and sites specializing in technical jobs like Dice. Or, consider the following online, project-based course:

  • Build a Modern Computer from First Principles. In this guided program, you will build a computer using a software-based hardware simulator, just like real computers are designed by computer engineers! By the end, you'll have a project to add to your portfolio and a certificate for your resume.

Join professional organizations

Professional organizations can provide you with networking opportunities and keep you up to date on current industry events and news. Some organizations include the Association for Information Science and Technology and the Association for Computing Machinery.


Take the next step today with Coursera

Ready to continue expanding your computer engineering expertise? You can enroll in IBM's online, beginner-friendly course, Introduction to Hardware and Operating Systems, today. 

Article sources


Lightcast™ Analyst. "Occupation Summary for Computer Hardware Engineers." Accessed January 2, 2024.

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This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.