What Does it Mean to Study Computer Engineering?
Computer engineers create objects and services that today's consumers often take for granted. Specifically, they design, construct, and test the computer systems we interact with every day. Since it's not unusual to find a computer engineer involved in anything from cars to toasters, a computer engineering degree could lead to work in many different industries.
The field was originally a branch of the larger specialty of electrical engineering. In recent years, however, computer engineering has emerged as a unique specialty. As a computer engineering major, you'll learn how to design and test the functionality of different hardware and software systems and components.
Types of Computer Engineering Degrees
Colleges and universities offer several levels of computer engineering degree programs. Since many professional computer engineers work online, particularly those engaged in software development, colleges and universities often can use the same technology to offer their degree programs via distance learning. Online computer engineering degrees allow working professionals added flexibility and convenience to help them balance their studies with their personal and professional obligations.
Students who aspire to a career in computer engineering need a strong foundation in math and science. Those interested in pursuing a degree in the field would do well to enroll in advanced math classes like trigonometry and precalculus while still in high school.
Certificate Programs in Computer Engineering Technology
A certificate in computer engineering technology program typically takes students less than a year to complete. These types of programs are usually used as an introduction to further studies at the associate or bachelor's degree level. Students may also earn a certificate while pursuing an undergraduate degree, showing that they have gained additional knowledge and competence in a related field. Certificate courses often include topics such as:
- Introduction to Computer Upgrades and Repairs
- Basics of Data Communications
- Introduction to Local Area Networks
- Software for Computer Technicians
Associate Degrees in Computer Engineering Technology
Colleges and universities typically restrict their associate degree offerings to computer engineering technology. During these programs, students place much of their focus on topics such as circuitry, networking, and electronic devices. There is generally a significant hands-on component to the program. Associate degrees take around two years to complete when studying full-time. Common courses at this level include:
- Essentials of Programming
- Fundamentals of Electrical Circuits
- Introduction to Electronics
- Ethics for Computer Engineering
Bachelor's Degrees in Computer Engineering
Building on the kind of basic coursework included in an associate degree program, bachelor's-level education in this field aims to deepen students' understanding of the key principles of engineering. At this level, liberal arts courses help a computer engineering major develop important critical thinking skills. A bachelor's degree typically takes four years of full-time study to complete. Although much of the coursework for these programs can be completed online, internships and cooperative learning experiences may be required. Bachelor's degree courses may include:
- Programming and Problem Solving
- Object Oriented Programming
- Calculus for Engineers
- Architecture and Organization for Computers
- State Machine Design and Logic
Master's Degrees in Computer Engineering
Computer engineering master's degree programs allow students to specialize further in the field. In many cases, students can focus their studies at this level, choosing to specialize in areas such as advanced electronics, networking systems, computer security, software systems, and more. Master's programs generally take two to three years of full-time study to complete, and often require the successful completion of a thesis. Courses at this degree level might include:
- Computer Communication Network Design and Analysis
- Broadband Architecture
- Artificial Intelligence
- Advanced Database Systems
Doctoral Programs in Computer Engineering
Ph.D. programs in computer engineering help students specialize for careers in research, government, or higher education. Students at this level often specialize further, choosing a topic area guided by their own interests. Additionally, they might choose a specific Ph.D. program based on the areas of research in which their school's faculty excels. Graduating from a doctoral program usually requires both completion of coursework and the successful defense of a dissertation. Courses vary by specialization, but may include:
- Advanced Algorithms
- Advanced Computer Architecture
- Advanced Embedded Systems and Software
What Can You Do With a College Degree in Computer Engineering?
Earning a computer engineering degree helps students obtain a set of core skills that translate to a variety of businesses and industries. With slight changes in electives or concentrations, computer engineers from the same graduating class could wind up in very different careers. Often working on teams with engineers and designers from other disciplines, computer engineers contribute to a wide variety of compelling projects. From designing new microchips to developing industrial robots, these professionals use their skills to help businesses and consumers solve all kinds of problems. Common career paths for computer engineering majors include:
Computer Hardware Engineers
Computer hardware engineers design and develop various types of computer hardware and systems. Once the hardware or system is developed, they run tests on their design and make modifications as needed. These engineers also update older equipment to ensure that it functions properly with new software and technologies.
- Minimum Educational Requirement: A bachelor's degree is usually required for entry-level positions as a computer hardware engineer. Many employers prefer candidates with a computer engineering degree, but those with related degrees in computer science or electrical engineering might also be considered. Larger firms may seek candidates with a graduate degree for advanced positions.
- Special Certifications or Licensures: Licensure is not always necessary, but a Professional Engineer (PE) license may help employment prospects. Licensing rules are governed at the state level.
Software developers are charged with designing and developing various computer programs and applications. They also test those designs to ensure that they function properly and meet the user's needs. While coding and programming is not their specialty, software developers must be able to effectively communicate with computer programmers throughout the process.
- Minimum Educational Requirement: A bachelor's degree in computer science or computer software engineering is usually required to obtain entry-level employment. A master's degree may be required for advancement at larger firms.
- Special Certifications or Licensures: A Professional Engineer (PE) license can be helpful but is not always necessary. Licensing laws and regulations are handled differently by each state. Professional certifications are available through some organizations, but may not be necessary for employment. Knowledge of certain industries outside computer science may be helpful in order to meet a client's specific software needs.
Electrical and Electronics Engineers
Electrical and electronics engineers focus on designing and developing other types of electrical equipment beyond computers. This might include GPS devices, MP3 players, communications systems, electrical motors, and more. Like other types of engineers, electrical and electronics engineers test their designs and make modifications as needed.
- Minimum Educational Requirement: A bachelor's degree in electrical engineering or a related field is required to gain entry-level employment. A master's degree could be beneficial for career advancement.
- Special Certifications or Licensures: Employers may prefer candidates with a Professional Engineer (PE) license.
A computer programmer works closely with software developers and engineers to create usable computer programs and applications. Computer programmers write the actual code that computers read to produce the desired results. They also test and amend their code as needed.
- Minimum Educational Requirement: To become a computer programmer, most candidates need a bachelor's degree in an area of computer science. However, some candidates with associate degrees may be considered.
- Special Certifications and Licensures: Certification in specific computer languages or vendor products is usually required.
Computer Network Architects
A computer network architect assists organizations by building communication networks for their computer systems. This includes intranets, local area networks (LANs), wide area networks (WANs), and more. They are also responsible for making sure network hardware is functional and current. Computer network architects work closely with a company's management team to ensure that these systems are meeting the needs of the organization.
- Minimum Educational Requirement: To become a computer network architect, candidates are typically required to have a bachelor's degree. Graduate degrees may improve prospects for employment or advancement.
- Special Certifications and Licensures: Certification for computer network architects is usually offered by specific vendors on their products.
Computer Engineering Salaries and Career Outlook Data
|Career||Total Employment||Annual Mean Wage||Projected Job Growth Rate|
|Computer Hardware Engineers||60,750||$117,840||6.1%|
|Computer Network Architects||152,670||$111,130||5.3%|
|Electronics Engineers, Except Computer||134,110||$107,930||-0.9%|
|Software Developers, Systems Software||405,330||$114,000||10.1%|
Computer Engineering Associations and Organizations
There are many professional organizations and associations that can assist computer engineering graduates throughout their careers with continuing education opportunities, certification, advocacy or other forms of assistance. Here are a few organizations to be aware of:
- National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) -- The NSPE promotes the interests of engineers across all practice areas. Although licensing is assigned through state governments, the NSPE assists members with resources that can help them earn and maintain their Professional Engineer (PE) licensure.
- Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) -- The ACM connects computing professionals, educators and researchers so they can share resources and improve the field of computing technology. The ACM also publishes peer-reviewed journals and a professional trade magazine.
- IEEE Computer Society -- The IEEE Computer Society maintains networking, information and career development resources for members of the global technology industry. They sponsor a variety of conferences each year and offer a number of certifications and credentials.
- Computer Hardware Engineers, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/computer-hardware-engineers.htm
- Computer Network Architects, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/computer-network-architects.htm
- Computer Programmers, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/computer-programmers.htm
- Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/electrical-and-electronics-engineers.htm
- Software Developers, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/software-developers.htm