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Computer Hardware Engineer

Computer hardware engineers design and develop computers and the computerised parts of other appliances. These include computer chips, circuit boards, displays, sensors, keyboards, modems, printers and test equipment. They are involved with the mechanical, electronic and electrical components of computers and computer systems such as processing units, memory and storage, data cabling and switching.

On a day-to-day basis, hardware engineers work on the original design of computer components and systems. They use computer software to help in digital design and specifications. They may also:

  • design microchips, printed circuit boards and embedded systems
  • be responsible for testing and identifying any problems.

Computer hardware engineers work normal hours Monday to Friday. They usually work at a computer terminal.

Salaries range from at least £18,000 to more than £50,000 a year.

Computer hardware engineers should:

  • have strong technical skills
  • have good interpersonal and communication skills
  • be adaptable and able to pick up new techniques
  • be able to work on their own or in a team
  • like solving scientific and technical problems in a logical manner.

Employers of hardware engineers include:

  • computer manufacturers
  • telecommunication companies
  • electronics companies
  • computer software manufacturers
  • large organisations such as financial and retail companies.

The most common route into this work is with a relevant honours degree, such as computer engineering, electronic engineering or computer systems engineering.

It may be possible to enter with a BTEC Higher National Diploma/Certificate (HND/HNC) or foundation degree in a subject such as electronic engineering or computer systems engineering.

As an alternative to entering with a degree or HND/HNC, it may be possible to start at basic computing or technical support level and progress to become a computer hardware engineer. One entry route may be an IT and Telecoms Professionals Apprenticeship.

Training is generally on the job. Hardware engineers may register with the Engineering Council as an Incorporated Engineer (IEng) or Chartered Engineer (CEng), depending on their level of qualification.

Hardware engineers may choose to specialise in a technical, hands-on role or move into management. They may also become consultants or move into marketing, sales or training. Some become self-employed and work as contractors. Work abroad is possible.

What is the work like?

Computer hardware engineers are responsible for designing and developing computers and the computerised parts of other appliances. These include computer chips, circuit boards, displays, sensors, keyboards, modems, printers and test equipment. They are involved with the mechanical, electronic and electrical components of computers and computer systems such as processing units, memory and storage, data cabling and switching. This is a challenging and highly technical role.

On a day-to-day basis, hardware engineers work on the original design of computer components and systems, using computer software to assist in digital design and specifications. They may also:

  • design microchips, printed circuit boards and embedded systems
  • be responsible for testing and identifying any problems.

They can be found in the following areas:

  • working in a manufacturing environment, producing, installing and testing new components and systems
  • working in research and development, turning original designs and ideas into actual products
  • supervising the manufacture and installation of computers and computer-related equipment.

Computer hardware engineers can either work on their own or as part of a team, which usually consists of IT professionals, such as computer software engineers/developers and programmers.

In some organisations, a computer hardware engineer is responsible for the maintenance and advanced technical support of the company's internal hardware.

Hours and environment

Computer hardware engineers work normal hours Monday to Friday. Additional hours may be required to meet deadlines, which may include evenings and weekends.

It is usual to work at a computer terminal in an open plan office environment or in a workshop. The job may involve a limited amount of travelling to different sites. A driving licence would be useful.

Salary and other benefits

These figures are only a guide, as actual rates of pay may vary, depending on the employer and where people live.

  • The average starting salary may be at least £18,000 a year.
  • With experience, engineers may earn between £25,000 and £40,000 a year.
  • Some engineers earn in excess of £50,000 a year.

Skills and personal qualities

Computer hardware engineers should:

  • have strong technical skills
  • have good interpersonal and communication skills
  • be adaptable and able to pick up new techniques
  • be able to work on their own or in a team
  • be able to work to tight deadlines, handling complex information
  • be thorough and precise in their work, enjoying troubleshooting and problem solving
  • be able to pay attention to detail
  • be able to handle more than one problem or task at the same time
  • be able to use their initiative
  • have logical and enquiring minds
  • have good eyesight and normal colour vision.

Interests

It is important to be interested in:

  • keeping up to date with advances in computers
  • solving scientific and technical problems in a logical manner.

Getting in

The number of hardware engineers has decreased over the past few years. They are employed throughout the UK but with a higher concentration in London and south-east England. Employers include:

  • computer manufacturers
  • telecommunication companies
  • electronics companies
  • computer software manufacturers
  • large organisations such as financial and retail companies.

Competition for graduate trainee posts is high.

Vacancies may be advertised in local and national newspapers and in publications such as ComputerWeekly and Computing. They may also be advertised on the internet by employers and recruitment agencies.

Entry routes

The most common route into this work is with a relevant honours degree, such as computer engineering, electronic engineering or computer systems engineering. Entry to these degree courses is usually with at least two A levels, preferably in mathematics and scientific subjects. Other relevant qualifications may be accepted, either on their own or in combination with A levels. They include:

  • AS levels and applied A levels
  • BTEC National and BTEC Higher National qualifications
  • Access courses
  • the International Baccalaureate
  • the Advanced Diploma in engineering
  • a foundation degree.

Candidates should check prospectuses carefully, as the content of courses and entry requirements can vary considerably. Degree courses usually last three years full time or four years for courses that include a year's practical work placement. The Institution of Engineering and Technology offers undergraduate engineering and IT scholarships to provide financial support for prospective and current students.

It may be possible to enter this work with a BTEC Higher National Diploma/Certificate (HND/HNC) or a foundation degree in a subject such as electronic engineering or computer systems engineering. Entry to these courses is usually with at least one A level or equivalent.

As an alternative to entering with a degree or HND/HNC, it may be possible to start at basic computing or technical support level and progress to become a computer hardware engineer. One entry route may be an IT and Telecoms Professionals Apprenticeship.;

Training

Training is generally on the job and includes in-house training courses and working for qualifications through professional bodies and private sector suppliers.

Hardware engineers may register with the Engineering Council as an Incorporated Engineer (IEng) or Chartered Engineer (CEng), depending on their level of qualification. Registration can open up further employment opportunities.

To qualify as an Incorporated (IEng) Engineer individuals should have either:

  • an accredited honours degree in engineering or technology
  • or an HNC/HND or foundation degree in engineering and technology plus appropriate further learning to degree level
  • or an NVQ Level 4 that has been approved by a licensed engineering institution.

To qualify as a Chartered (CEng) Engineer requires a relevant honours degree plus further learning at Masters degree level.

Both incorporated and chartered engineers must have completed a period of initial professional development that includes training and professional engineering experience. They must also pass a professional review with an interview.

Continuing professional development (CPD) is important for computer hardware engineers for them to keep up to date. CPD activities may include structured reading, and attending training courses and conferences.

Getting on

Computer hardware engineers may choose to progress by specialising in a technical, hands-on role or by moving into management. Career structures vary between organisations.

Experienced computer hardware engineers can also use their business experience and knowledge to seek employment as consultants, offering specialist computer engineering services. They may also move into marketing, sales or training, or become self-employed and work as contractors.

There may be opportunities to work abroad.

Further information

British Computer Society (BCS), First Floor, Block D North Star House, North Star Avenue, Swindon SN2 1FA. 01793 417417. Website: www.bcs.org

Engineering Council UK (ECUK), 246 High Holborn, London WC1V 7EX. 020 3206 0500. Website: www.engc.org.uk

e-skills UK, 1 Castle Lane, London SW1E 6DR. 020 7963 8920. Website: www.e-skills.com

The Institution of Engineering and Technology, Michael Faraday House, Stevenage, Herts SG1 2AY. 01438 313 311. Website: www.theiet.org

Women's Engineering Society, c/o The IET, Michael Faraday House, Six Hills Way, Stevenage SG1 2AY. 01438 765506. Website: www.wes.org.uk

Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0.

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