Computer Engineering, like any other field of study or practice, is challenging. Classifying it as ‘hard’ depends on the time and effort one invests in it. It can be called difficult, but if you are interested in your chosen field, a little bit of hard work will take you where you need to be. If you feel that you can devote your time to this field, it would not seem difficult to you. Before that, you should know what it truly entails course-wise and about job prospects. It would be more comprehensive if we begin from the very basics and work our way up.
Is Computer Engineering Hard?
Computer Engineering, often abbreviated as CoE or CPE, is the branch of engineering responsible for combining several different fields of electronic engineering and computer science and then using them to develop computer software and hardware. The expertise of computer engineers spans from software design to electrical engineering along with hardware-software integration. Since computer engineers are taught to work on small and large systems, they are not only familiar with the internal workings of the system. Still, they are also aware of how the said system can be integrated into a larger system. Since computer engineering covers different fields depending upon the requirement and industry, it isn’t easy to define it completely. However, its applications can be divided into different criteria, doing the practices that fall under the wide umbrella of computer engineering easily distinguishable.
Fields Under Computer Engineering
Computer Engineering is divided into two fields, mentioned as follows:
- Computer Hardware Engineering
As the name suggests, computer hardware engineers work on developing computer technology by developing computer hardware. The hardware focussed on includes routers, memory boards, processors, and circuit boards.
The various responsibilities of a computer hardware engineer include:
- Creating Blueprints
- Designing Computer Hardware
- Modifying Designs
- Testing Models of Computer Hardware
- Updating Models of Computer Hardware
- Analyzing Test Results
- Computer Software Engineering
Computer software engineering comprises the development of computer systems software and computer applications software. The reliance on software engineers is increasing because of the rapid advancement of technology. Furthermore, since the economic landscape as we know it is constantly growing and changing, the need for technological solutions is increasing, increasing the demand for software engineers by extension.
A software engineer is expected to be adept at the following:
- Programming and Coding
- Design and Architecture
- Algorithms and Data Structures
- Debugging Software
- Testing Software
- Information Analysis
Software engineers are expected to see through the entire process of software development, making their involvement through training, testing, and debugging essential. There are two types of software engineers, namely, Systems Engineers and Applications Engineers.
- Systems Engineers. Systems Engineers are concerned with the maintenance and building of an organization’s computer system. their main focus is for the computer network to run smoothly which is achieved by coordination between different departments, analyzing needs, and setting up programs to link computer systems within the company.
- Applications Engineers. Application software consists of user-focused programs. Applications engineers develop programs and applications for organizations by adapting their software in accordance with the needs of the end-user. They are responsible for building, installing, and maintaining these applications.
Applications and Practice
Computer engineering is a dynamic field and has wide-ranging applications. Based on the different focuses under this field, the scope of practice and employment opportunities for computer hardware and software engineers vary.
- Computer Hardware Engineering
As per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the expected growth of employment opportunities for hardware engineers for the decade 2019-2029 was 2%, translating to 71,000 jobs. This growth was classified as ‘slower than average in comparison to other occupations. If we go by the 2014-2024 BLS estimate, this expected growth is a 1% decrease as it was 3% in the 2014-2024 term, with the total employment opportunities being 77,000. When one goes farther back to the 2012-2022 estimate, the decrease becomes more significant, as expected to be 7%.
- Computer Software Engineering
Computer software engineering has been included in one of the fastest-growing fields of employment. The expected growth of employment according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in the decade 2014-2024 was estimated to be seventeen percent, making that a total of 1,114,000 job opportunities. Even though this estimate is significantly higher than that of hardware engineers, it is a notable decrease from the ten-year period of 2012-2022, which estimated an increase of 22% in job opportunities for software developers. There has been a decline in BLS estimates for software engineers too. The estimate was 30% during the ten-year period from 2010 to 2020.
This decline can be attributed to the fact that even though software development and technological solutions are high, a significant proportion of the work is also outsourced to foreign countries for various reasons. So while the BLS estimate shows an expected increase, it is not as high as expected.
Since computer engineering is typically practiced as a part of larger product development firms, the practice in such cases might not need to be licensed. But in the case of individual consultants who advertise computer engineering, appropriate licensing may be required under state laws. In 2003, the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) became the first to offer a Principles and Practice of Engineering Examination for computer engineering.
The average annual salary of a computer engineer is estimated to be $87,897. With an impressive cash bonus to add to the salary, Computer Engineers are paid well for their skills, confirming that their expertise is in high demand.
The most common benefits for a computer engineer are as follows:
- Military Leave
- Health Insurance
- Bereavement Leave
- Paid jury Duty
- Tuition Reimbursement
- Referral Program
- Disability Insurance
- Employee Assistance Program
- AD&D Insurance
Skills Essential for a Computer Engineer
Certain skills are considered a basic requirement in the field of computer engineering. Along with obvious skills that comprise a good command of math, physics, and electrical engineering, there are several soft skills that you also need to imbibe to succeed as a computer engineer. These comprise:
- Analytical and Diagnostic Skills
- Problem-Solving Skills
- Knowledge of Machine Learning and Web Development
- Programming and Algorithmic Skills
- A Creative Outlook
The exact skills that you shall need would further be dependent on your job description. Many things you would learn on the job but make sure you prepare yourself with the above-mentioned skills beforehand. If you are resilient and have a strong desire to learn and grow, the tech industry will prove fruitful. Once you aim for flexibility and work on your problem-solving and critical thinking skills, you will exponentially increase your chances of success in the field of computer engineering.
Once you have made up your mind to pursue computer engineering, make sure you keep yourself from getting overwhelmed. Stress can run high based on the challenges you may face, making sure you always approach the problem with a level head and a fresh perspective. Your positive attitude will take you a long way, and the difficulties would become easy to brave.
Educational Qualifications Required
If you want to establish yourself as a computer engineer, a bachelor’s degree is vital. However, you may want to get a job directly after completion of your bachelor’s degree. In such a case, make sure you have a specialized degree at hand. For example, you can choose to do a degree in software engineering or electrical engineering with a concentration in computer engineering.
To candidates with bachelor’s degrees, software engineering jobs are more readily available than hardware engineering opportunities. While jobs for new graduates are available, higher-paying jobs are for comparatively better-qualified individuals. If you choose to opt for a postgraduate degree, a bachelor’s in mathematics or computer science would be a great foundation to build upon and aid you during your studies and the practical experience.
If you are looking to be a hardware engineer, an advanced degree becomes a necessity. A master’s degree can provide the skills needed to equip you for workplace experience at upper-level positions. In case you have already secured a job after graduation. Still, you plan to get an advantageous degree. Your employer may financially support you as your added skills would eventually add to the organization’s workforce.
Areas of Specialty
There are various branches in which a computer engineer can specialize. These include but are not limited to:
- Processor Design
- Communications and Wireless Networks
- Computational Science and Engineering
- Coding, Cryptography, and Information Protection
- Computer Systems: Architecture, Parallel Processing, and Dependability
- Signal, Image, and Speech Processing
- Computer Vision and Robotics
- Compilers and Operating Systems
- Computer Networks, Mobile Computing, and Distributed Systems
- Integrated Circuits, VLSI Design, Testing and CAD
If you pick Computer Engineering as your major, expect a curriculum that tests your analytical and algorithmic skills. Computer engineering, like any other engineering course, will require basic core maths courses. These will include calculus, linear algebra, trigonometry, differential equations, statistics, and probability.
There are also certain additional courses added to the computer engineering syllabus. Expect an introductory course on algorithms, Boolean algebra, and an introduction to signal to process. A proportion of the core courses would include electrical engineering topics like introductory and intermediate electronic circuits and circuit labs. Likewise, some core courses would also comprise computer science topics like programming and data structures, operating systems, etc.
The other core courses would be specific to computer engineering, including curriculum based on:
- Assembly Level Programming
- Computer Communications
- Computer Assisted Design
- Computer Architecture
- Digital Signal Processing
- Digital Circuit Design
- Embedded Systems
- Verilog/VHDL Coding
- VLSI Circuit Design
Why Choose Computer Engineering?
There has been a lot of debate about whether Computer Science or Electrical Engineering turns out to be better fields to make a career than Computer Engineering. In reality? There cannot be a comparison between the aforementioned fields simply because Computer Engineering integrates several aspects of both Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.
Computer Engineering requires a mind capable of logical reasoning and approaches digital problems with a technical mindset. Thus, even though a Computer Engineering course does not heavily rely on math, there remains a reliance on it. Students are also supposed to be well familiarized with programming and digital circuits.
If you feel that Computer Science and Electrical Engineering are both well-suited to you, you can choose to opt for computer Engineering, which combines the aspects of both these fields. If you feel inclined to pursue Computer Science or Electrical Engineering during the course of your study, you can easily switch paths without having to start from scratch. You can even opt for double majors if you feel confident that this is something you are interested in doing.
You may think a subject or a field to be hard, but that all depends on your outlook and investment in said field. For example, if you believe that you possess the analytical and problem solving-solving skills that are essential for a computer engineer and you feel that you can maintain command of programming and algorithmic skills, you should not hesitate before picking Computer Engineering as your field of expertise.
With the number of different areas you can specialize in, you can easily find your way if you focus on a set goal. While the course as a Computer Engineering student would be challenging, you can always rely on your determination and hard work. Even though the BLS estimates show a decline in job opportunities for both hardware and software computer engineers, there still is a prominent increase in job opportunities that you can take advantage of.
Returning to the question this article addresses, Computer Engineering is only hard if you perceive it to be hard. Therefore, make sure you choose this field because you are genuinely interested and determined to work hard. If you pick this field based on your interest, it will never seem hard to you.