How to Start a Computer Engineering Career in 5 Steps

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated August 28, 2022 | Published September 29, 2021

Updated August 28, 2022

Published September 29, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

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A career in computer engineering involves designing and developing new components for computer systems. There are many specialties and different paths within the computer engineering field. If you're interested in computer science, learning more about what it is and what you might do can be beneficial. In this article, we explain what computer engineering is, what computer engineers do, the steps you can follow to become one, different specialties you may choose, and tips for success.

Related: 13 Jobs You Can Get With a Computer Science Degree

What is a computer engineering career?

A computer engineering career is a profession that focuses on the design and development of new computer components. This can include planning, building, implementing, and maintaining various programs and hardware. For example, a computer engineer may develop new hard drives that can hold more data or help to promote network security within a company or business.

Computer engineer responsibilities

Computer engineers are engineers who have received training in electronic engineering and computer science. They build computer hardware, design computer software and integrate the software with hardware. They can work in a variety of fields and industries, including embedded systems, design automation, cybersecurity, networking, machine intelligence, and biomedicine. Common responsibilities of computer engineers include:

  • Design computer systems and components

  • Build hardware and develop software

  • Operate within research laboratories

  • Research advances in technology

  • Integrate technological innovations

  • Improve functionality for computer systems

  • Troubleshoot computers and networks

Related: A Guide to Computer Science Jobs

How to become a computer engineer

You can follow these steps to become a computer engineer:

1. Determine if it's the right career path for you

The first step to beginning your career in computer engineering is determining if it's the best career path for you. Those who are passionate about science and technology can succeed as computer engineers. If you prefer to avoid doing math or operating logical equations, becoming a computer engineer may not be the best career for you.

2. Discover computer science and learn the basics

Before pursuing a formal education or seeking internships, consider discovering computer science and learning the basics on your own. You can find information and educational videos on the internet and watch them learn the fundamentals of computer science. Consider learning code and practising on your own to develop your skills.

3. Pursue a degree in computer science

Though a degree in computer science or engineering may not be necessary for a position in the field, some employers may prefer that you have at least a bachelor's degree in a related field. Attending university can also be beneficial, as it allows you to develop your skills and learn more advanced computer science. In college, you may also begin developing relationships with other students and professors.

4. Consider completing a computer internship

During summer breaks or while taking classes, consider completing a computer science or engineering internship. Internships can help you network and develop your professional relationships. You may also further refine your computer skills while completing a relevant internship. Consider choosing a program with a company that specializes in your interests to determine what your specialty may be.

5. Develop your specialty and choose a career path

Depending on your specialty and computer interests, you may need to pursue an advanced degree before choosing a career path within computer science. To develop your specialty, consider your interests, what you're best at, where you want to live, and how much you would like to earn in your position. Some careers within computer engineering earn higher salaries than others, and some positions are more in-demand depending on the city you live in.

Related: 14 Computer Science Salaries and Jobs (With Common Duties)

Important skills for computer engineers

These are some important skills computer engineers may need to be successful:

  • Critical thinking: As a computer engineer, critical thinking allows you to identify problems and propose solutions. For example, a software engineer may need to suggest solutions for fixing an error within a program's code.

  • Technical knowledge: Computer experts must understand coding languages, specialized computer components, the basics of software development and how to operate various systems and applications. A passion for computers can help you develop the technical knowledge you need for success.

  • Collaboration: It's likely that you may need to work with other computer professionals when designing and developing projects. Other coders may test your work and provide feedback on how to remove errors, making communication and teamwork important abilities.

  • Organization: Many projects within computer engineering require several tasks and working parts to operate efficiently, making organization skills important. Understanding how to categorize and separate tasks and materials can help a computer expert be successful.

Related: Developing Proficient Organizational Skills

Specializations in computer engineering

There are many specialized career fields that involve computer engineering, such as:

  • Computer systems design: This field involves the development of the hardware and software of computer systems. Both hardware engineers and software engineers work in this field using an educational background in computer engineering, mechanical engineering, or electrical engineering.

  • Robotics: Robotics is the design and maintenance of robots. This field involves a combination of computer engineering, electrical engineering, and mechanical engineering. Coursework for degrees in robotics usually covers areas like robotic simulations, human-machine interaction, navigation systems, and control systems.

  • Wireless systems design: Wireless systems design is the creation of wireless connections between computer systems and the physical world. In this field, professionals use computer engineering and electrical engineering to develop new sensors and discover new ways to communicate with them, supply energy to them and harvest energy from their wireless signals. This field creates innovations for many industries, such as communications, robotics, health care, and energy.

  • Aircraft design: Aircraft design is conceptualizing a design, testing it, and then adjusting design details. We use computer engineering with other types of engineering, such as mechanical engineering, to develop an aircraft. With increasing automation in aircraft technology, computer engineering significantly affects many key areas in aircraft design, such as safety and performance.

  • AI design: Artificial intelligence, or AI, is the study and development of computers that can perform advanced actions and learn without the direct instruction of an engineer. Those working in AI design strive to develop technology that can function similarly to a human brain.

  • Cybersecurity: A cybersecurity expert protects networks and programs from malicious attacks that outside sources may launch to disrupt operations or gain access to sensitive information. These experts make it more difficult for outside sources to gain access by encrypting data, locking information, and implementing systems that can monitor user activity.

  • Database development: This is designing, creating, and improving organized collections of data. Experts who work in database development strive to make information storage and retrieval more accurate and efficient.

  • Interface design: An interface is the user access point for a program in which you can make selections and begin processes. Interface engineers create simple and accessible interfaces that allow users to take advantage of their systems.

  • Telecommunications: Computer engineering and telecommunications specialists in research to develop new methods of communication. They may also provide maintenance for internet services and develop systems for monitoring and facilitating communications.

  • Software engineers: A software developer contributes to the creation of a program or application by writing code and building the pieces of working software. They perform rigorous testing and improve programs before delivering them to the client or releasing them to the users.

Related: How Much Do Computer Scientists Make? (With Common Duties)

Tips for success in computer engineering

These are some helpful tips you can use to be successful as an expert in the computer engineering field:

Develop your computer application materials

Aim to build your portfolio through volunteering or internships while you study so you have an impressive employment history when you apply for jobs. You can share your designs for computer software or hardware with senior computer engineers, ask for feedback, and use constructive criticism to improve your designs.

Invest in building a strong resume by doing the research and using the best formatting advice. There are several formatting tips for building a winning resume, such as using an unordered list format to showcase the work experience you gained in each job and using verbs to introduce each list item in your employment history section.

Related: How To List Computer Programming Skills on Your Resume

Focus on innovation and original design

Computer engineering is an industry that keeps changing according to recent developments, so it is essential to keep your output relevant. You can use the innovations in computer science you have learned in your hardware and software designs. Many computer experts choose to pursue a personal project outside of their regular jobs to develop original innovations, which can help to set your career apart from others. If you're interested in entrepreneurship, consider starting your own software or computer project.

Create a plan for achieving career goals

Having clear and actionable goals can make it easier to take action that advances your career. Consider your ambitions and determine what you would like to achieve with timelines and steps you can take. Pursue the education and skill credentials you need to become eligible for managerial positions while you work if that's part of your career goals.

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