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What Skills May You Need to Become a Computer Engineer?

As a whole, the IT industry is experiencing an increased demand for skilled workers.  Two notable careers in this sector are computer hardware engineering and computer software engineering.  According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, hardware engineering jobs are expected to increase by 9 percent from 2010 - 2012, while software engineering jobs are projected to increase by 32% – they are both indispensable parts of the IT whole.  What is the difference between the two jobs?  What do they do?  What skills do they require?  Read on to find out.

Hardware Engineering and Software Engineering: What They Are and What They Do

Simply stated, a computer hardware engineer designs, creates, tests, and debugs hardware – the actual chips, boards, wires, and other devices that make up your computer and the various accessories that go along with it.  This includes keyboards and printers.  A computer software engineer designs, builds, tests, and debugs the programs and applications that your computer runs – things like word processors and the browser you are probably using to access the Internet.  A software engineer can also make customized applications for specific businesses.

Both engineers use technology to meet a specific goal.  The goals are often quite different, and the means of meeting them are very different as well.  While computer hardware engineers works to improve the physical components of a computer system, a software engineer would use his or her skills in programming, program design, and analytics to write a new application or refine an existing one.

Essentials Skills for All Computer Engineers

Admittedly, hardware engineering and software engineering are separate jobs, yet they require similar capabilities and traits.  Are you interested in a computer engineering career?  Below are a few qualities that will prove helpful in either job.

  • Creativity.  Part of either job is solving technical problems – see more about that later – and to do this, you’ll need to think in a different way.  While engineering is not considered among the traditionally “creative” professions like writing, acting, and art, being able to apply some creative thinking will help tremendously.
  • Education.  Most computer hardware or software positions require at least a bachelor’s degree in computer science (or another technical area) or engineering.
  • Curiosity.  Being driven by curiosity as to how and why things work will help you endure some of the drier aspects of engineering and computers, and it will also motivate you to find new and better solutions to problems.
  • Attention to Detail.  Often in computer work, it is the smallest details that make all the difference.  For example, a single missed word or punctuation mark could cause a program to run erratically.  Being detail-oriented will help you avoid making these mistakes and also help you to spot them later on.
  • People Skills.  Most computer engineers work as part of a team.  Good communication skills – within your team and department and with others – will help you understand the needs of your company or clients. 
  • Logic.  Computer technicians have to rely on logic to plan out programs and build hardware circuits – after all, a disorganized mess is much less likely to work than a clearly defined and orderly process.  Logically arranging things also makes them easier to understand and alter at a later time.
  • Problem Solving Skills.  Much of computer engineering work is resolving problems – technical, electrical, logistical, and many others.  Problem solving skills are more than highly admired; in this field, they are necessary.

If you think that either computer hardware engineering or software engineering is a good choice for you, now is the time to learn more about the profession.  You can keep reading the articles in this series to do just that.