Hardware Engineers


Exploring this Job

Read books and magazines about computers to keep up with the latest technology. Try to get an old computer, and then take it apart and study its components. Offer to help friends and family with computer problems or upgrades to learn what people need from their computers and what common problems they encounter.

Joining a science club, such as the Technology Student Association (TSA), provides students with a chance to explore career opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, enter academic competitions, and participate in summer exploration programs. TSA administers a competition that allows high school students to use their technology skills. The Tests of Engineering Aptitude, Mathematics, and Science (https://tsaweb.org/competitions-programs/teams) is an engineering problem competition.

The Job

Hardware engineers work with the physical parts of computers, such as CPUs (computer processing units), motherboards, chipsets, video cards, cooling units, flash drives, disk drives, storage devices, network cards, and all the components that connect them, down to wires, nuts, and bolts. They design parts and create prototypes to test, using CAD/CAM technology to make schematic drawings. Hardware engineers assemble the parts using fine hand tools, soldering irons, and microscopes. Parts are reworked and developed through multiple testing procedures. Once a final design is completed, hardware engineers oversee the manufacture and installation of parts.

Hardware engineers also work on peripherals, such as keyboards, printers, monitors, routers, mice, track balls, modems, scanners, external storage devices, speaker systems, and digital cameras.

Some hardware engineers are involved in maintenance and repair of computers, networks, and peripherals. They troubleshoot problems, order or make new parts, and install them. The workload changes daily, leaving some days more hectic than others. If a major problem cannot be solved over the phone, engineers must travel to the source. Solutions are not always simple; some require changing hardware or redesigning the system. Engineers often upgrade or rework systems in the early morning, late at night, or on weekends to minimize the disruption of work. Major network problems require a complete shutdown of the entire system.

Engineering professionals must be familiar with different network systems such as local area networks (LAN), wide area networks (WAN), among others, as well as programming languages (including hardware description language, which describes the digital circuits in hardware) suited to their company's needs. Since computer technology changes so rapidly, it is important to keep up with the development of new parts and the procedures for incorporating them into older systems as soon as they become available. Many work as part of a team of specialists who use elements of science, math, and electronics to improve existing technology or implement solutions.