Computers have come a long way since their lowly and humble beginnings in the earlier part of the 20th century. As such, so have careers in computing. If you have even a basic interest in computers, you’ve likely heard the term computer engineering before. However, hearing the name doesn’t exactly mean you know what it entails. Let’s discuss what computer engineering is, some examples of computer engineering careers, and how much these career paths can earn professionals.
Computer Engineering Explained
Computer engineering, often abbreviated as CoE or CpE, is often grouped together under the realm of electrical engineering. It incorporates a variety of different disciplines — including computer science and electronic engineering — to develop hardware and software for computers. Because of all the different disciplines included under the umbrella of computer engineering, those in the field typically train in hardware-software integration, software design, and electronic engineering.
On a day-to-day basis, computer engineers may find themselves doing any number of hardware and software tasks in computing. Whether it be the assembly of lone microcontrollers, the design of microprocessors, the setting up of personal computers or supercomputers, or even designing circuits, a good computer engineer can (and should) do it all.
When in school, students are often encouraged to hone in on one specific area of computer engineering as upperclassmen. This is because the true scope of the field is so vast that it’s best to focus on a small niche instead of trying to master it all. Additionally, many students have to go down the path of engineering and complete a couple years of engineering classes before they’re even able to focus on computer engineering at all — much less one of these niche studies.
History of Computer Engineering
The earliest known instance of computer engineering was all the way back in 1939. At the time, Inventors and Physicists John Vincent Atanasoff and Clifford Berry successfully developed the very first electronic digital computer. They did it with a combination of skills from the schools of physics, mathematics, and electrical engineering. This, in effect, was the birth of computer engineering. Their creation — the Atanasoff-Berry computer, or the ABC — led not only to the popularization of the digital computer, but also to the popularization of computer engineering as a field.
As the personal computer came onto the scene in the 1970s, and quickly rose to popularity in the years that followed, semiconductor technology and other chips led to a resurgence in the need for computer engineering. Naturally, it also led to an increased need in computer engineers. Thus, computer engineering education was born.
First established at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio in 1971, computer engineering degree programs rapidly spread throughout the United States and even Europe. A computer engineering degree effectively fostered a new legion of career professionals who could simultaneously handle hardware, software, firmware, and computer systems all at once. With this degree in mind, let’s look at some examples of a career in the field.
Computer Engineering Career Examples
The day-to-day of your average hardware or software engineer typically involves the designing, maintaining, and developing of operating systems. While hardware engineers shift their focus to the physical and software engineers on the virtual, both live and breathe by these systems that define their career in the field. Qualifications for hardware and software engineers include vast knowledge and heaps of experience working closely with computers and systems.
Additionally, hardware and software engineers need higher education. Typical requirements include a Master’s degree in addition to course after course for various training certifications. The starting salary averages around $77,000, with top earners easily surpassing $100,000 annually.
Computer Processor Design
Processor designers have one role, but it’s a seriously significant one: the creation and construction of processing units. (This could also include microprocessor design.) Looking deeper, computer processor design sees professionals choosing and defining sets of instructions for said processors. These instructions tell the computers to compute and manipulate data through registers, change or retrieve read/write memory values, and controlling the flow of programs. Given the complexity of the job, the sheer level of education needed for this career, and the vast number of requirements to succeed at computer processor design, the job’s starting salary averages $140,000 a year with top earners reaching $200,000 or more annually.
Another popular discipline under the umbrella of computer engineering is coding. Part of what makes it so appealing is the sheer number of different applications for coding. These days, with technological advancements present in innumerable industries, coders are in demand far and wide. From mastering programming languages to developing websites to creating apps and everything in between, an education in coding gives you the qualifications to enter into any number of different roles. Whatever course a career in coding takes, the starting salary typically clocks in around $55,000 a year but has the potential to reach six figures in due time.
While many of these other careers are established and have been that way for some time, computational science is one field that still sees itself growing and changing shape over the course of time. Requirements include developing mathematical and computational models that can be used to solve difficult problems in science, medicine, engineering, and beyond. Given the complexity of the job, the starting salary typically comes in around $70,000 with serious room for growth as experience increases.
A career in computer engineering often leads to work in robotics. What’s more, qualifications for a career in robotics typically involve multiple fields of computer engineering. Robotics experts take what they know about processor design, software and hardware engineering, machine learning, algorithms, and even user experience to create intelligent machines. While starting salaries vary depending on the kind of robotics computer engineers are involved with, salaries tend to start in the range of $60-80,000 and can eventually exceed $150,000 a year.
For those seriously skilled in computer engineering, there’s also the career path of quantum computing to consider. Defined by the harnessing of superposition, entanglement, and other properties of quantum states to create quantum computers that perform complex calculations. It’s a field that still sees itself developing rapidly, but one thing is certain: it’s unbelievably complex, and it requires education in physics, math, computer science, and more. Given the serious level of intellect required for the job, it’s not surprising that starting salaries begin around $100,000.