What Do Computer Engineers Do?

What do you get when electrical engineering and computer science join forces? Computer engineering.
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Updated on April 5, 2024
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Computer engineering is a discipline that combines principles of electrical engineering and computer science. It focuses on developing and maintaining hardware and computer systems.

Computer engineers design, build, and test computer components and operating systems. They work on a wide variety of technologies, including microprocessors, circuit boards, software applications, input/output devices, robotics, and memory chips.

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A Day in the Life of a Computer Engineer

"My typical day as a computer engineer involves a mix of coding, testing, and brainstorming," said Volodymyr Yarymovych, lead data engineer at Reenbit.com. "Sometimes, I'm deep in lines of code; other times, I collaborate with teammates to find solutions to tricky problems. It's fast-paced and keeps me on my toes, but it's incredibly rewarding."

"A typical day for me might include writing, testing, and debugging software or developing new hardware and networking systems," said Taimur Iljlal, computer engineer and information security leader at Netify.com. "It's very satisfying to see products and systems come to life from the design phase."

Common Responsibilities of a Computer Engineer

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    Design and develop hardware and software
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    Integrate hardware and software components
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    Test and troubleshoot problems
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    Optimize system performance
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    Collaborate with other engineers, designers, and stakeholders
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    Research new technologies
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    Implement cybersecurity measures
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    Document designs, code, testing procedures, and project specifications

Where Do Computer Engineers Work?

Computer engineers work in research labs; for local, state, and federal government agencies; and all across the private sector.

"It's been a very rewarding career path for me," said Iljal. "I've had the privilege of working in some fascinating sectors, like fintech and cybersecurity."

Industries that rely heavily on the expertise of computer engineers include:

Computer Engineering Salaries

The median annual wage for computer hardware engineers was $132,360 in 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Additionally, software engineers and developers earned $127,260 a year. However, the top 10% of earners in these roles made over $208,000 and $198,000 a year, respectively.

A computer engineer's industry, employer, and job title can all impact their salary and job outlook, as illustrated in the tables below.

Hardware Engineering Salaries
Industry Median Annual Salary (May 2022)
Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences $163,150
Computer and peripheral equipment manufacturing $143, 640
Semiconductor and other electronic component manufacturing $131,950
Computer systems design and related services $129,460
Federal government $122,680
Source: BLS
Software Engineering and Development Salaries
Industry Median Annual Salary (May 2022)
Software publishing $134,430
Manufacturing $132,130
Finance and insurance $128,960
Management of companies and enterprises $127,880
Computer systems design and related services $112,510
Source: BLS

Computer Engineering Job Outlook

Jobs for computer engineers are projected to see average or above average growth in the coming years. Although many hardware engineering roles are projected to grow as fast as average, positions that focus more on research or software engineering may see significantly faster growth.

Salary and Projected Job Growth for Computer Engineers
Career Median Annual Salary (2022) Projected Job Growth (2022-2032)
Electrical or electronics engineer $104,610 5% (faster than average)
Software developer $124,200 25% (much faster than average)
Computer network architect $126,900 4% (as fast as average)
Computer hardware engineer $132,360 5% (faster than average)
Computer or information research scientist $136,620 23% (much faster than average)
Source: BLS

3 Cool Things Happening in Computer Engineering Right Now

You probably already know that without computer engineers, we wouldn't have smartphones or laptops. But the field goes well beyond the development of popular consumer electronics. Here are three wild things computer engineers have dreamed up recently.

Soft Robots

Researchers at North Carolina State University are making robots from soft materials (specifically, liquid crystal elastomer ribbons) that can be twisted into a loop. These robots are cool because they perform motions like flipping, spinning, and orbiting without the help of computers or humans — making it easier to map out unknown, complex environments.

Source: PNAS (2024)

Computer-Engineered DNA

Biomedical researchers in Germany have managed to engineer synthetic DNA segments that can be used to study cells and their reaction to medical interventions — a huge aid in important areas like cancer research.

Source: Nature Communications (2024)

Light-Wave-Powered Computer Chips

Engineers at the University of Pennsylvania have figured out how to make nanochips that use light waves instead of electricity. These chips could potentially make computers way faster and reduce energy consumption at the same time.

Source: Nature Photonics (2024)

"Being a computer engineer is all about using your creativity and problem-solving skills to impact the world. There are challenges along the way — like tight deadlines and technical glitches — but the feeling you get when you see your ideas come to life makes it all worth it," said Yarymovych.

"If you're passionate about technology and love a good challenge, this could be your perfect career path."