How to Become a Computer Engineer in 5 Steps

Discover how to be a computer engineer. Find out how long it takes to become a computer engineer, the important skills required, computer engineering education, and employment-related information. Schools offering Computer Engineering degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What is a Computer Engineer?

Computer engineers, who are sometimes called computer software engineers or software developers, are trained professionals who work with software applications and systems software. You may also design, maintain and expand computer programs that run the overall computer system for a company. Fulfilling the requirements to be a computer engineer can be detailed in the following steps:

  • Completing your education and training
  • Pursuing certification
  • Acquiring work experience
  • Joining a trade association
  • Staying current on modern trends and industry updates

Degree RequiredBachelor's degree
Education Field of StudyComputer science, mathematics, software engineering
Key SkillsAnalytical, computer, creativity, interpersonal
Job Growth (2016-2026)*31% (for software applications developers), 11% (for software systems developers)
Median Salary (2018)*$103,620 (for software applications developers), $110,000 (for software systems developers)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Does a Computer Engineer Do?

Computer engineers develop and maintain computer applications and systems. Software developers who specialize in applications create word processing programs, games, and other software for consumers. Those who focus on systems will develop the operating systems that fuel computer functioning. In both fields of computer engineering, computer engineers make sure that existing programs are running smoothly and develop new software systems for users according to their specific needs.

Steps to Becoming a Computer Engineer

Step 1: Get Trained

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that a bachelor's degree is usually the basic requirement for entry-level computer engineering jobs; however, depending on the job, a master's degree may be preferred ( Computer engineering degrees are available, though other degree programs consistent with this vocation include computer science, computer information systems, software engineering, software development, and other related disciplines.

At the bachelor's level, depending on your technology major, your curriculum may include coursework in systems analysis, data structures, software design and programming languages. Your graduate studies will consist of advanced training on subject matter within your chosen curriculum, which may include enterprise architecture, software quality and testing, research and artificial intelligence.

Step 2: Consider Certification

Certification is not required but is a recommended form of professional credentialing. You might obtain certification through professional trade organizations, such as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). Additionally, you may obtain certification in specific software programs through the vendors that distribute them. For example, if you hold certification in Microsoft Windows, you may have greater chances of gaining employment with a company that uses this operating system.

Step 3: Acquire Work Experience

As a computer engineer, you may work for many different types of organizations. You could be employed by technology companies that design and implement products, such as operating systems, middleware, computer games and utility applications. You might also work for non-technology companies that use computer technologies for their operations, such as for billing, payroll and inventory. According to the BLS, job opportunities for all computer software developers were expected to grow by 24% between 2016 and 2026. In 2018, the median salary for computer engineers who specialize in software applications was $103,620, while those who specialize in systems software was $110,000.

Step 4: Join a Trade Association

Trade associations provide members with various benefits, such as continuing education opportunities, professional networking resources and industry updates. Some of the trade organizations you might join include the Software & Information Industry Association, the International Association for Computer Information Systems and the IEEE.

Step 5: Stay Current

Staying current on new technologies, procedures and industry initiatives is important to your daily activities. Industry updates and continuing education programs may be provided by employers, but is also available through trade associations, colleges and software vendors. Such programs may be available in the form of courses, conferences and professional development seminars.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

There are a number of related careers for those who are considering jobs as computer engineers. You could consider becoming a computer and information systems manager, a job that involves overseeing all of a company's information technology (IT). You may also be interested in computer hardware engineering, which involves working with the hardware components of a computer like the circuit boards, processors, routers and memory devices. Computer programming is another career option, where you write and test code for software programs and applications. All these careers require bachelor's degrees.

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