Computer Hardware Engineer

The Job and What's Involved

Computer hardware engineers are responsible for designing and developing computers and the computerised parts of other appliances. This includes computer chips, circuit boards, keyboards, modems and printers. They are involved with the mechanical, electronic and electrical components of computers and computer systems, such as processing units, memory and storage, data cabling and switching. This is a challenging and highly technical role.

On a day-to-day basis they:

  • Work on the original design of computer components and systems, using computer software to assist in producing drawings and specifications.
  • May design microchips and printed circuit boards.
  • May be responsible for testing, and identifying any problems.

They can be found in the following areas:

  • Working in a manufacturing environment, producing, installing and testing new components and systems.
  • Working in research and development, turning original designs and ideas into actual products.
  • Supervising the manufacture and installation of computers and computer-related equipment.

Computer hardware engineers can either work on their own or as part of a team, which usually consists of IT professionals, such as computer software engineers/developers and programmers.

In some organisations, a computer hardware engineer is responsible for the maintenance and advanced technical support of the company's internal hardware.

A computer hardware engineer works between 37 and 40 hours a week, 9am to 5.30pm, Monday to Friday. Additional hours may be required to meet deadlines, which may include evenings and weekends.

It is usual to work at a computer terminal in an open-plan office environment or in a workshop. The job may involve a limited amount of travelling to different sites. A driving licence would be useful.

The average starting salary for a computer hardware engineer is around £18,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

The IT industry is a rapidly expanding industrial sector throughout the world. Computer hardware engineers can work in both commercial and public sector organisations. Employers include computer manufacturers, telecommunication companies, electronic companies, computer software manufacturers as well as large organisations such as finance and retail companies. There are job opportunities throughout the UK, with a higher concentration in the south of England, but competition for graduate trainee posts can be high.

Vacancies are advertised on company and recruitment websites, and in trade publications, such as Computer Weekly and Computing. The local and national press may also advertise vacancies.

Education and Training

Employers usually expect a degree level education in computer or electronic engineering, which may have been supported by relevant work experience and vocational skills.

Applicants for degree courses usually need at least two A levels/three H grades, preferably in mathematics and scientific subjects or equivalent. Degree courses usually last a minimum of three years full time or four years for sandwich courses. Please check with individual universities for entry requirements.

There are a range of other qualifications, which provide a good grounding in IT. These include:

BTEC/SQA National Certificate/Diploma in Computer Studies or IT. Applicants need four or five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3) or equivalent qualifications. These courses normally last between one or two years, depending on whether they are full or part time.

BTEC/SQA higher national diplomas. Colleges usually ask for one A level/two H grades and four GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3). Courses can be full or part time, sometimes with one year's work experience included.

It is sometimes possible to start in basic computing or technical support and progress to become a computer hardware engineer. It may also be possible to do an Apprenticeship in IT and engineering. NVQ's/SVQ's are available in a range of IT subjects at Levels 2 to 4.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Once qualified, computer hardware engineers register with the Engineering Council either as an Incorporated Engineer (IEng) or Chartered Engineer (CEng), depending on their level of qualification. Registration can open up further employment opportunities.

Training is generally on the job, and includes in-house training courses and qualifications through professional bodies and private sector suppliers.

To keep up to date with technological advances, engineers must constantly update their knowledge and are expected to undertake Continuing Professional Development (CPD).

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Computer hardware engineers should:

  • Have strong technical skills.
  • Have good interpersonal and communication skills.
  • Be adaptable and able to pick up new techniques.
  • Be able to work on their own or in a team.
  • Be able to work to tight deadlines, handling complex information.
  • Be thorough and precise in their work, enjoying troubleshooting and problem solving.
  • Be able to pay attention to detail.
  • Be able to handle more than one problem or task at the same time.
  • Be able to use their initiative.
  • Have logical and enquiring minds.
  • Have good eyesight and normal colour vision.

Your Long Term Prospects

There are excellent promotional opportunities with good financial rewards. Computer hardware engineers may choose to specialise in a technical, hands-on role or move into management. The career structure varies from one organisation to another.

Experienced computer hardware engineers can also use their business experience and knowledge to seek employment as consultants, offering specialist computer engineering services. They may also move into marketing, sales or training, or become self-employed and work as contractors.

There may be opportunities to work abroad.

Get Further Information

The British Computer Society (BCS),
First Floor, Block D North Star House, North Star Avenue, Swindon SN2 1FA
Tel: 01793 417417
Website: www.bcs.org

Engineering Council UK (ECUK),
10 Maltravers Street, London WC2R 3ER
Tel: 020 7240 7891
Website: www.engc.org.uk

e-skills UK,
1 Castle Lane, London SW1E 6DR
Tel: 020 7963 8920
Website: www.e-skills.com

The Institution of Engineering and Technology,
Savoy Place, London WC2R 0BL
Tel: 020 7240 1871
Website: www.theiet.org

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