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Career profile: Computer hardware engineer

computer hardware engineer microchipWe use computers to catch up with our friends, play games and surf the web, but how much do we know about the inner-workings? We give you the lowdown on the people who design and make them.

A what?

Computer hardware engineers make computers – they are responsible for designing each part from the visible keyboards, screens and printers to all the ‘guts’ of the machines, including all the memory, storage and systems.

On the job

Being a computer hardware engineer is a challenge as the technology is always changing. Normally this type of engineer works in an office or workshop. They also get the chance to travel to different sites, when they are setting up new computer systems for clients.

There are three main parts of the job. One important aspect is the design and research stage. This is when the engineer works on new ideas and then tests them out. The next phase would be helping in the making and installation of the computer equipment. The final part of an engineer’s job is to make sure the hardware they’ve created doesn’t break.

Computer hardware engineers often work as part of a team, which usually consists of IT professionals, such as computer software engineers/developers and programmers. So, the ability to communicate is almost as important as the more technical skills.

Future prospects

The IT industry is one of the fastest growing industries in the world, so if you train in this area there are likely to be exciting job opportunities for you in this country and abroad. Employers include computer manufacturers, telecommunication companies, electronic companies, computer software manufacturers as well as large organisations such as finance and retail companies.

The salary can range from £20,000 a year to over £50,000 depending on your employer and level of experience.

How do I get there?

To get into this kind of work, you normally need a degree in computing or electronic engineering. For this type of course you will need at least five GCSEs and two A-levels (or equivalent), preferably in mathematics and scientific subjects or equivalent. But check with the colleges you’re interested in, as they can ask for different qualifications.

It is sometimes possible to start in computing or technical support and progress to become a computer hardware engineer. If you want to take this route, some course that could take you there are:

  • BTEC/SQA National Certificate/Diploma in Computer Studies or IT. Applicants need four or five GCSEs/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 (or equivalent) and four GCSEs/S grades (A-C/1-3). Courses can be full or part time, sometimes with one year’s work experience included.

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