There were 71,900 hardware and 494,160 software computer engineers employed in the United States, according to May 2011 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The path you take in this field is largely up to your interests. If you want to design computer chips and circuit boards for manufacturers, you may want to work on the hardware side. The alternative is creating software applications that run computers, cell phones and other equipment.
Average Salary and Benefits
You would earn a bit more working as a computer hardware engineer, though you wouldn't starve either way. These folks made an average annual salary of $101,360, according to the BLS. The top 10 percent earned over $147, 610 per year. Software engineers averaged $87,900 per year. And the top 10 percent made incomes over $128,870 annually. Your benefits as a full-time computer engineer would likely include medical insurance, paid holidays and vacations and a retirement savings plan.
Salary By Industry
Your interest in working as a computer hardware engineer in the real estate industry could earn you top dollar. They made the most among computer hardware engineers at $131,050, according to the BLS. Your salary as a computer hardware engineer would be closer to the national average working for a computer system design service company or consultant, as they earned $88,780 annually. As a computer software engineer, you would earn the most money working in the aerospace industry at $116,050 per year. Your annual salary as a computer software engineer would be nearly as high working for a software publishing company like Microsoft or Apple at $113,890.
Salary by State
You earnings as a hardware engineer would be highest in Michigan, as they made $119,240 per year, according to the BLS. Detroit, in particular, needs these professionals to develop robots and machines for manufacturing automobiles. Expect to earn slightly less in California and Colorado at $112,960 and $102,360 per year, respectively. And your earnings as a computer software engineer would be greatest in Massachusetts and California: $99,580 and $97,630 per year, respectively.
Education and Training
Your most direct path as a computer hardware engineer career would be obtaining a bachelor's degree in computer engineering. If your preference is computer software engineering, you can study computer science or software engineering. Companies also hire people with mathematics degrees in this field. A master's degree can only enhance your job prospects in either, as can participating in an internship.
Your career options look brighter in computer software engineering. The BLS expects the number of these jobs to increase by 30 percent between 2010 and 2020. This rate of growth is much faster than average compared to other careers. Growth will be spurred by consumer demand, as people continue to expect faster and more efficient laptops, tablets and cell phones. If your heart is set on computer hardware engineering, jobs will increase by 9 percent, which is slower than average among all occupations.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Computer Hardware Engineers
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Software Developers
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment Statistics: Computer Hardware Engineers
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment Statistics: Computer Software Engineers, Applications
- CareerPlanner.com: Computer Hardware Engineer
- StateUniversity.com: Computer Software Engineer Job Description, Career as a Computer Software Engineer, Salary, Employment - Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job