What Is a Computer Engineering Degree?

| Blake Huggins

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Computer engineering programs build skills in hardware development that prepare students for in-demand jobs in systems design and electronic component manufacturing.

Computer engineers work at the junction of computer science and electronic engineering. They integrate key insights from both fields to design computer hardware and develop software applications.

Careers in software testing, database management, and network design all require a solid background in computer engineering. Aspiring professionals interested in entering similar fields can pursue a computer engineering degree or earn an industry certificate. This guide explores such opportunities and discusses job outlook and earning potential for computer engineering majors.

What Are the Differences Between Computer Engineering and Other Computer Science Fields?

Computer engineering encounters similar problems and concepts as computer science, but there are several key differences between the fields. The data below looks at some of those differences and identifies overlaps between computer engineering, web development, computer science, and other related fields.

Learn more about the computer science field, including related degrees and career paths, at the link below.

Computer Science Fields

Computer engineering focuses on hardware-based aspects of computing devices. It includes hardware design and looks at how components like processors and circuit boards interact with software. This field uses research principles from engineering and mathematics to create new hardware and to evaluate or update existing components. Computer programming establishes communication between computing devices and software applications. Programmers write code in languages like Java and C++ to translate bits of information so programs can run smoothly. Computer programming can include app development and often overlaps with other computer science fields. Professionals in computer information systems take the tools and insights from other computer science fields and use them to solve everyday problems in business and corporate enterprise. This typically means analyzing organizational goals and finding new ways to generate, process, and distribute data. Information technology focuses on data infrastructure, communication architecture, and networking solutions. It deals with both the hardware and software aspects of computer science. Specialists in information technology often install or maintain local networks, oversee large scale computing systems, and recommend additional technology solutions. Information security closely interacts with information technology and computer information systems, but it emphasizes security concerns. Information security professionals implement measures like regular testing, information encryption, and network monitoring to protect sensitive data and prevent security breaches from outside attacks. Software developers often work alongside programmers and other computer engineers. They usually focus on user experience and work to develop applications that meet business needs and satisfy consumer demand. This includes testing beta releases and upgrading applications. This area encompasses every aspect of web- and internet-based computing needs: site design, backend optimization, and content creation. Most web developers design the interfaces that convey the overall look and feel of a site or application. They often write code and integrate compelling visual elements. Professionals in this field use computer engineering principles to help improve software development. Software engineers often work on a larger scale than software developers and adopt a more systematic approach to solve problems.

What to Expect in a Computer Engineering Degree Program

Computer engineering programs build broad knowledge in engineering and computer science. Students learn about topics such as discrete mathematics, applied algorithms, and basic engineering mechanics. Most programs will administer a core sequence of courses to build key foundations, allowing students to specialize during later stages.

Self-motivated and analytical students make ideal candidates for these programs since computer engineering relies on the hard sciences and quantitative methods of reasoning.

These programs can be challenging. Prospective students must actively participate in class and can expect to take exams that assess their engineering skills. Depending on the program, students may also complete design projects, both individually and with a group.

Computer engineering graduates come away with a combination of hard and soft skills.

Skills Taught in Computer Engineering Degree Programs

Soft Skills

  • Critical thinking
  • Collaborative teamwork
  • Communication
  • Creative problem-solving
  • Attention to detail
  • Time management

Hard Skills

  • Data visualization
  • Systems analysis
  • Coding and programming
  • Object-oriented design
  • Software development
  • Advanced mathematics

What Kinds of Computer Engineering Degrees Are There?

Whether you are a new student, seasoned professional, or are changing careers, computer engineering degrees offer multiple pathways to meet your needs. These paths accommodate various backgrounds and support different career goals. Learn more about each path below and find out which best suits your needs and interests.

Certificate Program in Computer Engineering

Certificate programs offer a viable alternative to higher education. They leave open the possibility of further study and give students a compact overview of computer engineering. Most programs focus on developing a set of foundational skills in key areas like computer architecture, networking, or object-oriented programming.

Because they use a condensed approach, computer engineering certificates usually take less time to complete than a degree — usually a year or less. That said, most entry-level computer engineering roles require at least a bachelor's degree.

Associate Degree in Computer Engineering

These programs develop a deeper knowledge than certificates, but are not as comprehensive as other degree options. Associate degrees build technical skills and provide instruction in written and oral communication, project management, and data analysis.

A computer engineering associate degree will usually require 60 credits and include courses in topics such as engineering computation and circuit analysis. Most students graduate within two years, and some continue their studies by transferring to four-year institutions.

Bachelor's Degree in Computer Engineering

This degree will qualify you for most entry-level computer engineering roles, including positions in hardware design and systems integration. These programs usually take up to four years to complete and teach high-level concepts like circuit theory and data infrastructure. Transfer students may be able to complete the degree in less time.

Students can pursue electives in related subjects like computer science and information systems. Depending on the school, computer engineering majors may also complete a culminating capstone project. This component gives students the chance to apply new skills to real-world computer technology problems.

Master's Degree in Computer Engineering

Advanced positions in computer engineering may require a master's degree. This is especially the case for senior-level roles in project or field service engineering. Further training can also help computer engineers keep their industry skills and knowledge up to date.

Earning a master's degree in computer engineering takes around three years, but could take longer for part-time students. Master's programs build on previous education and give students the opportunity to hone their expertise in concentrated areas of study, like network communications, hardware architecture, or cybersecurity.

Doctoral Degree in Computer Engineering

Computer engineering specialists interested in data science, research, or postsecondary education typically earn a doctorate in the field. This highly specialized course of study lasts 5-6 years, depending on the school and individual circumstances. It includes coursework in core areas, qualifying examinations that assess expert-level skill, and a dissertation project that contains original research.

Some computer engineering doctoral programs accept post-bachelor's students with professional experience. Others may require a relevant master's degree for admission. Learners can focus on new and emerging areas like mobile computing, nanotechnology, machine learning, and digital health imagining.

Accreditation for Computer Engineering Programs

Prospective schools should hold some form of institutional accreditation. This independent quality assurance measure ensures the value and worth of your degree.

Some programs may also possess specialized accreditation, which provides additional backing specific to computer engineering. This accreditation comes from organizations like the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET).

What Can You Do With a Degree in Computer Engineering?

Graduates can pursue enriching careers in industries that need qualified computer engineers. These may include manufacturing, scientific research and development, government and military contracting, or electronic systems design. Professionals often land roles as hardware design specialists, embedded software engineers, data scientists, or senior project engineers.

Computer engineering certificates from industry leaders such as CompTIA, Cisco, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) can help working professionals build their expertise.

Adjacent fields can also benefit from computer engineering skills. Individuals interested in web design, for example, can enroll in a coding bootcamp and use their engineering skills to help optimize the user experience on websites.

What Kind of Salary Can I Earn With a Computer Engineering Degree?

Qualified professionals in computer engineering see annual earnings well above the national average of $40,000 for all occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Some professionals in software development and software engineering see salaries well above the average as well.

Computer Engineering Career Outlook
Career Median Annual Salary (2020) Projected Job Growth (2019-2029)
Computer and Information Research Scientists $126,830 15%
Computer Hardware Engineers $119,560 2%
Computer Network Architects $116,780 5%
Software Developers $110,140 22%
Electrical and Electronics Engineer $103,390 3%
Network and Computer Systems Administrators $84,810 4%
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Professional Organizations

With nearly 400,000 members in over 160 countries, IEEE connects computer engineering graduates and other technology professionals through industry conferences and continuing education events. One of the largest international organizations of its kind, ACM advances computer science and engineering by recognizing outstanding achievements and supporting public policy. Its local chapters host seminars and regular meetups. Established in 1978, AWC promotes the advancement, representation, and success of women in computer engineering and other computing professions. It provides professional networking and mentorship opportunities for students and recent graduates. NACME supports underrepresented minorities in computer engineering through scholarship opportunities and strategic corporat

Blake Huggins is a Boston-based writer and researcher with roots in north Texas and southern Oklahoma. He holds degrees in religion and philosophy and writes widely on higher education, healthcare, and the humanities broadly conceived. He earned a PhD from Boston University and has taught college courses in philosophy, writing, and composition.

Common Questions About Computer Engineering Degrees

true What Kind of Jobs Can You Get With a Computer Engineering Degree?

Computer engineering graduates can work in computer systems design or electronic component manufacturing. Some may also find work in areas that rely on computer technology, like the healthcare and automotive industries.

true Is Computer Engineering in Demand?

According to the BLS, work for computer engineering and hardware design professionals will grow by approximately 2% from 2019-2029.

true How Many Years Does It Take to Study Computer Engineering?

Undergraduate programs in computer engineering take four years to complete. Graduate degrees usually take 2-3 years, and industry certificates can be completed in a matter of months.

true What Does It Take to Become a Computer Engineer?

A majority of computer engineers hold a bachelor's degree in the discipline or a related field like computer science or electrical engineering, according to O*Net Online.

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