Computer Engineering in Focus

Students mapping out a career path in computer engineering have myriad things to consider: degree options, learning modes, funding, internships and more. To make the process easier, the following guide explores career opportunities, breaks down degree programs and courses, and includes search tools to help identify salary patterns and job growth hot spots across the country. As with any major college or career decision, everything starts with research.

Careers in Computer Engineering

Computer engineers work with some of today’s most cutting-edge technology and tools. Those who specialize in hardware engineering design and construct microprocessors and other computing machinery. Software engineers work with coding languages and constructs to create applications and other user-facing programs.

Hardware and software are the two most basic categories of computer engineering, although the career spectrum does go deeper. For example, the following specialties may fit underneath the larger computer engineering umbrella, but call for a very specific skill set:

  • Application developers: Develop applications for consumers, such as games or word processors. They often work in usability and design, databases, structures and mobile platforms such as the App store and Android.
  • System developers: Create “behind-the-scenes” systems that help hardware and applications run smoothly. This includes operating systems in desktops, laptops and even smaller handheld electronics like cell phones or security systems.
  • Hardware engineers (medical): Some computer engineers develop medical devices, both large (MRI machines) and small (glucose meters).
  • Hardware engineers (mobile): The growth of mobile over the last decade has made this a popular career path. Engineers who specialize in mobile not only help create the components of the phones themselves, but also many of the accessories.

The above list is only a taste of potential specialization. Careers in computer engineering shift constantly due to fluctuating consumer wants, business needs, and research in the field. For instance, 3-D printing and nanotechnology are opening up an entirely new branch of the discipline for college graduates to explore. In addition, careers in computer engineering vary by state. What’s in demand in California may be bottom of the barrel in Tennessee. See how computer engineering salaries and job growth stack up in your state:

Career Salary Tool

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Birmingham 2012 MEAN PAY $88,080 per year
Huntsville 2012 MEAN PAY $101,590 per year

Internships

The transition from college to career can be difficult. Thousands of ready, willing and able graduates flood HR inboxes with resumes in the hopes of landing their first big gig. With competition high and - after a few rejections - confidence low, getting a foot in the door early could be a game-changer.

Internships offer a great way to do just that. In addition to meeting people at the company, interns gain vital experiential knowledge and skills, and, more importantly for employers, learn proprietary systems and protocols. Training can be a tremendous time, energy and money drain on a company, which means those who already know their systems become attractive hires.

For aspiring computer engineers entering their senior year, or those on the precipice of graduate study, the following list of internships can get you started:

Specialty:Hardware Engineering
Entity: Microsoft, Inc.
Location: Bellevue, WA
Eligibility: Pursuing a bachelor’s degree or above in computer engineering or a related discipline. 1 – 2 years classroom or practical experience in product development preferred.Collaborative, result-oriented, communication skills and knowledge of C/C++/C# concepts.
More Info: http://careers.microsoft.com/careers/en/us/tech-hardware-internships.aspx

Specialty: Computer Engineering
Entity: Central Intelligence Agency
Location: Washington, DC
Eligibility: Paid internship for students pursuing undergraduate or graduate degrees in computer engineering or related fields.
More Info: https://www.cia.gov/careers/student-opportunities/intern-co-op-computer-engineer.html

Specialty: Computer Engineering
Entity: HookLogic
Location: Ann Arbor, MI
Eligibility: Currently pursuing at least a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering. Some experience with AWS, OOP in C#, Java and other programming languages. Problem-solving and debugging skills.
More Info: http://www.hooklogic.com/about/careers/

Specialty: Computer Engineering
Entity: Intel Corporation
Location: Folsom, CA
Eligibility: Full-time, unpaid internship for students pursuing graduate study in computer engineering, computer science or a related discipline. At least 3 months experience with software scripting language such as C, C+, Python, Perl and Shell.
More Info: https://jobs.intel.com/key/intel-mobile-communications-internship-jobs.html

Specialty: Computer Science/Engineering
Entity: Ark.com
Location: San Francisco, CA
Eligibility: Full-time paid internship for students learning computer science, computer engineering or mathematics. Prior experience working with information systems and infrastructures. Ability to write SQL statements, analyze deliverables, and experience with scheme design and OOP.
More Info: https://angel.co/ark/jobs

Specialty: Computer Engineering and Development
Entity: DreamKreator
Location: Long Beach, CA
Eligibility: For computer science and engineering majors who know PHP, JavaScript, JQuery, MySQL and HTML5.Bonus for those with mobile and Python experience.
More Info: http://www.internships.com/it/Long-BeachLos-Angeles-Developers-and-Comupter-Engineers

Computer Engineering in College

Computer engineering allows students to learn aspects of both electrical engineering and computer science. At the associate's level, students obtain basic skills and knowledge in areas such as electronic circuitry and information acquisition and organization. Bachelor's degree programs in the field dive deeper into these introductory areas, and add more advanced concepts, including object-oriented programming and data structures. Graduate students experience even more in-depth study, often focusing on a single aspect of computer engineering to hone specific skills or contribute to the academic community via research.

Before exploring degree program options, it's vital to think about finances. Most importantly, how to land free money.

Scholarships

Paying for a computer engineering degree, whether an 8-year doctorate program or a one-year certificate, can be a challenge. One way to receive educational funding is through a scholarship. Scholarships are a merit-based form of financial aid and, unlike loans, do not need to be paid back after graduation. Here's a list of 25 computer engineering scholarships and their criteria:

Get-IT Scholarships

Amount Eligibility More Info
$5,000 Open to high school seniors in the state of Michigan. Must have prior involvement with the GET-IT program and a GPA of 2.5 or higher. Students must enroll in an information systems, computer science, computer engineering, or software-related program. http://www.mcwtf.org/

AISES Intel Scholarship

Amount Eligibility More Info
$5,000 - $10,000 Open to AISES members who are also members of a Native American tribe. Must be full-time undergraduate or graduate student in computer science, computer engineering or a related discipline. http://www.aises.org/

Honeywell International, Society of Women Engineers

Amount Eligibility More Info
$5,000 Open to female U.S. citizens planning to major in an engineering discipline. http://www.swe.org/scholarships

Computer Engineering Degree Programs

Regardless of program level, computer engineering students can earn a degree via three different learning modes. Campus-based programs require students to spend a majority of their "learning hours" in the classroom working with peers and professors. Projects and exams are submitted in-person. Online programs use a completely remote model. Students interact with others through chat platforms and converse with professors via email. All materials can be submitted using the web. Hybrid programs serve as the third option. They incorporate various campus-based elements - such as occasional lectures or lab activities - yet provide ample opportunity to work off campus.

Online Degrees in Depth

Some disciplines require significant interaction with others. Nursing students need to work with patients in a clinical setting, and aspiring teachers must spend time with students and peers in a classroom. And while computer engineers work in teams regularly, the electronic nature of the subject lends itself to online learning.

The virtual classroom serves as the keystone of the online degree in computer engineering at all levels. Technology such as lecture-capture and interactive communication tools such as Skype, Blackboard and Adobe Connect make it easier for students to interact with each other and with professors. Students can also submit lab materials, specs, papers and other engineering-related work via the web.

Self-Paced vs. Real-Time

Engineering courses delivered via distance learning come in two forms: self-paced and real-time. Self-paced, or asynchronous, allow students to complete assignments and work toward a degree when it's most convenience. Real-time, or synchronous, involve collaboration with peers and professors at predetermined times and submission of materials by specific deadlines.

Equipment Standards

Many online programs require that students have access to certain equipment. The basics include a computer, broadband connection, up-to-date web browser, word processing programs, and the ability to view videos. In computer engineering, however, the minimum technological requirements can far surpass the norm. For example, online computer engineering students need access to a more powerful machine/computer, access to computer hardware tools, software creation programs, and so much more. Before beginning an online degree program in computer engineering, contact the department administrator for a list of the must-have tools of the trade.

Student Profile #1

Ben likes computers and working with electronics, but didn't know if a career in computer engineering was the right fit. After taking introductory courses at the associate's level, he decided to complete his two-year degree and move on to a bachelor's degree program.

Associate's Degree in Computer Engineering (2 years)

The associate's degree in computer engineering is a two-year credential designed specifically to give students a solid foundation in the field. Year one combines early core requirements such as mathematics and English with more degree-focused courses like the essentials of programming. Year two rounds out the program with classes that may include calculus, physics and microprocessor design. The following table illustrates a typical two-year curriculum in computer engineering:

First Semester (Freshman) Credits Overview
English Composition I 3 An introduction to reading and writing critically, understanding argumentation and context.
Pre-Calculus 4 Advanced algebra and trigonometry to serve as a foundation for calculus. Learn properties of linear, exponential, logarithmic and trigonometric functions.
Electrical Circuits I 4 Basics of circuitry and other electrical components. Also learn about resistance, voltage, current and nodal analysis.
Programming Constructs 3 Basic computer literacy, problem solving and structured programming techniques. Arrays, linked lists and core languages.
Second Semester (Freshman) Credits Overview
Computer Programming I 3 Learn how to read, write and run programs in common languages. Emphasis on software development and structured programming techniques.
Electrical Circuits II 4 Study includes capacitors, inductors, AC mesh and nodal analysis and network theorems.
Scientific Writing I 3 An intro to scientific report writing and techniques.
Discrete Mathematical Structure 3 An intro to mathematical theories pertinent to computer science. Formal logic, set theory, matrix algebra, Boolean algebra, graph theory and more.
General Elective 3 An optional class for students.
Third Semester (Freshman) Credits Overview
Digital Electronic Design 4 A first course in electronics design, including logic gates, latches, integrated circuits, shift registers, memory elements and more.
Object-Oriented Programming 3 A natural method for designing software systems building upon data abstraction, information hiding and modularity.
Elements of Economics 3 For non-econ majors. Focuses on basic economic analysis, the market system, and basic macroeconomic theory.
Calculus I 3 Focused on functions and limits, as well as the derivative and its applications.
Fourth Semester (Freshman) Credits Overview
Intro to Microprocessor Design 4 Introduction to the microprocessor from both the software and hardware sides. Covers stored programs, modes, sets, bus operations and implementation of algorithms. Labs and simulators part of most classes.
Data Structures 3 Design, use and programming of data structures. Discusses binary trees, linked lists, queues and stacks, as well as sorting and searching methods.
Calculus II 3 The integral and its applications. Inverse functions and general principles of calculus.
College Physics I 4 Introduction to physics, energy, momentum and motion. Lecture + labs.
General Elective 3 An optional class for students.

Student Profile #2

During her freshman year, Amy decided to major in computer science, gravitating toward the hardware side of things. By her junior year, she was fully entrenched in her computer engineering major with a focus on microprocessor design. She finished an internship with a major tech company in California and landed an entry-level position there after graduation.

Bachelor's Degree in Computer Engineering (4 years)

Students can typically complete a bachelor's degree in computer engineering in 4 - 5 years. Coursework covers specific program languages, advanced engineering principles and mathematics, and a senior project. Years three (junior) and four (senior) of a bachelor's degree in computer engineering may look like the following:

Fifth Semester (Junior) Credits Overview
Microprocessor Interfacing 4 Advanced concepts with the programming and interfacing of microprocessors and microcontrollers. Advanced architecture, I/O peripherals and more.
Technical Computing w/Java 3 Use of Java to solve engineering-related problems. Programs and Applets with emphasis on structured programming and software development.
Intro to Instrumentation 3 Analog and digital circuitry, design, testing, and signal transfer.
College Physics II 4 Thermodynamics, hydrostatics, electricity, magnetism and more. Combination of lecture and laboratory work.
General Elective 3 An optional class for students.
Sixth Semester (Junior) Credits Overview
Microprocessor Engineering 4 Development cycles and methods for both hardware and software, as well as integration and debugging. Study of recent developments in the field.
FORTRAN 3 Major programming constructs of the language, including loops, statements, arrays and file processing.
Operating Systems 3 Main elements of an operating system, including process and memory management, hardware behavior, resource sharing and more.
Linear Algebra 3 Linear equations and matrices, vectors, eigenvalues and applications.
General Elective 3 An optional class for students.
Seventh Semester (Senior) Credits Overview
Computer Networking 4 Major topics include media standards, Internet protocols, network theory, and other electronic hardware topics.
Senior Project I 3 The first leg of a senior project related to the student's academic focus. Completed in two semesters of coursework.
Technical Elective (Based on Specialty) 4 A technical elective that allows the student to learn a skill or explore an interest in the technical field but not necessarily aligned with the major.
General Elective 3 An optional class for students.
General Elective 3 An optional class for students.
Eighth Semester (Senior) Credits Overview
Senior Project II 3 The second arm of the senior project. Often a time for gauging progress with a professor and working toward completion before review.
Computer Architecture 3 Study of the computer processing unit (CPU). Also covers arithmetic logic unit, control unit and other topics related to memory units and busses.
Technical Elective (Based on Specialty) 4 A technical elective that allows the student to learn a skill or explore an interest in the technical field but not necessarily aligned with the major.
General Elective 3 An optional class for students.
General Elective 3 An optional class for students.

Student Profile #3

Paul earned a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering, yet became far more interested in the computer-related aspects of his major. A master's degree in computer engineering allowed him to build upon his bachelor's degree, learn more about the computer aspects of engineering, and eventually land a job with a solid employer doing what he enjoyed most.

Master's Degrees in Computer Engineering

A master's degree in computer engineering typically involves two years of extra coursework in the field. Students choose between a handful of program styles designed to guide them along a specific academic or career track, based on both current and future interest. For instance, those who wish to move on to doctoral study often choose to a thesis option, and focus on a long paper or project for review by a board of professors. More career-minded students might select a non-thesis option, which can entail completion of a comprehensive examination covering all course material over the two-year span.

It's important to note that graduate "tracks" vary by subject, school and department. Before enrolling in a program or any classes, consult with an academic advisor to make sure the track you choose what fits with your future academic and career goals. Due to this variety, it's difficult to list a standard master's curriculum for computer engineering - or for any subject for that matter. However, the following table represents a sample of core classes graduate students may find in a program:

Master's Program Core Courses Overview
Algorithm Design & Analysis Basic techniques for the design and analysis of algorithms. Graph search, algebraic problems, lower bounds and probabilities.
Operating Systems System structures, scheduling, computation models, memory management and security, buffering, streams and more.
Advanced Compiler Design Advanced materials in translator systems and programming languages. Code optimization, compiling and debugging interpreters.
Principles of Computer Architecture Fundamental concepts in the field, including pipeline hazards, dynamic scheduling, branch protection, cache architectures, bypassing and more.
Intro to Syntheses Methodologies Architectural level syntheses, hardware/software co-design, bus sharing, encoding and retiming, among other pertinent topics.
VLSI Test Design for testing economics, defects, failures and faults, fault models, memory and more.
Fault Tolerant Hardware Design Scan path design, test point insertion, SOC test design, self-checking circuits and more.
Computability & Complexity A general computability review, including decidable sets, halting problem, and general relations between various classes. L, P, PSPACE, NP
Advanced Complexity Poly-time hierarchy, IP=PSPACE, Application of PCP to approximation hardness. Complexity of proof systems.
Computer Communication Networks Network concepts, architectures, protocols and design methodologies. Layering, error control, quality of service management, mobility, naming, security and more.

PhD in Computer Engineering

Doctorate degrees in computer engineering represent the highest level of academic achievement in the field. Graduates of such programs have spent at least four years completing post-master's coursework and researching a theoretical or empirical topic under the guidance of an advisor. Most PhD candidates must submit and defend a dissertation in order to finish the degree.

Coursework for PhD students in computer engineering is almost the same as in master's programs. In fact, many doctoral candidates complete a number of master's level credits to meet their core PhD requirements. The difference is in the number of classes they need to take, and the amount of research they need to conduct before dissertation defense.

Schools with Computer Engineering Programs

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SCHOOL NAME CITY, STATE STUDENT POPULATION SCHOOL TYPE TUITION PROGRAM TYPE PROGRAMS
Arizona State UniversityTempe, AZ72,254Public, 4-year$9,208Campus
Bachelor’s
  • Computer Engineering- General
  • Computer Engineering Technology/Technician
Master’s
  • Computer Engineering- General
Liberty UniversityLynchburg, VA64,096Private, 4-year$18,562Campus
Bachelor’s
  • Computer Engineering- General
  • Computer Software Engineering
Miami Dade CollegeMiami, FL63,736Public, 4-year$2,483Campus
Associate
  • Computer Technology/Computer Systems Technology
Houston Community CollegeHouston, TX63,015Public, 2-year$744Campus
Associate
  • Computer Engineering Technology/Technician
University of Central FloridaOrlando, FL58,465Public, 4-year$4,426Campus
Bachelor’s
  • Computer Engineering- General
Master’s
  • Computer Engineering- General
Doctorate
  • Computer Engineering- General
Ohio State University-Main CampusColumbus, OH56,867Public, 4-year$9,168Campus
Bachelor’s
  • Computer Engineering- General
Master’s
  • Computer Engineering- General
Doctorate
  • Computer Engineering- General
University of Minnesota-Twin CitiesMinneapolis, MN52,557Public, 4-year$12,060Campus
Bachelor’s
  • Computer Engineering- General
Master’s
  • Computer Engineering- General
Texas A & M University-College StationCollege Station, TX50,230Public, 4-year$5,297Campus
Bachelor’s
  • Computer Engineering- General
Master’s
  • Computer Engineering- General
Doctorate
  • Computer Engineering- General
Tarrant County College DistrictFort Worth, TX50,062Public, 2-year$1,296Campus
Associate
  • Computer Technology/Computer Systems Technology
University of FloridaGainesville, FL49,589Public, 4-year$4,425Campus
Bachelor’s
  • Computer Engineering- General
Master’s
  • Computer Engineering- General
Doctorate
  • Computer Engineering- General