What do I need for a career in Electronic/Computer Hardware Engineering

I mean in terms of educational background of course.

I’m currently attending college. My original intent was to follow a medical path to dentistry. There are something like 3 dentists in the family afterall, and there was some presurre for me to tow the line. Besides, I hear they make good money ;).

However I’ve decided against this. Computers have always been my forte and therein lies my most passionate interest. I think a career in computers is likely to keep me very interested and much more happy than one in dentistry. It would also save time if I could become competitive within four years of school instead 6+ (I’m 27! and ain’t getting any younger inspite of my repeated attempts to reverse the universal arrow of time - damn you Hawkins!)

My main choices lie with either computer software engineering or hardware/electrical engineering.

For those of you in the biz, or in the know: what major, what classes, what guidance could you offer me? Should I enroll in math classes, persue an associates in mathematics, followed up by two years of electronic/software engineering? Should I go the ubiquitous computer science path?

Thanks in advance for any help you can offer!

  • Dude who is still pondering just who he will be the rest of his days.

Go for a BS in either electrical engineering, or computer systems/computer hardware engineering. The former gives a more broad understanding of electronics in general, but the latter will give you an education more geared towards the compuoting industry. Odds are, you’ll take a few computer science courses as well with the latter.

Most big universities these days will have degree programs in computer science and electrical engineering, and a few of them should even have a program in computer engineering (i.e., hardware design for computers). That’s your best bet if you’ve got your choice of majors. Don’t worry about taking math classes on your own, as you’ll get the necessary background as part of the curriculum.

Agree with the above. When I was in college CS degrees had lots of hardware, but not so much anymore. A Computer Engineering degree, or EE if CE is not available, is best. I’d suggest you take a few software classes also, to be able to program well. It seems most of the computer designers I work with know spreadsheets only - being able to program gives me a lot more flexibility.

You should be aware though that these days dentists make more money.

EE here.

Yea, EE is O.K. But if you’re dreaming of doing PCB-level design, those jobs have pretty much moved overseas.

The basic “problem” with EE is that the deliverable (schematic, PCB artwork, code, etc.) can usually be shipped via email. Which means it can be done anywhere. Like India or China. And the hardware is usually small enough that it can also be manufactured overseas.

My advice to anyone who wants to go into engineering? Enter a field where the deliverable cannot be easily shipped. One example is civil engineering. You can’t build a bridge in India to cross a river located in Missouri. :wink:

Outsourcing to India and China is big now, but the complete lack of overlap between our business day and theirs makes communication somewhat difficult, so it may or may not stay big. Still, if you’re worried about competing with them, put some effort into studying English or some other subject with a strong emphasis on communication skills. The market for people who can summarize technical things to businesspeople is strong and only growing bigger.

I happen to be a hardware/software designer. They didn’t really have “computer engineerig” degrees back when I went to school. I have a BSEE and have almost taken enough classes to have a CS degree also.

An associates degree isn’t going to get you diddley. I’ve known many people who have associates degrees who have a better understanding of electronics than people with BS degrees, but there’s still an attitude in the industry that associates degrees are for tech jobs. If you want to do real engineering, you need a BS degree as a minimum.

It’s a tough market out there. As previos posters have mentioned, a lot of work has gone overseas. Still, there are jobs over here. Our company used to have an entire department of hardware engineers. Now we have one dedicated hardware engineer. The hardware jobs aren’t as plentiful as they used to be, but they are out there.

Damn near everything has a processor in it these days. Make sure you learn processors inside and out, and can write embedded software. Learn C, x86 assembly, and assembly and C for PIC microprocessors.

Learn FPGAs and how to write VHDL. A lot of the FPGA manufacturers have free software you can download from their web site where you can build code for their devices and do simulation as well.

Get experience with at least one board layout package. Something like Protel or Orcad is going to cost you at least $10,000, which most students can’t afford. There are some free board layout packages available for linux. Get familiar with them. For about $100 you can e-mail your board layout over to some outfit in china and have them make you a PCB. $100 may be a bit expensive for a student, but do it at least once for the experience.

Nobody needs a hardware designer who is fresh out of school. Everyone wants someone who can hit the ground running. Do co-ops and get whatever experience you can while you are going to school. Even if it’s an unpaid internship, it’s worth it for the experience. You can get a BSEE in four years, but you aren’t going to be worth anything to anyone. Take 6 years to do it, with lots and lots of co-op work in between, and maybe you’ll be marketable when you are done.

If you are good at both hardware and software, you can land yourself a lot of niche jobs. That’s what has kept me employed through most of my career. I got one job because I was the only person who applied who could do it. There’s a tendency in the industry for hardware people not to like software and software people not to like hardware, and when there’s a problem, both groups point their fingers at the other group. Being able to understand both and figure out whether the problem is hardware or software is a valuable skill set which some people do appreciate.

My final word of advice: Read Dilbert. It’s not a comic strip. It’s a documentary of how engineering is done in the real world.

If you love it, stick with it. I’ve been designing stuff for almost 20 years, and I still enjoy going to work every day. I may bitch about a lot of things in my job, but every day I get to go to work and spend all day long doing something I think is fun. How many people can say that?

thanks a lot guys, you’ve given me much to think about and a place to start planning.

To the two EE’s who have responded so far, one of you mentioned that most o fthe work I would have associated with EE is going overseas, so what occupies your time these days?

Also, most of the expensive stuff requires frequent use to attain and retain proficiancy. There is also a lot of overhead creating parts librarys, so that first board can be extreamly painful.

google expresspcb for an inexpensive option.

While industry has gone to overseas suppliers, the U.S. government still pays money to EEs for doing R&D and design work. If you are an EE and want to be paid well, consider working for a government contractor.

The company I work for has outsourced a lot of manufacturing, but most of the engineering is still done in house. I spend a lot of time doing embedded software development, but I still get involved in hardware design projects from time to time.

I’ll be the lone voice for the Computer Science track, i.e. not hardware.

A CS degree is arguably more versatile than any of the ones with ‘engineering’ in the name. The reason for this is that you’ll know how to program, and not in a “I know language X” kind of way. You’ll know how to program in a higher level way that translates into being able to decompose problems and solve them very well. This can play into all sorts of various IT jobs as well as programming jobs. \

The real jobs to be had these days are more in the non-coding related ones, since coding is easily done by Eastern Europeans, Indians and Chinese for pennies on the dollar, compared to an American programmer. Business Analysis, architecture, etc… aren’t so easily done by geeks in foreign countries, mostly due to the interaction with the customers.

You can do many, if not all IT jobs- they take a blend of technical knowledge and business knowledge, and the business stuff is a lot easier to pick up than the technical stuff is. You could do things like be in-house programming staff for a company with a large ERP system, or CRM system. (granted, it’d be kind of dull, but it pays ok). Or you could go into networking, or you could go into many different aspects of IT that aren’t hardcore-coding related.