Computer engineers develop software and programs for computers. These may include computer games, operating systems, middleware, business applications and network control systems. Computer engineers must have an extensive knowledge of computers, programming and other related sciences, and continue to educate themselves so they keep up with rapidly changing technologies. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were approximately 1.3 million computer engineers and programmers employed in the United States in 2008. The field should continue to grow, though certain specialties may see fewer opportunities than others.
Computer engineers evaluate users' needs and utilize principles from mathematics and computer science to create software that meets the requirements. They develop algorithms and may convert them into programming language as well.
Some computer engineers are application engineers, and are responsible for creating general computer applications software. Others are systems engineers, and oversee the development and maintenance of computer systems. They will often make suggestions to help improve a company's computer network. Computer engineers may also specialize in programming, and may upgrade and modify existing computer programs.
Most computer engineers have at least a bachelor's degree, and usually major in subjects like computer science, software engineering, computer information systems or mathematics. Some computer engineering jobs may only require an associate degree or certificate. Engineers who plan to develop business applications often take classes in management information systems and business. Some computer engineers pursue graduate degrees as well. Many software and vendor companies offer certification for computer engineers who work with their products, and engineers may also be certified by professional computing societies. Given rapid improvements in technology, most computer engineers participate in continuing education courses so they keep up-to-date with the latest products and technologies.
Computer engineers usually work in offices or labs where computer networks and equipment are kept. Some are able to telecommute because work can be done remotely via the Internet on laptops and home computers. In general, computer engineers work standard 40-hour weeks, though some must work overtime hours as well. Traveling may also be required if an engineer works with consulting firms or software vendors. Computer engineers are prone to some physical issues, such as eyestrain, carpal tunnel syndrome and back pain because they spend many hours in front of computers.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary of computer engineers who specialize in software development was $85,420 as of May 2008. Those who worked in systems engineering had an annual median salary of $92,430. Computer engineers that specialize in programming had the lowest median salary, earning only $69,620.
The BLS estimates that employment for computer engineers will grow by 21 percent between 2008 and 2018, which is a much faster rate that the average for all occupations. Computer engineers who specialize in software engineering should enjoy the best prospects because there will continue to be a demand for professionals who can create Internet and intranet applications. Computer programmers, on the other hand, will see a decrease in employment opportunities as more and more programming jobs are outsourced, and users are increasingly able to develop their own programs.
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