Computer engineering is divided into two basic disciplines — hardware engineering and software engineering. Computer hardware engineers are involved in the development, design and installation of circuit boards, computer chips, modems, keyboards and other computer equipment. Software engineers deal with both individual-computer and systems software applications, analyzing users’ needs and developing, testing, installing and maintaining software programs. Hardware and software engineers work as members of teams that see the entire process through, from developing and installing hardware and software to educating users and providing maintenance.
Computer Hardware Engineers
Compared to software engineers, the number of computer hardware engineers is relatively small. According to EngineerSalary.com, there are about 67,400 U.S. computer hardware engineer positions that pay a median salary range of $58,910 to $100,820, or $742.50 to $8,401.67 per month. The bottom 10th percentile median salary is $48,530 — $4044.17 a month — and the top-end salary is 123,480, or $10,290 a month. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics places the median salary for hardware engineers at $98,820, or $8,325 a month. The lowest 10 percent earn a median salary of $60,690 — $5.057.50 per month — and the top 10th percentile median is $148,910 a year, or $12,409.17 a month. EngineerSalary.com also reports that median salaries by industry are $84,330 for computer and office equipment workers, $79,940 for computer and IT services, $75,180 for electronic components and accessories, and $72,790 for telecommunications.
Computer Software Engineers
Computer applications software engineers held about 514,800 jobs in 2008 and computers systems software engineers held about 394,800 positions, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Another 426,700 were employed as computer programmers. The median salary for computer and systems software engineers is $93,470, with a bottom 10th percentile median of $59,600, or $4,966.67 a month, and a top-end salary of $139,930, or $1,660.83 a month. PayScale reports the salary range of software engineers, developers and programmers as $52,126 to $80,251, or $4,343.83 to $6,687.58 a month, based on the 25th to 75th percentile of salaries.
A survey by Michigan Technological University reveals that, based on offers made to 2008-2009 graduates, the average salary offer for computer engineers was $58,700, with a high offer of $65,000 a year and a low figure of $53,000. Among all engineering degree fields, only petroleum engineers at $83,121, chemical engineers at $64,902 and $mining engineers at $64,404 earned higher post-graduate job offers than computer engineers, according to a 2009 CNN Money survey. Computer engineers were fourth among all degrees when it came to highest-paying job offers.
Salary.com shows a progression of salaries for computer hardware engineers based on increased experience, job title and responsibilities. A hardware engineer I earns a median salary of $57,546. A computer hardware engineer V makes a median salary of $119,849. The same trend applies to software engineers, who earn a median salary of $57,955 in software engineer I positions. A software engineer V’s median salary is $115,366.
The average salary of a computer engineer in San Francisco is $107,000, according to Indeed.com. In New York City, the average salary is $109,000. Des Moines, Iowa, pays a median salary of $71,000 and the average salary of a computer engineer in Tucson, Ariz., is $68,000.
Job growth is projected to be faster for software and systems engineers through 2018 than for hardware engineers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. A 21 percent job growth rate is predicted, increasing software engineering positions from 1,336,300 in 2008 to 1,619,300 by 2018, which is much faster than the projected growth rate for all occupations. Computer hardware engineering jobs will grow at a rate slower than the national average.