Career Outlook

Electrical and Electronics Engineers, except Computer

Nature of the Work

From the global positioning system that can continuously provide the location of a vehicle to giant electric power generators, electrical and electronics engineers are responsible for a wide range of technologies. Electrical and electronics engineers design, develop, test, and supervise the manufacture of electrical and electronic equipment. Some of this equipment includes broadcast and communications systems; electric motors, machinery controls, lighting, and wiring in buildings, automobiles, aircraft, and radar and navigation systems; and power generating, controlling, and transmission devices used by electric utilities. Many electrical and electronics engineers also work in areas closely related to computers. Engineers whose work is related exclusively to computer hardware are considered computer hardware engineers.

Electrical and electronics engineers specialize in different areas such as power generation, transmission, and distribution; communications; and electrical equipment manufacturing, or a specialty within one of these areas—industrial robot control systems or aviation electronics, for example. Electrical and electronics engineers design new products, write performance requirements, and develop maintenance schedules. They also test equipment, solve operating problems, and estimate the time and cost of engineering projects.

Employment

Electrical and electronics engineers held about 294,000 jobs in 2010, making up the largest branch of engineering. Most jobs were in professional, scientific, and technical services firms, government agencies, and manufacturers of computer and electronic products and machinery. Wholesale trade, communications, and utilities firms accounted for most of the remaining jobs.

Job Outlook

Electrical and electronics engineering graduates should have favorable employment opportunities. The number of job openings resulting from employment growth and the need to replace electrical engineers who transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force is expected to be in rough balance with the supply of graduates.

Employment of electrical and electronics engineers is expected to grow more slowly than the average for all occupations through 2020. Although rising demand for electrical and electronic goods, including advanced communications equipment, defense-related electronic equipment, and consumer electronics products should increase, foreign competition for electronic products and increasing use of engineering services performed in other countries will act to limit employment growth Job growth is expected to be fastest in services industries—particularly consulting firms that provide electronic engineering expertise.

Continuing education is important for electrical and electronics engineers. Engineers who fail to keep up with the rapid changes in technology risk becoming more susceptible to layoffs or, at a minimum, more likely to be passed over for advancement.

Earnings

Median annual earnings of electrical engineers were $84,540 in 2010. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $54,030, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $128,610. Median annual earnings in the industries employing the largest numbers of electrical engineers in 2010 were:

Median Earnings for Electrical Engineers
Type of Job Median Annual Earnings
Semiconductor and other electronic component manufacturing $92,070
Scientific research and development services 90,790
Navigational, measuring, electromedical, and control instruments manufacturing 89,590
Electric power generation, transmission, and distribution 83,960
Architectural, engineering, and related services 83,750

Median annual earnings of electronics engineers, except computer, were $90,170 in 2010. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $57,860, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $135,080. Median annual earnings in the industries employing the largest numbers of electronics engineers in 2010 were:

Median Earnings for Electronics Engineers (except computer)
Type of Job Median Annual Earnings
Federal government $104,310
Semiconductor and other electronic component manufacturing 93,610
Architectural, engineering, and related services 89,360
Navigational, measuring, electromedical, and control instruments manufacturing 88,690
Wired telecommunications carriers 81,380

According to a 2012 salary survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, bachelor’s degree candidates in electrical/electronics and communications engineering received starting offers averaging $57,300 a year. Information on careers and employment, education, publications, and conferences related to electrical and electronics engineers is available from:

See the introduction to the section on engineers for information on working conditions, training requirements, and other sources of additional information.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition, Electrical and Electronics Engineers,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/electrical-and-electronics-engineers.htm (visited June 22, 2012).

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Computer Hardware Engineers

Nature of the Work

Computer hardware engineers research, design, develop, and test computer hardware and supervise its manufacture and installation. Hardware refers to computer chips, circuit boards, computer systems, and related equipment such as keyboards, modems, and printers. (Computer software engineers—often simply called computer engineers—design and develop the software systems that control computers. These workers are covered elsewhere in the Handbook.) The work of computer hardware engineers is very similar to that of electronics engineers, but, unlike electronics engineers, computer hardware engineers work exclusively with computers and computer-related equipment. In addition to design and development duties, computer hardware engineers may supervise the manufacture and installation of computers and computer-related equipment. The rapid advances in computer technology are largely a result of the research, development, and design efforts of computer hardware engineers. To keep up with technological advances, these engineers must continually update their knowledge.

Employment

The number of computer hardware engineers is relatively small compared with the number of computer-related workers who work with software or computer applications. Computer hardware engineers held about 70,000 jobs in 2010. About 35 percent worked in computer and electronic product manufacturing. About 19% work in computer systems design and related services. Many work in scientific research and development areas.

Job Outlook

Computer hardware engineers may face competition for jobs because the number of degrees granted in this field has increased rapidly and because employment is expected grow more slowly than average. Although the use of information technology continues to expand rapidly, the manufacture of computer hardware is expected to be adversely affected by intense foreign competition. Also, this industry is expected to continue to experience very high levels of productivity growth, which will even affect computer hardware engineers. The utilization of foreign computer hardware engineering services also will serve to limit growth. In addition to job openings arising from employment growth, other vacancies will result from the need to replace workers who move into managerial positions, transfer to other occupations, or leave the labor force.

Earnings

Median annual earnings of computer hardware engineers were $98,810 in 2010. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $61,360, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $147,890. Median annual earnings in the industries employing the largest numbers of computer hardware engineers in 2010 were:

Median Earnings for Computer Hardware Engineers
Type of Job Median Annual Earnings
Federal Government $102,950
Computer and electronic product manufacturing 101,320
Computer systems designs and related services 98,860
Scientific research and development services 92,080

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, starting salary offers in 2012 for bachelor’s degree candidates in computer engineering averaged $67,800 a year. Information on careers and employment, education, publications, and conferences related to electrical and electronics engineers is available from:

For further information on careers, education, certification, publications, and conferences related to computer hardware engineers, contact:

See the introduction to the section on engineers for information on working conditions, training requirements, and other sources of additional information.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition, Computer Hardware Engineers,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/computer-hardware-engineers.htm (visited June 22, 2012).

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Computer Software Engineers

Significant Points

  • Computer software engineers are projected to be one of the fastest growing occupations over the 2008 – 2018 period.
  • Highly favorable opportunities are expected for college graduates with at least a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering or computer science and with practical work experience.
  • Computer software engineers must continually strive to acquire new skills in conjunction with the rapid changes in computer technology.

Nature of the Work

The explosive impact of computers and information technology on our everyday lives has generated a need to design and develop new computer software systems and to incorporate new technologies in a rapidly growing range of applications. The tasks performed by workers known as computer software engineers evolve quickly, reflecting new areas of specialization or changes in technology, as well as the preferences and practices of employers. Computer software engineers apply the principles and techniques of computer science, engineering, and mathematical analysis to the design, development, testing, and evaluation of the software and systems that enable computers to perform their many applications.

Software engineers working in applications or systems development analyze users needs and design, construct, test, and maintain computer applications software or systems. Software engineers can be involved in the design and development of many types of software, including software for operating systems and network distribution, and compilers, which convert programs for execution on a computer. In programming, or coding, software engineers instruct a computer, line by line, how to perform a function. They also solve technical problems that arise. Software engineers must possess strong programming skills, but are more concerned with developing algorithms and analyzing and solving programming problems than with actually writing code.

Computer applications software engineers analyze users needs and design, construct, and maintain general computer applications software or specialized utility programs. These workers use different programming languages, depending on the purpose of the program. The programming languages most often used are C, C++, and Java, with Fortran and COBOL used less commonly. Some software engineers develop both packaged systems and systems software or create customized applications.

Computer systems software engineers coordinate the construction and maintenance of a company’s computer systems and plan their future growth. Working with a company, they coordinate each department’s computer needs—ordering, inventory, billing, and payroll record keeping, for example—and make suggestions about its technical direction. They also might set up the company’s intranets—networks that link computers within the organization and ease communication among the various departments.

Systems software engineers work for companies that configure, implement, and install complete computer systems. They may be members of the marketing or sales staff, serving as the primary technical resource for sales workers and customers. They also may be involved in product sales and in providing their customers with continuing technical support.

Computer software engineers often work as part of a team that designs new hardware, software, and systems. A core team may comprise engineering, marketing, manufacturing, and design people who work together until the product is released.

Employment

Computer software engineers held about 909,600 jobs in 2008. About 514,800 were computer applications software engineers, and about 394,800 were computer systems software engineers. Although they are employed in most industries, the largest concentration of computer software engineers, about 30 percent, is in computer systems design and related services. Many computer software engineers also work for establishments in other industries, such as government agencies, manufacturers of computers and related electronic equipment, and colleges and universities.

Employers of computer software engineers range from startup companies to established industry leaders. The proliferation of Internet, e-mail, and other communications systems expands electronics to engineering firms traditionally associated with unrelated disciplines. Engineering firms specializing in building bridges and power plants, for example, hire computer software engineers to design and develop new geographic data systems and automated drafting systems. Communications firms need computer software engineers to tap into growth in the personal communications market. Major communications companies have many job openings for both computer software applications and computer systems engineers.

An increasing number of computer software engineers are employed on a temporary or contract basis, with many being self-employed, working independently as consultants. Some consultants work for firms that specialize in developing and maintaining client companies?Web sites and intranets. Consulting opportunities for software engineers should grow as businesses need help managing, upgrading, and customizing increasingly complex computer systems. About 21,000 computer software engineers were self-employed in 2002.

Job Outlook

Computer software engineers are projected to be one of the fastest growing occupations from 2008 to 2018. Rapid employment growth in the computer systems design and related services industry, which employs the greatest number of computer software engineers, should result in highly favorable opportunities for those college graduates with at least a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering or computer science and practical experience working with computers. Employers will continue to seek computer professionals with strong programming, systems analysis, interpersonal, and business skills.

Despite the recent downturn in information technology, employment of computer software engineers is expected to increase much faster than the average for all occupations, as businesses and other organizations adopt and integrate new technologies and seek to maximize the efficiency of their computer systems. Job growth will not be as rapid as during the previous decade however, as the software industry begins to mature and as routine software engineering work is increasingly outsourced overseas. Competition among businesses will continue to create an incentive for increasingly sophisticated technological innovations, and organizations will need more computer software engineers to implement these changes. In addition to jobs created through employment growth, many job openings will result annually from the need to replace workers who move into managerial positions, transfer to other occupations, or leave the labor force.

Demand for computer software engineers will increase as computer networking continues to grow. For example, the expanding integration of Internet technologies and the explosive growth in electronic commerce—doing business on the Internet—have resulted in rising demand for computer software engineers who can develop Internet, intranet, and World Wide Web applications. Likewise, expanding electronic data-processing systems in business, telecommunications, government, and other settings continue to become more sophisticated and complex. Growing numbers of systems software engineers will be needed to implement, safeguard, and update systems and resolve problems. Consulting opportunities for computer software engineers also should continue to grow as businesses seek help to manage, upgrade, and customize their increasingly complex computer systems.

New growth areas will continue to arise from rapidly evolving technologies. The increasing uses of the Internet, the proliferation of Web sites, and “mobile technology such as the wireless Internet have created a demand for a wide variety of new products. As individuals and businesses rely more on hand-held computers and wireless networks, it will be necessary to integrate current computer systems with this new, more mobile technology. Also, information security concerns have given rise to new software needs. Concerns over cyber security should result in businesses and government continuing to invest heavily in security software that protects their networks and vital electronic infrastructure from attack. The expansion of this technology in the next 10 years will lead to an increased need for computer engineers to design and develop the software and systems to run these new applications and that will allow them to be integrated into older systems.

As with other information technology jobs, employment growth of computer software engineers may be tempered somewhat by an increase in contracting out of software development abroad. Firms may look to cut costs by shifting operations to foreign countries with highly educated workers who have strong technical skills.

Earnings

Median annual earnings of computer applications software engineers who worked full time in 2008 were about $87,900. Median annual earnings of computer systems software engineers who worked full time in 2008 were about $94,520. Median annual earnings in the industries employing the largest numbers of computer applications software engineers in 2008 were:

Median Earnings for Computer Software Engineers
Type of Job Median Annual Earnings
Computer and Peripheral Equipment manufacturing $99,470
Software publishers 89,190
Computer systems design and related services 88,780
Management of companies and enterprises 86,900

Additional information on a career in computer software engineering is available from any of the following sources:

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2008/may/oes151031.htm

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