Computer engineering programs prepare people to use math and science to design and operate computer systems. Students learn how to build hardware and software programs. They also learn to assess how well computers help solve problems and complete tasks.
Try going through an entire day without using a computer. It's harder than you might think. You can't use the telephone, which is a computerized system. For that matter, so is the power grid, so don't turn on the lights. You can't drive a car, unless it's a real antique. Shop only at stores that don't print a receipt. Cook on the barbecue.
Thanks to computer engineers, we don't have to live like that. And now you can appreciate how much impact you can have as a computer engineer. You can solve problems in ways that will improve people's lives.
You do this by applying principles of science. That means that you start a computer engineering program by studying math, chemistry, and physics. You learn the scientific method of experimenting, gathering data, making theories, and testing them. You learn how to create models and simulations of real-life problems.
Programs differ on how much emphasis is placed on hardware versus software. Software tends to dominate. Your purpose in a software-oriented program is not so much to learn to write code (although you do a fair amount); that is the programmer's job. Rather, you learn how to analyze a problem and devise a logical way of processing information to solve the problem (an algorithm). Some programs emphasize software solutions to engineering problems. For example, you might study how to use software to create a simulation of traffic flow in a city.
Programs that emphasize hardware also begin with a lot of math and science. You need to understand how the hardware works, right down to the level of the electron. Just as important, you need to develop a scientific way of thinking. You need to know how to experiment, how to analyze data, and how to create models and simulations.
When you study hardware, you learn about how electronic circuits and switches represent data. You learn how modems and routers deliver data on networks. Still, you'll also study computer software, partly to understand how computer hardware is used. In addition, you need to learn how to use software in engineering research and development.
In general, no matter what your focus is, you learn to write in programming languages. But what's more important is the analysis you do before anyone writes a single line of code. You study ways to organize, store, and retrieve data. You learn how to choose the right technologies to deliver data where it is needed, when it is needed.
Four, perhaps five years of full-time study beyond high school usually is enough for a bachelor's degree. This prepares you for a job in this field. A large number of colleges in the U.S. offer this degree.
In addition, traditional master's and doctorate degrees are offered in this field. In general, master's degrees take two years to complete, and doctorate degrees take another three to five.