As any kid with a closet full of energy drinks and taco chips knows, when it comes to computers, hardware is the actual physical machine and software is all instructions that make the hardware work. This means a computer software engineer - these days simply called a computer engineer - can end up working on anything that has a microprocessor in it, from something as small as a smart phone to a robotic assembly line for a car manufacturer onto the NASA space platform.
Of all the STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) professions, one of the fastest growing, as well as the most exciting, is computer software engineering. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of 2008, there were currently over 900,000 computer engineers in the U.S. That the occupation is projected to expand by 21% by 2018 should not come as a surprise to anyone who has been reading the news lately.
Computer engineers divide into two categories: applications engineers and systems engineers. Applications engineers analyze users' needs, construct and maintain general software applications and programs. Systems engineers coordinate the construction, maintenance, and expansion of computer systems. The latter also design and implement system security, internet/intranet and data assurance.
The Bureau projects the future of the software engineer to be quite bright. Employers prefer applicants who have at least a bachelor's degree and broad knowledge of a variety of computer systems and technologies. Applications specialists' majors are computer science, software engineering or mathematics. Systems software engineers often study computer science or computer information systems. Postgraduate degrees are preferred for more complex jobs.
On the plus front, salaries are exceptional. The median computer engineer should expect a salary of just under $72,000. Entry level, depending on experience, usually starts at slightly over $50,000. The upper ten percent of computer engineers can earn over $135,000. Jobs come with attractive perks, among them life/health insurance, profit sharing and other investment programs, continued education aid for online colleges and retirement programs.
Because of the extreme need for more computer engineers, a lot of financial aid is also available, from the gifted young high school grad to the experienced engineer looking to stay up-to-date or get his/her Ph.D. This goes well beyond the standard Pell and state grants into such things as the National Science Foundation's S-STEM scholarship. The occupation's main certification program, the American Board for Engineering and Technology, also has a handy guide for assistance, as are many, many commercial entities such as Microsoft, Intel and others.
As said before, the future of computer engineers looks quite bright for some time to come. A science degree is allowing many to step into the varied world of technology. The world has an insatiable desire for the latest technology, and none of it runs without a engineered software program. An online IT degree may just be what your next employer finds the perfect company fit.