What is Computer Engineering?
Computer engineering is the design and development of new systems, such as digital logic devices and computers. These new systems may be used for communication, entertainment, computation, artificial intelligence (AI), information processing and control, and more. If you’re making plans to become a computer engineer, you’re likely to also be highly involved with the internet or the cloud.
It may help you become a computer engineer if you already have a wide background in both computer science. In computer engineering, you’ll be part of a rapidly expanding profession, with practically unlimited opportunities and job openings in education, industry, and the government.
Organizations that rank colleges/universities or degree programs such as computer engineering are aware that different states have different business and industry needs and schools are more likely to offer the degree programs needed in their state. Alabama is no different. It is ranked 18th on a list of the most popular states for students seeking this degree field. Out of the 15,694 computer engineering diplomas earned in 2020, 248 were awarded by universities and colleges in Alabama.
Categories included in rankings for colleges in this field include higher than average earnings after graduation, high-quality schools, popularity of the state’s computer engineering degree programs, the degree of focus on computer engineering versus other majors, and accreditation.
Computer Engineering Education in Alabama
Associate Degree in Computer Engineering (AS)
If you are interested in computer programming or engineering before leaving high school, you may want to consider taking and understanding algebra and trigonometry, geometric proofing, probability/statistics, biology or other sciences that use the scientific method such as physics and chemistry, and English classes that teach you clear communication of intent, formal argumentation, and critical thinking.
After earning your associate of science in computer engineering technology, you’ll have the skillset you need to begin working as an electronics technician. Your courses give you a foundation in digital and analog electronics, circuit theory and design, and computer programming.
If you plan to earn a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering technology, which you should if you plan to find employment as a computer engineer, you’ll already have two years of a bachelor’s degree completed, meaning that you may only need to spend two more years at a university offering this degree program. This can help you get into the field and gain income and experience before you even finish a bachelor’s degree.
You want to make sure that your associate degree program offers an introduction to electrical and electronics design; this includes DC/AC circuit principles/design. You’ll also need to learn about both analog electronics and digital electronics, as well as computer programming.
Some courses you may take include Fundamental Properties of DC Circuits and Lab, Fundamental Properties of AC Circuits and Lab, Programming in C++, and Microprocessor Systems Engineering. After graduating, you’ll be able to work in entry-level technician jobs that focus on electrical engineering and electronics.
Bachelor's Degree in Computer Engineering (BS)
Entering a bachelor’s degree program in computer engineering, you can reasonably expect to have a chance to be on a team that creates a new “big thing”. As a full-fledged computer engineer, you and your team may research and design entire computer systems. You’ll also, one they have been built, manufacture, test, and make improvements on these systems.
After graduation, you may work as a computer network architect, computer hardware engineer, or a network and computer systems administrator. You may also work as a data scientist, in cyber security, design engineer, hardware design engineer, machine learning engineer, software developer, systems administrator, or software engineer. No matter where you end up, you’ll be a meaningful member of a team that solves problems and creates unique designs in computer innovation.
Master's Degree in Computer Engineering (MS or MC)
While an MBA is a hot degree, it does not fully delve into technical matters, being rather a business administration program. However, earning a master’s in computer engineering means you get to roll your sleeves up and dive into the details and work of engineering. Aside from helping to design a machine learning system, as an engineer, you’ll help to tackle and solve complex questions as well as developing new ideas that may help to transform industries.
As a computer engineer, you need to learn and develop skills that are unique to this field. It is precisely because this is such a technical field that computer engineers often require a master’s degree in order to be a fully licensed engineer. While you may learn the basics with an associate degree and gain more depth in the subject with a bachelor’s, you cannot make use of the great depth and breadth of engineering knowledge without going through a specialized master’s program in computer engineering. And, once you have, your role on the job is to move technology forward. You’ll design, produce, and test the new generation of hardware for computer systems, as well as network architecture.
While you’re in school, you may take courses in or focus on any of these areas: digital signal processing, artificial intelligence, high-performance computing, heterogeneous systems design, simulation modeling, holography and diffraction, signal detection and estimation, simulation modeling, software engineering’, and wireless communications and networks.
PhD Degree in Computer Engineering (PhD)
Is a PhD in computer engineering really necessary? Consider these points - With a doctorate, you can become a leader in your professional field. Less than 2% of all Americans have a doctorate in any field. Many high-level education/academic positions may require that you have a master’ or even a doctorate degree.
Before you take the plunge, figure out if a PhD is necessary as a computer engineer. Because so many PhD programs are research-oriented, you’ll find yourself pushing the boundaries of what is already known in this field. Even better, you’ll be able to focus on an area of specialty so you can make your own discoveries.
In a computer engineering doctoral program, you’ll open your career so you are able to lead research and development in technology questions. Imagine yourself developing a new software that organizations like Google, Amazon, and NASA will be able to use. That PhD means you’ll be able to lead a research and development team in one of a variety of areas.
Become a Computer Engineer in Alabama
First, you should have an idea of how you want to benefit from a computer engineering degree program, what you want to learn, and any specializations you believe may help you in your computer engineering career search. A well-designed computer engineering degree program should give you a solid and broad foundation of the components of modern computer systems—these are the hardware and software components. You should also see a computer systems design aspect in the curriculum, as well as courses covering the role of different computer systems in engineering disciplines such as mechanical, aerospace, and chemical.
By the time you graduate, you should be ready to operate in one of a myriad of positions. This may include database administration, computer and information scientists, operations research analysis, software engineer, hardware engineer, computer support specialist, computer systems analyst, network system and data manager, network and computer systems administrator, communications analyst, computer programmer, etc. All of these roles are reachable after earning a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering.
If you go back to school for your master’s in computer engineering, look for degree programs in electrical engineering, computer engineering, computer science, and business and commerce. You may also choose a graduate degree in medicine or the law. It just depends on what you want to do and what field you want to work within.
First, you’ll need a Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering; you’ll complete your general education requirements, including humanities and fine arts, natural sciences and mathematics, history, and social & behavioral sciences. Your degree program should be heavy in computer science or engineering courses if you choose computer engineering as your major or plan to complete a computer science degree and move into engineering in your mater’s program. You’ll also take computer technical electives and, depending on the school or program, may finish up with a computer senior lab.
One university includes a Professional Component Standing, which is required for students who want to take electrical engineering 300 and 400-level classes. Expanding on your major core, you’ll complete up to around 60 hours in electrical engineering, engineering, computer information systems, and computer science. Electrical engineering courses are an important part of this type of degree program since you’ll be building machines that need electrical power.
Top College Programs in Alabama for Computer Engineering
- The University of Alabama:
This university has one computer engineering degree program. The University of Alabama is a very large, four-year university in Tuscaloosa, which is a midsize city. It’s also a public (state) university, making programs more inexpensive for Alabama state residents. The total student population is 38,100 students, with a student-teacher ratio of 25 to 1.
- University of Alabama at Birmingham:
One computer engineering degree program is available for students wanting this degree. Located in Birmingham, this is a public, four-year university. The student population is just over 22,000, with a student-teacher ratio of 24 to 1.
- The University of South Alabama:
This university has one computer engineering degree program. The school is large, with just under 14,400 students and a student-teacher ratio of 25 to 1. Located in Mobile, the computer engineering program awarded degrees to 16 students in a recent year who earned bachelor’s degrees in computer engineering.
- The University of Alabama in Huntsville:
While this university is smaller with just under 10,000 students, it offers four computer engineering degree programs. The university is located in Huntsville, a midsize city. It’s a four-year, public university. The school graduated 53 computer engineering students in a recent year: 42 graduated with their bachelor’s degrees, 8 with their master’s degrees, and 3 with their doctoral degrees.
- Auburn University:
Located in the small city of Auburn, Alabama, Auburn University is a very large school, with 30,400+ students. The school is a public university with a student-faculty ratio of 21 to 1. The strength of the computer engineering program is reflected by the fact that, in 2019, the school awarded degrees in computer engineering to 123 students earning their bachelor’s degrees, 47 who earned their master’s degrees, and 4 who earned their doctoral degrees.
Careers for Computer Engineering Graduates
Junior/Senior Software Engineer:
A junior software engineer may carry out developers’ jobs. You’ll need up to 1.5 years of experience for this position, a passion for learning, and a basic knowledge of IT from a software and hardware point of view. You’ll also need basic computer programming skills with an ability to learn to use the tools the company wants you to use. Knowledge of a programming language (or multiple) is beneficial and can help you find more or better positions.
A senior software engineer is required to have at least five years of experience and the ability to complete tasks that may be easier or more difficult. You should also be able to work as a scientist, experimenting, testing, validating assumptions, and connecting the dots so you can come to a conclusion. You’ll also develop and mentor developers on your team.
- Computer Engineer:
In this position, you’ll be responsible for managing and designing the hardware and software systems a company produces. You may specialize in either hardware or software and some who fill these positions are called programmers. A major part of this role includes developing software systems, new equipment design, and updates to existing hardware. You may also test and inspect software that the company uses.
- Computer Programmer:
In a computer programmer position, your responsibility is to create code for software applications and operating systems. Your work begins once a software developer has designed a computer program; you write the code that changes the design into instructions that a computer understands and follows. Once you’ve written the program, you test it over and over again until it is free of errors or bugs. Periodically, you’ll evaluate these programs, completing adjustments and updates when needed.
- Computer Systems Analyst:
Your role as a computer systems analyst is to improve user experience with new programs. You’ll advise clients or employers on the software they may need, install the software, then interact with users to ensure the programs are functioning correctly. You may be either a small startup or a large corporation. Another part of your duties includes surveying and diagnosing database program issues and resolving user issues.
As a hardware engineer, you’ll manage the manufacturing, installation, and testing of servers, computer systems, chips, and circuit boards. Some responsibilities of hardware engineers include testing and peer review for technical accuracy.
A firmware engineer’s daily duties depend on the industry they are in. Most of your time may be in the lab, where you write and test new firmware, relying on a small level of customer interaction.
- Software Developer:
As a software developer you will create new computer programs; you may also develop applications so that users can carry out specific actions on a mobile device or computer. Or you may help to develop the ‘behind the scenes’ systems that control networks or run those devices. You’ll analyze the needs of users before designing, testing, and developing software.
- Machine Learning Engineer:
Along with designing self-running AI software, those in this position also help optimize machine learning systems. This includes evaluating the existing ML processes and performing statistical analysis that corrects data set problems. You may also be responsible for improving the accuracy of software’s predictive automation capabilities. You’ll need a high level of data science knowledge and experience from a related machine learning role in order to succeed in this type of position.
- Chief Information Officer (CIO):
In this position, you’ll guide your company’s technical direction. This involves establishing technology goals and planning out and managing important IT projects. This may involve equipment procurement, personnel reshuffling, and budget shifts, and will allow your company to reach the goals you have set for their technological capabilities. This role is becoming more and more important because technology has become central to the success of businesses. This means that demand is increasing for CIOs who are able to think ahead toward the future. You have to be able to interpret what your company’s business needs are, then figure out the latest IT solutions and carry them out.