The hardware sector covers a broad spectrum of products and activities ranging from the development of advanced semiconductor devices to the test and build of large networking solutions.
Opportunities for would- be developers exist across the market. Key sectors include telecoms, defence, automotive and aerospace. Advances in mobile telephony, electronics in family cars and in-flight entertainment systems illustrate how rapidly technology is developing.
At first sight there are many IT employers that have hardware development divisions, however be aware that not all have development sites within the UK. There are many smaller companies in the UK that focus on specialist elements of hardware development and these can also provide good job options for graduate computer scientists, engineers and physicists.
Hardware trends graduates should know about
There are key developments in both digital and analogue electronics. With the vast quantities of data and information that need to be constantly accessed or processed around the world, hardware developers are working flat out to increase device speed. However, working at higher processing speeds (40 thousand million bits per second and above) presents enormous design challenges.
At the same time there are conflicting demands from the rapid up-take in mobile and wireless technologies, which need to be lightweight and have long battery lives – difficult to achieve as faster processors demand more power and produce more heat.
There is also a merging of the traditional hardware/software divide as FPGA technology (basically ‘empty’ silicon chips that can be programmed with firmware) becomes available. These devices allow software programmers to directly develop ‘custom’ hardware, and conversely allow hardware engineers to implement routines on a processor that would usually be done in software.
Skills needed for graduate careers in hardware
Graduates with good numerate degrees within a subject area that provides some experience of electronics are the typical physicists, mathematicians and computer scientists can be considered alongside electronic engineers for many areas of work.
Specific degrees sought depend on the organisation you apply to and the area of development in which they specialise – a postgraduate qualification may give you an advantage in some areas of research and development. Good communication skills and teamworking ability are essential.
How graduates start out in hardware technology roles
Some organisations have graduate schemes, but others will not and you may have to develop your skills through hands-on experience. Typically graduates start out helping on a project with a small area of responsibility. As you gain experience, you’ll take on more responsibility and will begin to manage self-contained tasks within a project. This leads on to more formal technical project management.
Choose this IT career area if...
- You want variety: hardware development can involve electronic design (schematics) and programming (firmware/software), testing, working out cooling solutions (mechanical design) and design ergonomics.
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