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A Day In The Life Of A Computer Hardware Engineer

Young woman computer hardware engineer holding / looking at a motherboard
Courtesy of coffeekai / Twenty20

Ever wondered what it was like to spend a day as a computer hardware engineer? Is it all experiment, testing, and debugging? Or is it full of documentation? We’ve listed five (5) core tasks that comprise the day of a hardware engineer with each task designated a percentage as to what part it consumes the day.

1. Meetings, Conference Calls, and Reports (10%)

You might think that as an engineer, there are fewer meetings and more actual action that takes place. That might be true in some cases, but a typical day would contain at least one meeting, whether it’s formal or informal.

Why Are They Necessary?

As an engineer, it is customary to provide periodic updates to your teammates and counterparts as well as get ideas from them as to how to approach a specific problem or task on which you’re working. Another positive outcome during a meeting is that you get a good sense of prioritization for your tasks so that you will be able to speak out about what you can realistically accomplish for the day! 

Facts:

A good meeting always consists of a short and straight to the point presentation of your project. This way, your colleagues will easily understand what you’re working on and what is the current progress of your tasks. Most engineers probably hate documentation, but when it comes to meetings, documentation is the best material an engineer can have.

2. Laboratory Time (40%)

Being in the laboratory is the most fun part of the day and probably the favorite of most engineers as they’re able to express themselves more freely during this time of the day. Whether you’re building that circuit, creating a prototype and testing if it’s working, or gathering data on a project, it is probably the most fulfilling part of the day as engineers get to try what has been lurking on their mind for some time.

Why Is It Necessary?

Experiments put ideas to the test with and experiments are conducted in laboratories. Every great idea from any invention would have been born in laboratory somewhere. Most hardware engineers do not present an idea unless it has been tested and proven to be working – some even go as far creating a mock-up so that others can visualize it. This is the part of the product lifecycle when engineers go crazy debugging a problem, writing down each possible cause of the problem and testing each item to eliminate it until they find a final root cause of the problem. Creating more experiments and scenarios for your ideas also gives engineers tons of data they can use or leverage whenever colleagues and seniors evaluate them or they are pressured to finish a task. Providing good-quality data about the obstacles you encountered might be enough to convince them to extend your deadline. The one great thing about science and engineering is that once statistically accurate data support your project, others will consider your project validated!

Facts:

Before going to the laboratory, most engineers make a to-do list; whether it’s a list of things to get or a list of data to gather, they usually have an agenda to cover what they need to do. Also, don’t expect a laboratory to be clean; everything might be messy, depending on the culture of your company, but hardware engineers should know where to locate everything, even if it is under a chair or a table! Ideally, you should do your part to maintain orderliness whenever possible.

3. Analysis, Analysis, and Analysis! (30%)        

You’re probably starting to realize that your typical day is similar to a scientific method. After gathering data, it’s time to draw a conclusion, but before that point, engineers analyze the data they’ve gathered and try to interpret what the information means.

Why Is It Necessary?

Analyzing the data is probably the most nerve-wracking part of the day, as hardware engineers try to conclude something out of current and voltage readings. However, it can fun because it’s similar to solving a 1000-piece puzzle because the more you look into data, the more you understand the behavior of a specific circuit or scenario. The analysis also gives the engineers ideas as to what is lacking on the hardware, what should be done to it for it to improve, and how they can prove the initial conclusion with further tests.

Facts:

You might wonder why analysis is only taking up half the time of laboratory time – that’s because, during experiments in the laboratory, engineers are initially running the numbers in their minds and always asking themselves “Does this data make sense? How about if we try this?”. During the analysis phase – before making a conclusion – data is also compared with data from completed relevant projects to ensure that your preliminary assessment is accurate.

4. Peer Consultation (10%)

A great mind can be useful for a specific project, but what about two great minds working together? Peer consultation is beneficial especially if engineers have encountered an obstacle wherein they’ve run out of ideas on how to approach that obstacle.

Why Is It Necessary?

Consulting your peers help improve team collaboration and gives you another perspective on your problem, which will consequently lead to a faster resolution or more innovative ideas!

Tips:

Peer consultations are more fun when done during lunch or game breaks – there’s no need for colleagues to pressure one another so engineers do it in the most fun way they can, whether with food or games!

5. Keeping Up With The Tech and Time (10%)

Most engineers read up on the latest updates of their community so they can stay current on the latest trends and entertain themselves – this is a stress reliever and professional-growth all packed into one.

Why Is It Necessary?

Working is always fun as long as you’re enjoying what you’re working on, and this applies to all jobs, even for those who do not work as engineers. Reading about new trends and new ideas empowers the mind and widens the thinking of engineers, and this helps them even in their smallest tasks.

Tips:

As a form of bonding between colleagues, engineers tend to share new stuff they’ve been reading about the internet with fellow engineers, especially if they’re interested in the same particular field!