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What made you want to work in computer hardware vs computer software or vice versa?

Hi! My name is Anina, and I'm a high school senior interning for Career Village. I'm really interested in both computer hardware and computer software. How did you decide which you wanted to pursue professionally? Do I have to choose, or can I pursue both? #computer-software #engineering #technology #software-engineering #it #computer-hardware

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Rick’s Answer

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Funny, I never actually thought about this question before. :)


The first thing I'd say is that you'll know when you get into a bit. If you take a couple of entry level courses for both hardware and software, you'll know pretty soon whether you enjoy hardware engineering or software coding better. Either way you go, you'll end up learning a lot about both.


Also keep in mind that most hardware companies employ software engineers and most software companies have some hardware specialists (although they're not usually designing hardware). It's a lot more fluid than you might think. I'm in sales for a software company and my job is to partner with hardware companies (the major PC brands you already know) to distribute our software (that's referred to as OEM sales). And I have a systems engineer (SE) who works with me. His job is to bridge the world between hardware and software, making sure our software works well with the OEM's computers, doesn't slow them down, etc. There are a lot of jobs that bridge both worlds.


My experience has been that if you study what you love, work hard, be persistent, and are open to unexpected opportunities, you'll do great!

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Tina’s Answer

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Hello Anina! Great question. I LOVE both computer hardware and software! You can pursue both. I have. I started with computer software (coding) then I moved into computer hardware. Currently for work, I get to take apart Mac computers and iPhones and repair them. I also get to troubleshoot all the Apple operating systems (software). I love working with my hands for hardware and I love the infinite possibilities of software.


What I would recommend doing is looking into a volunteer opportunity/team/class in robotics. There you could build a robot and also program a robot.


Check out FIRST Robotics for some information : http://www.firstinspires.org/robotics/frc


This would give you insight and experience on both sides. Not to mention, a great project to put on your resume! Even though I work mainly with software troubleshooting and hardware repairs, I do still code everyday outside of work. I love creating applications and solving problems. I think the Swift Playgrounds tool on iPad would be another fun learning opportunity for you that involves coding. It will be free in the App Store this Fall. I love Swift!! There are also other apps that offer free e-learning like Khan Academy. If you do not have a mobile device and have a computer, check out - Coursera, Udemy, and Lynda. Great resources! You can audit classes for Coursera for free, and there are some free courses on Udemy.


I believe understanding computer architecture provides a solid foundation for any field you choose. What I like most about software engineering is that remote opportunities exist where you can work from home or travel etc. You also do not need as many tools as you need with hardware. I think both computer hardware and software are awesome.


I hope this helps!! Good luck!! So excited for you to explore this field!

Thank you comment icon Thanks for the advice. Really Great. Sharp TV
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Brian’s Answer

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I have the benefit of having worked in both industries. Education & experience in the software industry transfers more easily than that in the hardware industry. In other words, the market for software skills is bigger than that in the hardware industry.


Yet, the hardware industry was more appealing to me. I truly loved what I did in the computer hardware industry and enjoyed a wide variety of opportunities. My education was based in both electrical and mechanical engineering. It created a foundation which allowed me to explore and to figure out I was more interested in the relationship between business & technology than the technology itself.


My advice to you is to focus on getting an education in an area you enjoy. If you enjoy both, then take a few courses in each area and decide if you want to specialize or be a talented generalist. You will know what you want to do when you don't mind putting in the hours to try something and allow yourself to make mistakes so can learn from them.


The education direction you select is only a foundation which allows you to explore. If you don't like what you are doing, then learn from it and go try something different. Your goal is to enjoy the journey.

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David’s Answer

What made the decision for me was that I couldn't get through the courses for Computer Engineering in college without taking everything twice (Computer Engineering is a low-level software discipline with solid hardware experience). I knew I could do Computer Science, so I did. My mistake was not realizing that maybe when people said that the college I went to was hard, they actually meant it...


I mention that story not to discourage, but to remind that there are practical sides to decisions like these. The practical side shouldn't necessarily overrule going after dreams or what you'd like to do, but it's wise to be aware of the practical sides, and give them some respect.


But, if you want to find out what suits you now, it might be useful if you can find a makerspace or a hackerspace. If they have "open house" days where people show off what they're doing, you can use those to get a sense of what's involved with the DIY side of both hardware and software, how they fit together, etc. That way, you don't have to use college classes just to get your bearings. The makerspace I'm in tries pretty hard to be friendly and helpful, but I've heard a story or two that not all of them are like that, so your mileage may vary on this idea.

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Gary’s Answer

Hi,
good question, I always advise to learn as much as possible and be well rounded so doing or at least studying both would be a great idea. if you take courses in both, you can learn and decide which area you like more...hardware or software...then specialize from there.
degree plans in information technology, information sciences, computer information technology, etc...will offer you courses in both as requirements and you can choose your electives based on your interests.
good luck, Gary

Thank you comment icon Thank you for the advice! Anina
Thank you comment icon hardware is just about specifications, enhancement processing power etc, but software has various fields starting from development, to testing to quality and field sales. i would suggest to have basic knowledge of hardware and take up the field which excites you the most Nimish Shah
Thank you comment icon Nice thought!! Myla
Thank you comment icon Every tangible device is hardware and requires software to customize the functioning of the same. I would suggest that go for the software part and you would understand hardware automatically. Barinder Singh Ghuman
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Bill’s Answer

There is no reason you can't work for both a hardware and software company during your career. In fact I would recommend that you try both. I have worked for each and found that even though they were both in the computer industry, they had some significant differences. As you gain experience in each and can decide which you enjoy more.

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Mario’s Answer

Hello Anina,
It great to hear that you are interested in computer software and hardware. They are both great professional fields. I chose computer software because it is a broader field than computer hardware. There are more opportunities in the computer software field and the industry advances very quickly. Developing computer software also requires less infrastructure. Therefore you can do it independently, start your own business or work for a great software company. I wish you the best in your career.

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Troy’s Answer

In my experience Software Companies are much more profitable, and more challenging to gain certifications in, or multiple areas of expertise are required to be proficient. All of that translates into higher pay for you, although potentially more work and studying.

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Mario’s Answer

Moving from IT hardware to software was a natural step in my career. As you look at technology today, the driving force is software. The business model is so different that it provides hands-on experience to the world of subscription and SaaS. For anyone that has been on the hardware side, I strongly suggest looking for ways to transition to a sw company.

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Cameron’s Answer

If you don't like programming than software is probably not for you. I have always liked working with computers but I very much dislike programming so hardware support was a better fit for me. There are aspects of software support that don't include programming but most of the career end software positions include programming in some form or another.

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Steven’s Answer

Great question, Anina!

I have worked in both industries, hardware and software. I pursue my interests while also considering the available opportunities and growth. Let me tell you a bit about my journey.


I was writing some desktop software for fun while studying in school. While entering job market, I chose to do embedded software since that involves hardware-software interface and I could learn and contribute to both worlds.


Later on, I felt more fascinated by the hardware world, while still maintaining my interests in software, and went to earn a graduate degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering, covering both sides, designing integrated circuit chips while writing modeling software for it.

Then after some more research time in integrated circuit industry, I found that cloud software industry grows much faster, provides many more opportunities and fascinating projects to work on. So I switched to my current cloud software company.


Hope my career journey can provide some insights. The career is not a fixture and always evolves according to the changes of industry and personal interests.

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Kevin’s Answer

Growing up, I have always developed a likening towards video games, web pages, and later on mobile apps. In high school and college, I studied computer science, which required both hardware and software courses. I noticed not only did I enjoy the software courses more, I also felt more interested in going above and beyond with software outside of school. Some friends and I even collaborated and built a couple of mobile games just for fun.

That's not to say that hardware is bad in any way. A number of my childhood friends loved building their own PC's, building and racing their own RC cars, or just loved installing/fixing machinery around the house. A mentality like that ultimately led them down a more hardware centric future.

When choosing which field to work in, the only criteria should be what interests you the most. That way, it never feels like work. You will also be more inclined to give >100% effort into your projects.

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Pradip’s Answer

If you consider any of them, consider a third option - both. But do it wisely. Software creation isn't only programming, but whole software engineering. Most programming HW engineers I met during my career lack skills of proper software engineering as they're mostly self-taught programmers of C and/or assembler.

Then there is a large group of soft hardware engineers, who mostly don't design PCBs, but write in logic/hardware description languages (Verilog or VHDL). The trick here is that design is more like HW design, but as you write code it's software engineering either. Lack of skills and experience in the latter leads to disastrous situations, like code versions kept on pen drives.

I never had the opportunity to pursue the HW path more as I would be very keen to use software engineering practices in relation to Verilog, VHDL or SystemC code. Unfortunately for everyone who wants to pursue such a path, the open-source world doesn't have much to offer as most tools for hardware description languages are closed source commercial products.
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Fergal’s Answer

Hi. That's a good question but don't feel you have to make a choice this early in your career. Learn the foundations of technology including computer architecture, programming, mathematics and logic. You will find a path into computer hardware or software over time. In truth the majority of computer hardware now involves a lot of software also. I spent many years doing development for embedded software systems, these are hardware devices that do very specific tasks such as network routers. This involves writing software for custom hardware and requires you to be very familiar with the underlying hardware and chipsets.


Best of luck in your career.


F

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Rita’s Answer

Hi Anina.


I'm looking at the other posts to see what feedback has been given so far.


I'm personally of the belief that computer software is more broad than computer hardware. Computer hardware is very hands-on and really only serves as the vehicle that uses the computer software. Think of computer hardware as the engine to a car. So, what type of engine do you want? Computer software is more about the experiences you can have related to the car. Do you want to go downtown? Do you want to go 4x4ing?


My experience in the computer industry has been full of both: hardware and software. But the times I had the most hardware work were the days I dressed super nice. It's not my favorite thing to be on the floor in a dress, popping RAM and motherboards out of a computer :-) I'd much rather write code or determine where my project is at (% completion, or deliverables completed) than dealing with the hardware aspect.


Everyone is different: experiment. Try it out. Aim for an internship with both components. Do you get excited about pulling a computer apart? Great! If not, do a bit more in the computer software part of the business.

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Matt’s Answer

I wanted to focus on security and it was a natural path to go the software route. It will soon be a service, but security is so important going forward.

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