Hardware consists of the physical components of a computer. Software tells those parts what to do and how to do it. Simply put, without software, your hardware wouldn’t do anything. Without hardware, your software would have nothing to do.
Hardware includes monitors, keyboards, speakers, printers, and any other tangible computer component. The operating system and programs installed on your computer are software.
Below, we’ve broken down hardware vs. software, plus jobs and skills related to each.
Examples of computer hardware tasks
Hardware tasks are at the forefront of building, designing, and repairing internal and external computer hardware. Hardware roles include:
- computer engineer
- Computer Hardware Designer
- Computer Hardware Program Manager
- Computer Hardware Support Specialist
- Assembly technician
Hardware Career Skills
Computer hardware tasks require knowledge of different types of hardware, their uses and how they work. Technical skills for computer hardware professionals include:
- Hardware design, build and test
- How to connect machines, replace parts and make repairs
- Hardware debugging and troubleshooting
- Using engineering tools to prepare diagrams and prototypes
- Coding and Software Basics
Getting started in a hardware role
To get a hardware role, a bachelor’s degree in computer and information technology or degree in computer engineering provides fundamental knowledge and skills. (Degrees in related fields also work.)
You must have a background in mathematics, science and computer software systems.
Earning a degree from an ABET accredited program demonstrates to prospective employers the quality of your education. Some advanced tasks may require a master computer technology rank.
Examples of software roles
Computer software roles range from entry-level coding to advanced careers in software engineering. Software developers design, test, and maintain computer systems and applications.
Common positions include:
Software Career Skills
Software careers require knowledge of programming languages, software design and testing, and how software and hardware relate to each other. Software career skills include:
Get started in a software role
There are many paths you can take to a software role. You can teach yourself programming, attend a boot camp or computer science degree or a degree in a related field.
In addition to computer programming, you will benefit from an understanding of cloud computing platforms such as: Amazon Web Services and database software such as Microsoft SQL.
Salary Comparison: Hardware vs. Software Roles
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for computer hardware engineers in May 2021 was $128,170† Computer software engineers earned an average of $110,140.
Revenues aside, job opportunities for software professionals outnumber their hardware counterparts.
The BLS predicts a 2% growth in employment for hardware engineers by 2030. Meanwhile, software developers are expected to see employment growth of 22%.
What you earn as a hardware or software professional depends on many factors. Education and experience, location and the type of business you work for all count.
Consider increasing your earning potential:
- Prove your skills with technical certifications
- Seizing Professional Development Opportunities
- Earning Advanced Degrees
What’s right for me: hardware or software?
To decide whether hardware or software is right for you, you need to take stock of your interests, strengths, and career goals.
You may enjoy working with hardware like…
- You like hands-on assembly and maintenance of equipment
- You like to make models and prototypes to present to colleagues and customers
- Solving problems and implementing solutions is something you enjoy
You may enjoy working with software as…
- You like programming and are detail-oriented
- You value creativity and collaboration in your work
- Finding solutions to problems related to the software design process sounds exciting
Unless otherwise noted, job growth and salary data is from the US Labor Statistics Bureau as of 1 July 2022.