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 would not do anything. Without hardware, your software wouldn’t have anything to do.
Hardware includes monitors, keyboards, speakers, printers, and any other tangible computer part. 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 jobs
Hardware jobs sit 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 jobs require knowledge of different types of hardware, their uses, and how they function. Technical skills for computer hardware professionals include:
- Hardware design, building, and testing
- How to connect machines, change parts, and make repairs
- Hardware debugging and troubleshooting
- Using engineering tools to prepare diagrams and prototypes
- Coding and software fundamentals
Getting started in a hardware role
To enter a hardware role, a bachelor’s computer and information technology or computer engineering degree provides foundational knowledge and skills. (Degrees in related fields also work.)
You should have a background in mathematics, science, and computer software systems.
Earning a degree from a program accredited by ABET demonstrates to future employers the quality of your education. Some advanced jobs may require a computer engineering master’s degree.
Examples of software roles
Computer software roles range from entry-level coding to advanced software engineering careers. 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 one another. Skills for software careers include:
Getting started in a software role
You can take many paths to a software role. You could teach yourself programming, attend a bootcamp, or earn a computer science degree or a degree in a related field.
In addition to computer programming, you’ll benefit from understanding cloud computing platforms such as Amazon Web Services and database software like 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 $110,140 on average.
Earnings aside, the job opportunities for software professionals outnumber those for their hardware counterparts.
The BLS projects 2% growth in employment for hardware engineers by 2030. Meanwhile, software developers are projected to see 22% employment growth.
What you earn as a hardware or software professional depends on many factors. Education and experience, location, and the type of company you work for all count.
To help increase your earning potential, consider:
- Proving your skills with tech certifications
- Seizing professional development opportunities
- Earning advanced degrees
Which is right for me: hardware or software?
To decide if hardware or software is right for you, you should take stock of your interests, strengths, and career goals.
You might enjoy working with hardware if …
- You enjoy hands-on assembly and maintenance of equipment
- You like creating models and prototypes to present to colleagues and clients
- Solving problems and implementing solutions is something you enjoy
You might enjoy working with software if …
- You enjoy 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 are drawn from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as of July 1, 2022.