Master’s in Mechanical Engineering vs Master’s in Computer Engineering
2 July, 2021
Engineering is grounded in the fundamental laws of physics, but it’s also a field where researchers and practitioners constantly push boundaries. As a result, engineering careers offer endless opportunities to solve complex problems and develop innovative ideas with the potential to transform entire industries. For example, the National Science Foundation recently awarded a University of Arizona electrical and computer engineering professor $500,000 in funding to support his work in creating machine learning models and algorithms for applications such as autonomous vehicles, facial recognition, and cybersecurity. Meanwhile, researchers at UA’s Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering are expanding the capacity of wind tunnels for experiments in high-speed aerodynamics that will contribute to the next generation of transonic vehicles.
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If you’re interested in starting or advancing a career in a technical field, it’s important to identify an educational path that suits your goals. To excel as either a mechanical or computer engineer, you need an array of specialized skills so you can confront emerging challenges and drive technology forward. Here’s what you can expect from earning a master’s in mechanical engineering or a master’s in computer engineering:
What Can You Do With a Master’s in Mechanical Engineering?
Mechanical engineering is a highly versatile discipline that brings together concepts from physics, mathematics, and materials science to explain how objects move and systems function. Engineers draw on their expertise to predict how materials will react to various forces or changes of temperature. They apply those principles to model and design systems or improve the performance of machines.
Master’s students in this field may study a wide range of topics, such as:
- Design for machines, devices, and instruments
- Dynamic systems and controls
- Thermodynamics principles
- Manufacturing processes
- Thermal fluid science
- Solid mechanics
Mechanical Engineering Skills
To succeed as a mechanical engineer, you need to solve complex problems through an extensive understanding of machines and tools. These technical experts develop efficient, reliable solutions for designing and manufacturing cars, planes, robots, biotechnology, heating and cooling systems, and more. Engineers progress toward their career objectives by honing their skills to:
- Analyze systems
- Lead technical projects
- Follow industry best practices
- Perform calculus and statistics operations
- Communicate with multidisciplinary teams
- Use computer-assisted design (CAD) software
- Create new devices or systems and improve existing ones
Mechanical Engineering Job Description
The broad applications of mechanical engineering mean that an advanced education in the discipline can prepare students for roles in diverse industries and organizations. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, top employers include engineering services providers and firms that manufacture machinery, transportation equipment, or computers and electronics.
The Department of Labor reports that some of the most common job titles for mechanical engineers are:
- Application engineer
- Design engineer
- Design maintenance engineer
- Equipment engineer
- Mechanical design engineer
- Mechanical engineer
- Process engineer
- Product engineer
- Project engineer
- Test engineer
In these roles, professionals may perform duties such as:
- Solve problems by implementing mechanical and thermal devices
- Supervise equipment manufacturing, installation, operation, maintenance, and repairs
- Use CAD software to develop or modify products
- Develop and test prototypes for new devices
- Analyze and resolve equipment failures
Mechanical Engineering Job Outlook
The BLS projected a growth rate of 4% for mechanical engineering jobs between 2018 and 2028, about average when compared to all other occupations. As of 2018, engineers in this field made a median salary of $87,730. Based on job postings, Burning Glass found that the salaries offered for mechanical engineers with a master’s degree were about 4% higher than those open to candidates with only a bachelor’s degree.
What Can You Do With a Master’s in Computer Engineering?
While mechanical engineers may specialize in a broader array of systems and devices, computer engineers focus on designing, producing, and testing the next generation of computing hardware and network architecture. From finding ways to increase the potential processing power of our computers to training machine learning systems to make their own decisions, computer engineers make invaluable contributions in almost every area of modern technology
This work takes place in labs like the University of Arizona’s research centers. At the Arizona Center for Integrative Modeling and Simulation, electrical and computer engineers collaborate with experts from multiple disciplines to streamline the processes of modeling and simulating new systems. In the Cloud and Autonomic Computing Center, experts work to improve data storage solutions, cybersecurity measures, and systems software.
In a master’s in computer engineering program, students may prepare to contribute projects like these by exploring computer engineering focus areas such as:
- Artificial intelligence
- Digital signal processing
- Heterogeneous systems design
- High-performance computing
- Holography and diffraction
- Simulation modeling
- Signal detection and estimation
- Software engineering
- Wireless communications and networks
Computer Engineering Skills
Organizations of all kinds rely on their computer hardware and networks to work quickly, reliably, and securely. Computer engineers devote their specialized knowledge and abilities to construct and maintain the technical infrastructure that enables daily routines and also powers major Big Data initiatives. The rapid pace of technological advances and increasing prevalence of data-driven strategy make it especially vital for professionals in this discipline to stay up to date with the latest methods and tools.
If you want to excel as a computer engineer, you’ll benefit from knowing how to:
- Write object-oriented programming languages such as C++, Python, and Java
- Use analytical tools to gain insights into digital circuits and make design choices
- Optimize performance for computer hardware and network architecture
- Adapt to the features and requirements of multiple operating systems
- Communicate with engineers, technicians, and nontechnical leaders
- Apply linear systems theory and calculate probability
- Implement best practices for cybersecurity
- Identify and solve technical problems
- Code and test software
Computer Engineering Job Description
Figures from the BLS show that a quarter of computer hardware engineers work in firms that provide computer systems design and related services. The other biggest employers are research and development labs, computer and electronics manufacturers, and the federal government. These professionals have job titles such as:
- Design engineer
- Field service engineer
- Hardware design engineer
- Hardware engineer
- Network engineer
- Project engineer
- Senior hardware engineer
- Systems engineer
- Systems integration engineer
A computer engineer may be tasked to:
- Design computer hardware, including creating schematics and building prototypes
- Apply security measures to protect information and systems
- Determine and configure power supply requirements
- Write technical documentation and provide support
- Supervise manufacturing processes for hardware
- Develop systems for digital signal processing
- Test hardware and network architectures
- Model and design digital control systems
- Conceive and build software tools
- Implement AI systems
Computer Engineering Job Outlook
According to the BLS, computer hardware engineers earned a median salary of $117,220 in 2019. Burning Glass found that hardware engineer job listings offered an average of $15,500 more for professionals with a master’s degree than for those with just a bachelor’s. The demand for computer engineers is growing faster than for mechanical engineers, with the BLS projecting a 6% increase in positions between 2018 and 2028.
A Master of Science in Electrical and Computer Engineering can help professionals seize these career opportunities and reach their long-term goals. Equipped with in-depth technical knowledge and the ability to lead multidisciplinary teams, electrical and computer engineers make an impact in a wide range of fields such as AI, robotics, communications, healthcare, and aerospace. These experts cultivate the critical thinking, creativity, and sophisticated problem solving skills that are in demand at the organizations ushering in the next generation of technology and innovation.
About the University of Arizona’s Online Master of Science in Electrical and Computer Engineering
The University of Arizona College of Engineering ranks among the top 40 electrical and computer engineering departments in the country according to U.S. News & World Report. UA’s online Master of Science in Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) program is a perfect fit for working engineers looking to enter design-oriented roles and play a central part in the creation and planning phase of new technologies.
The University of Arizona offers flexible and varied online engineering programs that provide a comprehensive path to professional development. Through longstanding partnerships with some of the foremost technology companies in the country, graduates have gone on to pursue advanced positions at innovative global organizations that shape the future.