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Computer Engineering Programs and Majors Explained: Degree Levels, Specializations, and Common Computer Engineering Courses

Ufuoma Ogono - June 07, 2022


“What is a computer engineering degree?” is a common search query on the Internet because of the recent spike in professional interest in computer engineering and related fields. If you are interested in getting computer engineering jobs, learning about the computer engineering degree you need to gain essential skills in the field is a good way to start.

This article is a complete guide for first-timers who want to understand how computer engineering programs work and which degree is ideal for career success. It explains what a computer engineering degree is, and it explores the common specializations, job opportunities, and career prospects for technology professionals who have computer engineering degrees.

What Is Computer Engineering?

Computer engineering is a field in electrical engineering that combines computer science and electronic engineering for the development of various types of computer hardware and software systems.

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Computer Engineering Quick Facts: Job Outlook and Average Salaries

Is Computer Engineering Hard?

Yes, computer engineering is hard, just like every other engineering major offered by universities. Computer engineering is hard because it involves complicated aspects of mathematics like data structure, logic proofs, and calculus. However, with consistency and hard work, you can learn computer engineering irrespective of your educational background.

Is Computer Engineering a Good Major?

Yes, computer engineering is a good major for university students who want to secure a career in software and hardware development. It is a versatile major that allows you to learn software development, electrical engineering, and database administration, alongside a wide variety of additional topics.

Why Should You Get a Degree in Computer Engineering?

You should get a degree in computer engineering because it is a versatile field that comes with high earning potential and job satisfaction, and you will actively contribute to technological innovation. Below are five reasons why you should get a degree in computer engineering.

  1. Versatility. With a college major in computer engineering, you will get a solid educational foundation in the technology industry. This foundation comes with career versatility when you finally graduate and start exploring different career opportunities.
  2. High earning potential. Computer hardware engineers who secure a bachelor’s degree tend to earn more than those who take non-traditional routes. Bachelor’s degrees are still held in high esteem by employers across different fields.
  3. Future job satisfaction. With a degree in computer engineering, you will enjoy lasting job satisfaction. Top tech companies hire computer engineers to work on digital systems regularly, offering them flexible working conditions and career advancement opportunities. Many of these experts have reported high job satisfaction.
  4. Contribute to the technological revolution. Technology is one of the most rapidly evolving fields, and a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Engineering may put you at the forefront of the technological revolution. Your work in the development and maintenance of computer-based systems will help you contribute to this revolution.
  5. Education advancement opportunities. After learning computer engineering through a university degree, you can advance to higher degrees to secure higher-paying opportunities in different industries. You can start with an Associate Degree in Computer Engineering if you don’t have the resources to take advanced degree programs yet.

Computer Engineering Major: What Degree Can You Get in Computer Engineering?

As a computer engineering major, you can get an Associate Degree in Computer Engineering, a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Engineering, or a Master’s Degree in Computer Engineering. You can also advance to a PhD in Computer Engineering if you want to explore research or academics.

Types of Associate Degrees in Computer Engineering

The types of computer engineering associate degrees are Associate of Science in Computer Engineering, Associate of Applied Science in Computer Engineering, and an Associate of Arts in Computer Engineering. The one you choose should depend on your career goals and educational strengths.

1

Associate of Science (AS in Computer Engineering)

An Associate of Science in Computer Engineering is a two-year undergraduate degree that covers the basics of computer engineering. It usually prepares students to push their education level toward a more advanced bachelor's degree. Students will be expected to meet some general education and core computer engineering credit requirements.

Common Associate of Science in Computer Engineering Curriculum

  • Introduction to computer operations and maintenance
  • Direct current circuit analysis
  • Fundamentals of software engineering
2

Associate of Applied Science (AAS in Computer Engineering)

An Associate of Applied Science in Computer Engineering is a two-year undergraduate degree program that can either be offered by a community college or a four-year university. These degrees are vocational and practical, preparing students to go straight to work. An AAS degree can also be used to further a student's education to a bachelor's degree.

Common Associate of Applied Science in Computer Engineering Curriculum

  • Understanding operating systems
  • Computer hardware and software security
  • Developing software applications
3

Associate of Arts (AA in Computer Engineering)

An Associate of Arts in Computer Engineering is a two-year undergraduate degree designed for students who have an interest in liberal arts and computer engineering. It includes basic computer engineering courses and, often, general humanities courses. There is usually a 60-credit requirement for this degree and it is transferable to a bachelor's degree program.

Common Associate of Arts in Computer Engineering Curriculum

  • Principles of computer engineering
  • Computer networks and cyber security
  • Fundamentals of computer science

Types of Bachelor’s Degrees in Computer Engineering

The types of Bachelor’s Degrees in Computer Engineering are Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering, Bachelor of Applied Science in Computer Engineering, and Bachelor of Arts in Computer Engineering. These are all undergraduate degrees with slight differences in coursework.

1

Bachelor of Science (BS in Computer Engineering)

A Bachelor of Science degree in computer engineering is a four-year undergraduate degree that is awarded by a university. This is the most common degree for computer science professionals and it prepares computer engineering graduates for profitable careers in several technology fields and engineering specializations.

Common Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering Curriculum

  • The fundamentals of microprocessor systems
  • Basics of computer forensics
  • Introduction to computer hardware and software systems
2

Bachelor of Arts (BA in Computer Engineering)

A Bachelor of Arts in Computer Engineering is a four-year undergraduate degree offered by accredited universities to students who meet the graduation requirements. It is similar to a BS in Computer Engineering but students take some liberal arts topics, making it an ideal option for people who want to explore fields in other industries beyond traditional technology.

Common Bachelor of Arts in Computer Engineering Curriculum

  • Engineering theory and mathematics
  • Computer networks and security
  • Software engineering and computer programming
3

Bachelor of Applied Science in Computer Engineering (BAS in Computer Engineering)

A Bachelor of Applied Science in Computer Engineering is a four-year undergraduate degree program. Most students who opt for a Bachelor of Applied Science do it after getting an Associate of Applied Science, but this isn't always the case. The undergraduate program prepares students for professional career advancement in computer engineering.

Common Bachelor of Applied Science in Computer Engineering Curriculum

  • Development of operating systems with computer science
  • Artificial intelligence and machine learning
  • Computer hardware development and maintenance

Types of Master’s Degrees in Computer Engineering

The types of Master’s Degrees in Computer Engineering are Master of Science in Computer Engineering, Master of Arts in Computer Engineering, and Master of Applied Science in Computer Engineering. Each degree program comes with similar core courses, but it has a unique set of electives covering advanced topics, and different general education requirements.

1

Master of Arts (MA in Computer Engineering)

A Master of Arts in Computer Engineering is a graduate degree for computer engineers with an interest in liberal arts. This advanced degree usually runs for 18 to 24 months full-time, covering complex topics in computer engineering. You will need a Bachelor's Degree in Computer Engineering or a related field to qualify for a Master of Arts program in computer engineering.

Common Master of Arts in Computer Engineering Curriculum

  • Computer architecture and algorithms
  • Advanced principles of embedded systems
  • Advanced distributed operating systems
2

Master of Science (MSc in Computer Engineering)

A Master of Science in Computer Engineering is the most common advanced degree in computer engineering. This degree runs for about two years online or in-person, depending on the school. It is an ideal option for computer engineers who want to advance their careers or explore management positions in tech companies.

Common Master of Science in Computer Engineering Curriculum

  • Computer systems: circuits and architecture
  • Computer optimization techniques and algorithms
  • Theories of random signal
3

Master of Applied Science (MAS in Computer Engineering)

A Master of Applied Science degree in computer engineering is an advanced degree that covers complex areas of computer and electrical engineering. The applied science master's provides a more hands-on approach to learning computer engineering. You can enroll in a Master of Applied Science program as long as you have a bachelor's degree.

Common Master of Applied Science in Computer Engineering Curriculum

  • Advanced principles of multimedia and signal processing
  • Advanced principles of autonomous systems and robotics
  • High-performance computer programming with graphics processing units (GPUs) and multicore

What Will You Learn in a Computer Engineering Degree Program?

In a computer engineering degree program, you will learn how computer architecture and systems work, as well as how to protect hardware and software systems. The degree also covers embedded systems, microprocessors, operating systems, network systems, systems applications, and a host of other associated systems.

The degree program often involves hands-on development of these computer systems in labs. In a computer engineering degree, you will typically learn digital system design and circuit design, build electronic circuits and control systems, then sync them with software and perform software programming.

The specific subjects covered during the degree will depend on the degree type and specialization you choose. However, the topics listed above often appear in every computer engineering curriculum, irrespective of your specialization.

Popular Specializations for Computer Engineering Degrees

The most popular specializations for computer engineering degrees are academic research, proprietary research, microprocessor design, mobile device design, and embedded systems design. Each specialization comes with unique career opportunities and you are free to choose the most beneficial options for your career.

The 5 Most Popular Computer Engineering Concentrations

  1. Academic Research
  2. Proprietary Research
  3. Mobile Device Design
  4. Microprocessor Design
  5. Embedded Systems Design

Common Computer Engineering Courses Across All Specializations

Below are five core computer engineering courses you should expect to take, irrespective of your specialization. These courses cover the fundamental and advanced principles of computer science and electronic engineering. Other subjects will be determined by your specialization.

  • Advanced Computer Architecture. Advanced computer architecture is a vital part of every computer engineering curriculum. It covers the entire computer design pipeline and is often divided into multiple parts in a curriculum. You will learn about compiler techniques, GPUs, integrated circuits, and other aspects of processor design.
  • Design and Analysis of Algorithms. While computer hardware is the primary aspect of computer engineering, intangible aspects of technology like software algorithms and design are also part of a program’s curriculum. Algorithm courses teach you how to solve several problems logically with algorithms.
  • Software Engineering. Software engineering and programming languages implement engineering principles in the development of software. A computer engineer should understand how software engineering and software design work, and may decide to specialize in it rather than hardware design alone.
  • Theory of Computation. You will most likely learn about the theory of computation when you are learning about algorithms. There is usually a dedicated course in the early years of your degree that covers the theory of computation.
  • Computer Networks Engineering and Management. A computer engineer needs to understand how computer systems are linked for data sharing. Apart from learning about network architecture, you will also learn about network security and how to keep computer networks secure.

Best Minors for Computer Engineering Students

Some of the best computer engineering minors you can take are those which boost your leadership skills and communication skills. The five minors below complement the computer engineering field, and can help you accelerate your career, depending on your goals.

The 5 Best Computer Engineering Minors

  1. Mathematics
  2. Communication
  3. Business
  4. Psychology
  5. Physics

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How to Choose the Right Computer Engineering Degree Program for You

To choose the right computer engineering degree program for you, you need to consider the accreditation, curriculum strength, financing, learning format, and hands-on resources offered. Putting these factors into consideration when you are choosing your computer engineering degree will help you to make an informed decision about your field of study.

1

Accreditation

In the United States, schools are required by the Department of Education to be accredited regionally or nationally to award verified degrees that cover engineering topics. A computer engineering degree program should also be accredited by the Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology (ABET).

2

Curriculum Strength

If you are opting for an associate or Bachelor's Degree in Computer Engineering, you need to make sure that you choose a school with a good reputation for introductory education. If you are looking for a Master's Degree in Computer Engineering, make sure the curriculum covers advanced aspects of the field in detail.

3

Financing

What is the cost of attendance for the school? Apart from the tuition and regular fees, what else will you be expected to pay? Will you need to pay lab fees or any other departmental fee? What financing options are available? Is there room for flexible payment? Ask these questions and more to estimate what your education will cost you over the entire degree and reduce any debt.

4

Learning Format

There are on-campus, online, and hybrid learning options available at different universities. If you want optimal flexibility, you should consider an online degree. Hybrid schools are also more flexible than on-campus schools because you may only be required to attend in-person lectures a few times a week.

5

Hands-on Opportunities

Computer engineering requires hands-on software and hardware building. Find out if the school provides an opportunity for hands-on learning opportunities. Are there computer engineering labs? Are there internship programs, or is there an apprenticeship option you can use to master your skills? The more opportunities you have to practice, the better.

Best Computer Engineering Colleges and Universities: Where to Find the Top Computer Engineering Degree Programs

There are hundreds of schools that offer undergraduate and graduate degrees in computer engineering, so we’ll narrow down the options for you. The lists below contain the best schools for computer engineering associate, bachelor’s, or master’s degrees , as listed in more detail within each respective Career Karma article.

Best Schools to Get an Associate in Computer Engineering

  1. Glendale Community College
  2. Howard Community College
  3. Manchester Community College
  4. Nash Community College
  5. Nashua Community College

Best Schools to Get a Bachelor’s in Computer Engineering

  1. Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
  2. Florida Institute of Technology
  3. High Point University
  4. Kent State University
  5. San Diego State University

Best Schools to Get a Master’s in Computer Engineering

  1. California State University, Northridge
  2. Carnegie Mellon University
  3. Cornell University
  4. Georgia Institute of Technology
  5. Johns Hopkins University

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How Can I Pay for a Computer Engineering Degree Program?

You can pay for a computer engineering degree program through federal student aid, work-study programs, scholarships, loans, grants, or even out-of-pocket. Since there aren’t many people who can pay for a college education out-of-pocket, exploring the available financing options helps to reduce the burden of cost.

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

This is one of the most common college financing options for students in the United States. It is organized by the US Department of Education to provide a wide range of financial assistance to prospective students who cannot afford to pay for college upfront.

Federal financial aid could be awarded as a grant, loan, or funds for work-study. The eligibility requirements vary depending on whether your application is need or performance-based. All you have to do is fill out the free federal financial aid form online.

Work-Study Programs

Work-study programs allow future computer engineers to work part-time in the university to support their tuition and daily expenses. You can apply to work as a research or laboratory assistant so you can expand your knowledge base and learn at the same time.

Scholarships

There are need-based, performance-based, and academic scholarships offered by federal and non-federal organizations to prospective students. If you are an athlete, you may apply for an athletic scholarship or be honored with one. The scholarship could be one-off or offered on a rolling basis. It could also cover your entire education or just a fraction of the tuition cost.

Loans

A student loan will cover the cost of your education and may include a stipend for your upkeep. You will be required to start paying back as soon as you get a job. The terms of student loans vary and some loans may require repayment whether or not you get a job in your field. Some common options are the Federal Perkins Loan, Direct Unsubsidized Loans, a private student loan, and a PLUS Loan.

Grants

Grants are a popular funding option for graduate research students who need financing. It could be public or private grants but there is no obligation to repay the money. However, graduate school students are expected to make meaningful developments through research with the grant money they receive. Some undergraduate students may qualify for grants depending on their performance or field of interest.

Computer Engineering Scholarships

Computer engineering is a major STEM subject so there are a few rolling scholarships to help students fund their education. Some common computer engineering scholarships for university students are the Generation Google Scholarship and the Neve Projects scholarships.

1

Generation Google Scholarship

Amount: $10,000

Generation Google Scholarship is an ongoing scholarship for students in the United States and Canada. It doesn't matter if you are a college or university student. You can apply for this scholarship online when the application starts as long as you meet the eligibility criteria. Students in bachelor's, master's, or PhD programs can apply.

  • Eligibility Requirements: Academic excellence, studying computer science or a related field, you must be a person of color
  • Amount: $10,000
2

Society of Women Engineers

Amount: $1,000 to $15,000

This is an all-women scholarship fund that is designed to help women in tech. If you are a woman pursuing a computer engineering, computer science, or any other STEM degree, you may be eligible for this scholarship. It is a fully-funded scholarship that may cover your entire education.

  • Eligibility Requirements: Woman in tech, US citizenship
  • Amount: $1,000 to $15,000
3

Neve Project

Amount: $10,000

Neve Project is a STEM scholarship fund that supports undergraduate studies. Eligible students get $10,000 per year for two years. However, you will need to reapply after the first year and the new application will be reviewed as a fresh application. If you do not maintain your 3.0 GPA, your scholarship reapplication may be denied.

  • Eligibility Requirements: 3.0 GPA, financial need, excellent character, community service
  • Amount: $10,000

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Student Loans for Computer Engineering Majors

Paying for college with a loan is common in the United States because the loan isn’t usually performance-based. This means that you don’t have to have a high GPA or take any special test to qualify for a college loan. However, you need to be a US citizen or have permanent residency in the United States to qualify for most loans.

What Is the Average Student Loan for Computer Engineering Associate Degrees?

The average student loan for computer engineering associate degrees is $18,550 for the entire program, according to data gathered by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) between 2015 and 2016.

Yearly, loans amount to $9,275 annually per student. The loan is procured from either government organizations, private financers, or non-profit organizations, so the terms and conditions vary.

What Is the Average Student Loan for Computer Engineering Bachelor’s Degrees?

The average student loan for a computer engineering bachelor’s degree is $29,910 for an entire program, according to NCES. Yearly, student loans per-student amount to $14,955, based on data collected between 2015 and 2016.

What Is the Average Student Loan for Computer Engineering Master’s Degrees?

The average student loan for a computer engineering master’s degree is $54,290 for an entire program, according to NCES. The cost is significantly higher for students who enroll in private for-profit schools, at $66,940 per program, while those in public schools accrue around $45,700 in student loans during their program. Students in non-profit private schools accumulate $60,840 in loan debt during their program.

How to Get Into the Best Schools for Computer Engineering

To get into the best schools for computer engineering, you should have a good high school transcript that showcases your strengths in STEM subjects. You also need to meet the standardized testing and GPA requirements of the school you want.

Application for the college of your choice should start toward the end of high school. It helps to have extracurricular activities and volunteer work on your CV if you are trying to get into a competitive school. Despite each school’s degree requirement, it also helps to apply to multiple schools at the same time to increase your chances of getting admitted into a program.

Top 5 Tips to Get Into the Best Programs at Computer Engineering Schools

  1. Be a natural problem solver who looks at complex situations and quickly thinks of solutions.
  2. Have technical know-how, beyond simply using a computer.
  3. Have a mechanical mind that can improvise and work on hardware components with ease.
  4. Possess strong mathematical skills, because most of the subjects will require calculations.
  5. Be efficient at written and verbal communication.

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How Can You Get a Computer Engineering Internship While in College?

You can get a computer engineering internship while in college by looking for companies that offer these internships and submitting an application. You may get one through your school, or apply for a work-study program at school that allows you to practice computer engineering. The three tips below will help you find a computer engineering internship.

1

Find a Company That Offers College Internships

Companies like Google, Apple, and Intel offer paid internship opportunities to college students who want to get hands-on experience with computational methods. Read about these internships and apply when the portal is open. You need to have exceptional grades to qualify for internship opportunities within most major tech companies.

2

Ask Your School

Some schools make internships a compulsory part of the computer engineering program. Find out if your department has such arrangements available and take advantage of them. The internship may last for three to six months and your performance may contribute to your overall grades.

3

Consider Work-Study

If the college of computing in your school offers work-study programs, find out if there is an opening that allows you to explore the skills you are learning in computer engineering. You can also look for work-study opportunities outside your school that allow you to work as a computer engineer in training.

What Jobs Can You Get With a Computer Engineering Degree?

The jobs you can get with a computer engineering degree include computer engineer, hardware systems designer, database developer, business systems analyst, software developer, and chief security manager. There are many complex engineering career options for a person with a computer engineering degree.

Student outcomes mostly depend on the level of degree attained. An associate or bachelor’s computer science degree will help you gain the technical skills required to secure entry-level positions working with computer-based systems, while an advanced degree like a master’s will help you secure higher-paying job openings within different engineering specializations.

Computer Engineering Degree Salary Outlook

The job growth for computer hardware engineers is lower than the national average for all jobs. However, it is important to note that other jobs you can secure with your computer engineering degree have more promising job outlooks. In any case, a computer engineering degree salary will be high, on average, as shown in the table below.

Degree Level Average Salary
Computer Engineering Associate Degree $51,000
Computer Engineering Bachelor’s Degree $91,000
Computer Engineering Master’s Degree $103,000

Computer Engineering Degree Jobs and Career Outlook: What Can You Do With a Computer Engineering Degree?

With a computer engineering degree, you can work as a computer engineer in a technology company or any company that relies on computer-based systems. There are several industries that will gladly employ computer engineering professionals, and we’ve listed the top five jobs you can secure with each degree level, below.

Top Computer Engineering Associate Degree Jobs

  1. Computer support specialist
  2. Computer network administrator
  3. Entry-level information security analyst
  4. Entry-level database developer
  5. Entry-level computer systems analyst

Top Computer Engineering Bachelor’s Degree Jobs

  1. Hardware engineer
  2. Software developer
  3. Systems engineer
  4. Network architect
  5. Electronic engineer

Top Computer Engineering Master’s Degree Jobs

  1. Chief technology officer
  2. Senior electronics engineer
  3. Computer and information research scientist
  4. Operating systems designer
  5. DevOps engineer

Highest-Paying Computer Engineering Jobs

Highest-Paying Computer Engineering Jobs Entry-Level Salary (0-12 Months) Early-Career Salary (1-4 Years) Mid-Career Salary (5-9 Years) Experienced Salary (10-19 Years)
Chief technology officer $110,000 $117,822 $137,964 $188,400
Principal software engineer $109,960 $116,903 $132,585 $149,448
Computer information research scientist $105,477 $103,393 $120,162 $121,600
DevOps engineer $75,319 $89,251 $108,195 $132,322
Systems architect $64,453 $86,179 $105,152 $136,414

Professional Computer Engineering Organizations and Resources

Some of the most popular computer engineering organizations and providers of resources are the IEEE Computer Society, Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), and Computing Research Association. We will detail each organization below.

1

IEEE Computer Society

The IEEE Computer Society is one of the oldest organizations for computer engineers and computing experts. Headquartered in Washington, DC, the non-profit organization was founded in 1946. Its aim is to promote best practices in computer and electronics engineering, and it has thousands of members worldwide, including computer engineering professionals.

2

Association for Computing Machinery (ACM)

ACM is the world's largest non-profit organization for scientific research and computing. Founded in 1947, the organization helps thousands of students and graduates of computer engineering to network and build their careers. You will have an opportunity to network, share ideas, and solidify your position in the industry if you join the organization.

3

Computing Research Association

The Computing Research Association was founded in 1972 to support people as they explore careers in computer science and computer engineering. It is a non-profit organization that educates the United States Congress on the benefits of computer science research. They make other efforts to advance computer education in the USA and North America.

Computer Engineering in 10 Years: Is Getting a Computer Engineering Degree Worth It?

Yes, getting a computer engineering degree is worth it, because it is the pathway to a long and successful career. With a degree in computer engineering on your resume, you can work in a range of industries, apart from the technology industry. It also allows you to take a front-row seat in computer advancement.

Regardless of your level of education, most computer engineering degree jobs pay annual salaries that are above average for jobs in the US. These prospects and the career versatility that comes with a computer engineering degree make it worth it in 2022, and computer engineering in 10 years will still be a relevant field as technology continues to advance.

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Computer Engineering Degree FAQ

Which degree is best for computer engineering?

A Master’s Degree in Computer Engineering is often the best option for most computer engineering jobs. However, there are many employers that may be willing to give you a chance for entry-level positions if you have an associate or bachelor’s computer engineering degree.

How many years is a computer engineering degree?

A computer engineering degree may run for two to four years depending on the option you choose. The average Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Engineering traditionally runs for four years, while associate and master’s degree programs run for around two years full-time.

Are computer engineers in demand?

Yes, computer engineers are in demand in the United States and beyond. However, BLS projects a 2 percent rise in the number of computer engineering jobs between 2020 and 2030. While this is below the national average for all jobs, it is not a negative figure and there are many related positions with much higher projections.

What skills are needed for computer engineering?

The skills you need for computer engineering are coding, network engineering, cryptography, computer security, hardware development, and electrical engineering. Other skills may be required depending on your specialization as a computer engineer.

About us: Career Karma is a platform designed to help job seekers find, research, and connect with job training programs to advance their careers. Learn about the CK publication.

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Ufuoma Ogono

About the author: Ufuoma is a veteran freelance writer whose work has also appeared in Smartereum, Cyber Jam Limited, and Binance. Her goal as a content writer is to help readers chase their careers in technology and follow their dreams. Ufuoma attended Delta State University, where she earned her BSc in Sociology and Psychology.

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