A systems engineer is a highly specialized career path, requiring both extensive, localized knowledge as well as interdisciplinary mastery. Systems engineers typically possess an advanced degree in mechanical, electrical or industrial engineering, but this post focuses most heavily on systems engineers who manage computer-based systems.
Below you will find the complete job description for a systems engineer, from duties and responsibilities to education requirements and salary expectations. If you’re just getting started in engineering, get a better feel for the life with this great class on engineering mechanics for 1st year engineering students.
Systems Engineer: Computer Systems
A systems engineer who specialized in computer systems has a unique role to fill and should have a unique skill set to match. On a basic level, the systems engineer provides support for the entire computer environment through a process of design and implementation. A large organization will require a vast computer network and the systems engineer will truly engineer everything about how this network functions.
Typically, if a systems engineer is starting from square one, then the organization’s needs are discussed and it is the engineer’s responsibility to ensure that the needs are met in a realistic manner and in accordance with the organizations budget and other limitations. The complete process is quite complex and is not something that happens overnight: an approved plan is followed by implementation, which is followed by integrating the system, which is followed by testing, which is followed by a series of evaluations, which if often followed by a number of changes, enhancements, etc.
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Duties And Responsibilities
The primary duties and responsibilities revolve around the core functions of the job: design, construction, evaluation, etc.
- Oversee the design, development and implementation of clients’ specific computer systems needs.
- Proficiency in security is becoming increasingly important. In the wake of recent breaches, many large organizations are adding additional and more complex layers of security to their systems. In the future someone who is an expert in security is going to be extremely valuable.
- Understand how the different departments in an organization need to function together. This requires collaboration and a natural adeptness for intricate design.
- In many cases, designing specific pieces of software will be necessary. Get a taste of what it takes with this class on learning how to write your own customized calculations.
- A full understanding of integrating, testing, evaluating and modifying systems is requires. A systems engineer should be able to see the process through from beginning to end.
- Beyond designing new software, an engineer should be able to integrate different applications, such at business software and network control systems.
- Creating reports that are thorough, detailed and able to be comprehended by clients is an essential duty. This is akin to the common saying that you must know your field so well you could explain it to a five-year-old.
- Similarly, because clients will not always be able to express what they need in “engineering-grade” detail, the engineer must be able to translate between needs and actual applications.
- Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the engineer must be able to teach the system to those who need to learn it (and often organizations will request manuals so that they do not need to constantly consult the engineer).
Many people can become successful systems engineers with a bachelor’s or associate’s degree, especially if they obtain them from a leading undergraduate program. However because of the advanced nature of the career, an advanced degree can really push a career forward. Further, the advanced degree does not have to be in engineering, but something like a master’s in management or computer science would complement an engineering degree nicely.
There are also a number of certifications you can earn if you’re interested in a certain field. For example, there is the Microsoft Certified Professional program for those who prefer working in a Microsoft environment, the INCOSE certification step-ladder for certifying leadership, experience and accomplishments, and a number of academic-institution-based certificates such as this one offered by Caltech, among many others. The last thing you want to do is underestimate the importance of a certificate. Read this article published by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) on the growing demand for certified systems engineers.
Experience is becoming more and more enticing to employers than education (and certificates that are awarded based on experience are excellent to have). The best thing an aspiring systems engineer can do is enroll in internships as soon as possible (during education) and work to build a strong resume quickly. Education says you know how to do something, experience says you’ve done it.
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Beyond duties and responsibilities, there are a number of valuable skills a systems engineer should be in possession of; these include a number of basic skills all professionals should possess, as well as a degree of intuition and natural leadership.
The Basics: You probably wouldn’t get far in systems engineering without a natural knack for mathematics and problem solving, but believe it or not, a grasp for business is an excellent asset as well. This will help you understand how a system fits into an organization’s financial model. It will help you integrate departments and make necessary improvements.
Interpersonal: Interpersonal skills are actually very important. You need to be able to communicate (not the best communicator? fix that now with this awesome course on how to improve your communication skills in one day), to work as a member of a team and to frequently reach a happy medium. You will be in constant back-and-forth contact with your clients, receiving constant feedback. It will be a miserable experience on both ends if your interpersonal skills are not up to par.
Intuition: Yes, intuition is important. I mentioned earlier than a systems engineer needs to be able to take a clients needs and fashion a system to fit them. This is easier said than done. A good eye for analysis and a mind that can think outside the box will make your work more efficient and more extraordinary.
It goes without saying, but having a strong sense of organization and reliability is fundamental. You should even be passionate about organization, as this is what every system will require to run smoothly. And if you can pick up some leadership skills in your internships or early positions, this will certainly come in handy for business negotiations and directing your team (if applicable).
So what kind of compensation can you expect for your prodigious skill set? Well, it depends, of course, but on the whole systems engineers make a good living. You get company-by-company information thanks to GlassDoor, but let’s talk about the basic spread. The national average tends to fluctuate between $80,000-$90,000 from one year to the next. Entry level engineers are probably going to be making in the mid $50s to the mid $60s, while experienced engineers can easily work their way into the $110s and $120s.
If you’re still looking for more information on life and times of a systems engineer, get answers to all your questions with this five-star course on an introduction to a career in engineering with tips to find out if it’s the right path for you.