Tech Career Profile: Systems Engineer

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Business systems that run like well-oiled machines deliver dependable and high-quality goods and services to customers. Maintaining those systems is vital but not always enough. Growing companies implement bigger and better systems to remain competitive. They strive to provide a positive user experience, all the time aware of the demands and risks of company operations and objectives. The best people to handle all of this are systems engineers. These team players design and manage solutions, and they communicate essential information to the right people.

Their knowledge covers computer science, engineering principles, and mathematical analysis. So systems engineers can find employment with any type of business and manage various systems. These include:

  • military defense programs
  • sewage systems
  • telephone systems
  • electric power systems
  • information technology systems

IT systems engineers manage components such as infrastructure, hardware, and system software. They make sure everything works in unison.

The average salary for a systems engineer in the U.S. is around $76,000 as of the close of 2018, according to Payscale. The same survey shows top earners take home a little less than $105,000 including bonuses and commissions. Senior systems engineers earn a median salary of $98,000 with the highest earnings pegged at $143,000.

As companies expand into national and international markets, demand for systems engineers in certain areas is strong. In other sectors, growth is stable, making it a solid career choice. A combination of experience and suitable qualifications opens the door to the field.

What is a Systems Engineer?

Systems engineers liaise with project managers to steer projects forward and achieve success. Their main objectives are to:

  • Check existing systems and suggest improvements
  • Develop new systems to increase company efficiency
  • Apply tech solutions to strengthen systems
  • Receive and relay information to and from stakeholders

Systems engineers consider the business demands and objectives throughout a project’s lifecycle. Quality, cost efficiency, and trust are some of the main values they help a company to maintain via its goods or services.

Job Responsibilities

The acronym SIMILAR summarizes the key functions of a systems engineer. It was publicized by Terry Bahill and Bruce Gissing in 1998:

  • State the challenges and problems facing a business
  • Investigate solutions or alternative methods
  • Model the alternatives and the ways to enforce them
  • Integrate relevant systems, subsystems, and people to facilitate success
  • Launch the system
  • Assess performance
  • Re-evaluate outputs to improve the system

As part of the SIMILAR definition, key responsibilities of the job are:

  • Advising clients on suitable hardware and software to meet company needs
  • Acquiring, installing, testing, and maintaining project components and operating systems
  • Reviewing security requirements of company data
  • Customizing systems from external vendors
  • Reviewing control documents
  • Performing standard operating procedures

Job responsibilities vary depending on company function. The system requirements of a government agency are very different from those of a manufacturer.

Typical responsibilities of an IT systems engineer focusing on local-area and wide-area networks (LAN/WAN) might include:

  • managing/monitoring LAN/WAN network services
  • recommending equipment replacements and upgrades and handling purchases
  • maintaining an inventory of network devices
  • drafting LAN/WAN documentation and keeping it updated
  • introducing into existing environments and merging systems
  • routine systems and software audits
  • troubleshooting problems

By comparison, a systems engineer who focuses on Microsoft products may:

  • install, configure, and update server software/hardware and perform maintenance
  • troubleshoot high-level problems
  • address system concerns and hardware failures
  • track system capacity and manage any issues
  • install software upgrades and security patches and monitor intrusions
  • compare ideal and actual IT systems performance and compile recommendations on areas of improvement.

How to Become a Systems Engineer

For IT systems engineers, most employers ask for a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering or a diploma in a computer-related discipline. However, other bachelor's degrees also can lead to a career in systems engineering. Some of these are:

  • Computer science
  • Software engineering
  • Information systems
  • Computer networking
  • General engineering

Additionally, you can explore the different levels of certification provided by the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE).

Job postings often list specific expertise and several years’ experience as part of job requirements. Recruiters give preference to candidates with a good understanding of systems engineering methodology and practices. Solid experience in project life cycle management is highly desirable too.

Skills Needed

Systems engineers must have good communication, interpersonal, and leadership skills. They coordinate with team members—those in project management, security, asset management, customer service, or help desk departments—to solve problems and manage projects. Excellent conflict resolution, analytical, and decision-making skills are crucial to the position as well.