What Does a Systems Engineer Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

Multi-ethnic coworkers working in computer server room
••• Blend Images - Jetta Productions/Dana Neely/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

Business systems that run like well-oiled machines deliver dependable and high-quality goods and services to customers and clients. Maintaining those systems is vital, but it's not always enough. Growing companies continually implement bigger and better systems to remain competitive.

Systems engineers handle all these. These team players design and manage solutions, and they communicate essential information to the right people. They strive to provide a positive user experience, all the time aware of the demands and risks of company operations and objectives.

Systems Engineer Duties & Responsibilities

Systems engineers' job responsibilities can vary depending on company function. The system requirements of a government agency are very different from those of a manufacturer. Common main objectives are often similar, however, and duties often include:

  • Checking existing systems and suggest improvements
  • Developing new systems to increase company efficiency
  • Applying tech solutions to strengthen systems
  • Receiving and relaying information to and from stakeholders
  • Advising 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
  • Managing and monitoring LAN/WAN network services
  • Recommending equipment replacements and upgrades and handling purchases
  • Maintaining an inventory of network devices
  • Performing routine systems and software audits
  • Troubleshooting problems
  • Addressing system concerns and hardware failures

Systems engineers consider the business demands and objectives throughout a project’s lifecycle. They help companies maintain quality, cost efficiency, and trust via their goods or services.

Systems Engineer Salary

Systems engineers' salaries can depend on the sector in which they're employed. The median incomes for engineers in general in 2018 were:

  • Median Annual Salary: $97,250 ($46.75/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: More than $154,720 ($74.39/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: Less than $50,620 ($24,33/hour)

The most highly compensated engineers worked for the Federal Executive Branch in 2017, earning a median salary of $115,010.

Education, Training & Certification

Those looking careers as system engineers must a college degree, related experience, and sometimes certification as well.

  • Education: Most employers ask for a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering or a diploma in a computer-related discipline. Other bachelor's degrees also can lead to a career in systems engineering, however. Some of these include information systems and general engineering.
  • Certification: Although not always required, gaining certification can put you at the top of the list of applicants. You can explore the different levels of certification provided by the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE).
  • Experience: Job postings often list specific areas of expertise and several years’ experience as 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 as well.

Systems Engineer Skills & Competencies

You should have several essential qualities to succeed at becoming a systems engineer.

  • Communication skills: Systems engineers must have good communication and interpersonal skills, allowing them to coordinate with team members in project management, security, asset management, customer service, or help desk departments.
  • Leadership skills: These engineers must be capable of evaluating the progress of teams and providing guidance and instruction to help them solve problems and manage projects.
  • Analytical skills: Excellent conflict resolution, analytical, and decision-making skills are crucial to this position and project management as well.

    Job Outlook

    The demand for systems engineers in certain areas is strong as companies expand into national and international markets. Growth is stable even in other sectors, making it a solid career choice. The U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics anticipates job growth for civil engineers specifically at about 11% through 2026. This is faster than average for all occupations.

    Work Environment

    Systems engineers can find employment with any type of business and manage various systems, including military defense programs, sewage systems, telephone systems, electric power systems, and information technology systems. Locations and working conditions can vary significantly by field. Some might be more mobile than others, traveling to various work sites. Others might spend their time primarily in offices.

    Work Schedule

    This is predominantly a full-time position, and about 30% of engineers report working more than 40 hours a week. Again, it can depend upon the sector of employment. 

    How to Get the Job

    GET CERTIFIED

    The International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE) offers three certification programs to accommodate various levels of experience.

    REVIEW COMMONLY ASKED INTERVIEW QUESTIONS

    Glassdoor provides some interview tips specifically for system engineer positions.

    Comparing Similar Jobs

    Some similar jobs and their median annual pay include: