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?

- Systems engineers. These invaluable 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 of a systems engineer in the US is around $66,000 according to Payscale. The same survey shows top earners take home a little under $105,000 including bonuses and commissions. Senior systems engineers earn a median salary of $98,000 with the highest earnings pegged at $143,000.

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 life cycle.

Quality, cost efficiency, and trust are some of the main values they help a company to maintain via its goods or services.

Job Responsibilities of a Systems Engineer

The acronym SIMILAR summarizes the key functions of a systems engineer (Bahill & Gissing, 1998). SIMILAR stands for -

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

You can read more about SIMILAR and the definition of systems engineering by the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE) here.

As part of the definition above, 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 to those of a manufacturer.

Here are the typical responsibilities of an IT systems engineer focusing on local-area and wide-area networks (LAN/WAN):

  • 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 new technologies into existing environments and merging systems

  • routine systems and software audits

  • troubleshooting problems

In 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 degrees can also lead to a career in systems engineering. Some of these are:

  • Computer science

  • Software engineering

  • Information systems

  • Computer networking

  • General engineering

View a more comprehensive list here.

Additionally, you can become certified through programs such as MCSE. And 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 To Be a Systems Engineer

Systems engineers must have very 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.

This interactive infographic from careerbuilder.com is a handy guide on the top skills hirers look for. The list of skills that make candidates stand out is helpful for job seekers too. Among the top core skills are systems engineering, information security, integration, and security. Skills that distinguish applicants include mathematics, application development, and systems architecture.

Career opportunities

A selection of the top companies hiring systems engineers are:

Cisco Systems Inc. - Browse the long list of system engineer jobs on the company’s website.

Microsoft Corp. - Here are the jobs listed on Microsoft’s careers page at present.

Amazon.com - There are currently over 400 job listings for systems engineers on their glassdoor.com page.

Lockheed Martin - A number of jobs are listed on their careers page for systems engineers with varying levels of experience.

And here’s a list of companies where telecommuting and remote work is available.

Conclusion

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. So those with suitable skills should investigate systems engineering when considering a career change.

This article has since been updated by Laurence Bradford.

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