Do you have a passion for information technology (IT) and a desire to turn that passion into a career? If you have a knack for seeing the small details and the overall big picture, you might consider pursuing a career as a systems engineer. What does a systems engineer do? Explore this career guide to find out if it could be the right choice for you.
What Is Systems Engineering?
Systems engineering is a multidisciplinary subfield that combines science, mathematics and engineering principles and competencies. This work affects virtually all industries — from healthcare and manufacturing to retail and transportation. All these industries rely on well-functioning computer systems to facilitate operations and overcome problems. The systems engineer’s job is to ensure these systems work as expected.
Systems engineers can design, create and implement new systems to help a business flourish. They can also manage, maintain and improve existing systems based on the organization’s changing needs. Additionally, systems engineers are project managers responsible for overseeing a team of IT professionals.
A Typical Systems Engineer Job Description
The specific, day-to-day tasks that a systems engineer will perform depend on the organization they work for and its needs at any given time. In general, the following tasks may be part of a typical systems engineer job description:
- Evaluate existing systems and identify areas of improvement
- Design and develop new strategies that can help improve the functioning or efficiency of the organization
- Serve as a liaison and hub of information for stakeholders
- Serve as an advisor to senior management regarding the hardware and software needs of the organization
- Install, test and maintain the various components of a computer system
- Assess the security needs for the organization’s information, such as HIPAA compliance for healthcare organizations
- Manage and monitor network systems
- Perform routine audits of systems and software
- Troubleshoot malfunctioning hardware and software
How To Become a Systems Engineer
If a systems engineer job description appeals to you, then it is time to look at the process of pursuing this exciting career. If you are still in high school, chat with your guidance counselor about your career plans. You may be able to adjust your schedule to take more relevant courses.
Course topics relevant to systems engineering include information technology and computer applications. However, it is essential not to neglect the humanities, as systems engineers must be effective communicators and team leaders. Additionally, look for extracurricular activities supporting your career plans, such as a computer science club.
After high school, you should plan to earn a bachelor’s degree. There is some flexibility regarding the type of degree you can earn. A degree in computer engineering, information technology or applied technology is an excellent option for aspiring systems engineers. An applied technology degree can also be particularly beneficial, as you will likely learn about IT project management and IT business case planning.
Systems engineers do not typically need to earn a master’s degree to excel in their field, although you may choose to do so if you wish. Alternatively, you can pursue a professional certification to demonstrate your competencies. You should expect to undergo at least a few years of experience in an entry-level job in the field before seeking a promotion to the role of systems engineer.
Earn an Applied Technology Degree
After high school, the next step in becoming a systems engineer is earning a bachelor’s degree. You will want to earn a degree related to information technology, such as a Bachelor of Science in Applied Technology degree. Degree programs in this field will prepare you to take on real-world challenges, thanks to a mix of classroom lectures and hands-on IT projects.
While the specific degree topics will vary from one school and degree program to the next, in general, you can expect to study topics such as the following:
- Foundations in computer science, programming and information technology, with a look at variables, expressions, control structures and object-oriented design
- Relational database structures and their design, development, implementation and maintenance
- Critical concepts in cybersecurity, including the identification of attack vectors, threats, preventive tools and network security
- Object-relational databases, including the management of unstructured and semi-structured data with XML
- Best practices in project management for information technology initiatives, with a look at the management of IT teams, risk mitigation and common problems
- IT systems development that focuses on the system development life cycle, such as requirements analysis and traceability
You may also have the opportunity to complete a capstone course in your senior year. For example, you may work alone or in a team to develop an IT project from the proposal to the feasibility study and, finally, to the presentation. This project is your opportunity to demonstrate everything you have learned during your time as an IT student, and the finished product can go into your professional portfolio.
In addition to your coursework, exploring internship opportunities is strongly suggested. Visit your campus’ career services department to discuss the possibilities in your local area. An internship will provide you with invaluable real-world experience — something that is particularly prized in the IT field — and enable you to begin building professional contacts, which may help you land a job after graduation.
Consider Earning a Professional Certification
Professional certification is not required for systems engineers, but it can help you improve your career qualifications and stand out from the other job candidates. Check out the certification options offered by reputable professional organizations, such as the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE).
INCOSE offers three levels of certification, including an option for individuals who are just starting in the field and do not yet possess professional experience. To become an Associate Systems Engineering Professional (ASEP), you must pass a written exam based on the INCOSE Systems Engineering Handbook. As you gain experience in the field, you may pursue the higher levels of certification offered by INCOSE.
Are Systems Engineers in High Demand?
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is the government agency responsible for tracking and analyzing employment data in the U.S. The BLS does not track data for the specific occupation of systems engineering. However, it does offer statistics for a related profession — software developers — which may provide insight into the overall growth trends of the technology field.
As of September 2021, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook estimates job growth for software developers, quality assurance analysts and testers to increase by about 22% from 2020 to 2030. This rate is faster than average, accounting for an estimated increase of 409,500 jobs in the field.1
Another related profession, computer systems analysts, shows a similarly strong growth rate. The BLS estimates job growth for computer systems analysts to increase by about 7% from 2020 to 2030, as fast as average, accounting for an estimated increase of 42,800 jobs in the field.2
If you are passionate about working in IT and find the job description of a systems engineer appealing, you can apply for enrollment in the College of Science, Engineering and Technology. Through a blend of classroom instruction and hands-on learning activities, the Bachelor of Science in Applied Technology degree program offers a rigorous curriculum that instills core competencies ranging from IT process management to IT systems design and development.
1 COVID-19 has adversely affected the global economy and data from 2020 may be atypical compared to prior years. The pandemic may impact the predicted future workforce outcomes indicated by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as well. Accordingly, data shown is based on September 2021, which can be found here: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Software Developers, Quality Analysts, and Testers
2 COVID-19 has adversely affected the global economy and data from 2020 may be atypical compared to prior years. The pandemic may impact the predicted future workforce outcomes indicated by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as well. Accordingly, data shown is based on September 2021, which can be found here: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Computer Systems Analysts, retrieved on 03/04/2022.
Approved by the Engineering Project Manager for the College of Science, Engineering and Technology on Sept. 15, 2022.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.