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What does a Systems Engineer do?

By Jessica Reed
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A systems engineer is the person responsible for developing a system, such as a computer system, for a client. He discusses the client's needs, plans a system, creates the system, and troubleshoots it for any bugs. The system engineering field is broad and ranges from computer system engineering to power system engineering. Regardless of the person's specialty and the project, the main goal of a systems engineer is to create the most efficient engineering project that can handle a client's needs both at the time of creation and in the future as those needs change. Often the systems engineer works on a complex project, such as robotic machinery or computer chips.

Computer systems engineer is the most common of the systems engineering jobs. The computer system consists of all the hardware and software connected together. An office has a large computer system consisting of employees’ computers, printers, and servers that can all "talk" to each other. For the system to work properly and efficiently, a computer systems engineer outlines what parts are needed and the best way to lay them out.

Other specialties in this field include networking systems engineer and power systems engineer. Both are technical in nature, like the computer systems job, but focus on different technology. In network systems, the engineer creates the operating system that runs the computer system the computer systems engineer built. In power systems, the engineer works to create the massive power grid layouts that supply electricity throughout an area, including to the business running the computer and network systems the other engineers created.

Most systems engineering jobs deal with some form of science or technology, or both. The job combines complex aspects of chemistry and physics with out-of-the-box thinking to come up with a system that can perform multiple functions. A computer system, for example, must run the computers, print documents, and connect to the Internet all at once without slowing down or crashing.

To create a working system, the engineer often follows a development cycle. Each stage tackles a certain aspect of system design and continually checks to see that the system works properly and meets client needs. The first phases involve planning out the best way to build the system. Next comes the physical labor of putting it together and, finally, the engineer tests the system and shows it to the client.

Those who want to work as systems engineers need a college degree in engineering or a field related to their desired specialty. A computer science degree would work well for computer systems engineers. Certifications are also available and can demonstrate skills and qualifications if the interested person is lacking in official work experience or education. Even the best education is no match for hands-on experience working in the field, and for this reason, it's crucial to take engineering classes offering lab activities or to complete an internship in an engineering field.

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Discussion Comments

By Drentel — On Jan 09, 2014

Like the article says, a systems engineer can work in a wide range of fields, so you shouldn't have to worry about getting stuck in an area/job you no longer enjoy.

And a systems engineer salary isn't bad either.

By Animandel — On Jan 08, 2014

Yes, Sporkasia, hands-on experience is vital to your systems engineer resume, but you should not overlook the importance of a course of studies that combines technical skills and communication skills.

An IT systems engineer has to deal with people as well as computers. Having a well-rounded education from a four-year college can be beneficial when it comes to communicating with and working with people.

There are different ways to reach the same goal; you have to choose what works best for you.

By Sporkasia — On Jan 07, 2014

I agree with the final paragraph in the article where it talks about the importance of hands-on experience. Employers want people who have experience working with computers, not people who simply went to college, read the material and earned a degree.

That’s why the schools that offer technical training and certification are so appealing, especially to people like me who don’t want to spend four years on a college campus studying core courses that have nothing to do with getting a systems engineer job when that is my goal.

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