System Engineer Job Description

From system design to software upgrades, system engineers oversee the development and implementation of technical or mechanical systems for various industries. Acting as a sort of project manager, these professionals work with other engineers, technicians, managers, and developers to ensure that each step of a project is completed in a timely and cost-efficient manner. System engineers are typically team players and strong communicators who interact with professionals of all levels. They work in a combination of office and factory settings and are often involved in time-sensitive, fast-paced projects. These engineers typically work full time, enjoy full benefits packages, and often report high career satisfaction.


System Engineer Duties and Responsibilities

System engineers work in a variety of industries. Specific duties and responsibilities may vary, but there are several core tasks associated with the job, including:

Design and Integrate Systems

System engineers lead the design and integration of new computer or mechanical systems. They work with other engineers and managers to come up with new system designs, assemble teams, create project budgets, assign tasks, and create prototypes.

Monitor Systems and Address Issues

System engineers ensure the smooth operation of various systems and identify and address any potential or ongoing problems. They keep records of system operations, note issues and how they were resolved, and test systems to help avoid any problems or downtime.

Upgrade Existing Systems

In addition to creating and implementing new systems, system engineers install new software or other components to upgrade existing systems. They run tests to make sure these changes are fully integrated. System engineers keep track of when upgrades were performed and when further updates are needed. They also perform routine systems backup procedures.

Provide Technical Support

System engineers provide systems support for clients and customers. They create training and reference materials, review open work orders, keep records of customer inquiries, and record technical solutions for repeat issues.

Participate in Development Meetings

From marketing briefings to cost estimate reports, system engineers attend meetings throughout the development process. They meet with developers and engineers to discuss project specifics and address potential problems with new systems, with management to present budgets and project progress, and with vendors to arrange parts orders and pricing negotiations.


System Engineer Skills and Qualifications

Computer-minded individuals with strong leadership and time management skills can find success as system engineers. Below are the skills and abilities most associated with this occupation:

  • Computer skills – knowledge of computer programming, operating systems, software installation, and hardware components are critical for system engineers
  • Mechanical skills – it’s important that system engineers understand how industrial equipment works and what systems are best for specific types of machines
  • Project management – system engineers must adhere to project management steps, such as budgeting, team-building, and scheduling
  • Organization skills – these skills come into play when system engineers set up new systems and project schedules
  • Communication skills – whether they’re speaking with customers on the phone or discussing systems specifications with engineers and managers via email, it is important that system engineers express strong verbal and written communication skills as well as active listening skills
  • Interpersonal skills – the ability to work with diverse individuals, from high-end managers to entry-level engineers, is essential to the successful completion of system projects
  • Time management – adhering to tight schedules and delivering new systems or upgrades in a timely manner to keep systems running smoothly calls for strong time management skills


Tools of the Trade

It is helpful for system engineers to be familiar with the following:

  • Network devices
  • Computer software
  • Systems testing equipment
  • Operating systems
  • Programming languages


System Engineer Education and Training

Most employers seek system engineers with at least a bachelor’s degree in a relevant area, such as computer engineering, computer science, information technology, industrial engineering, system design, or systems engineering. Some technical companies offer internships in systems engineering. Depending on the type of system one is working on, it could be helpful to possess professional certifications in network administration, software development, or programming.


System Engineer Salary and Outlook

PayScale reports a median annual salary of about $76,000 for system engineers. Those at the lower end of the pay scale realize a salary of just over $52,000, while top earners (who tend to be lead or senior system engineers) can be paid in excess of $122,000 per year. Even entry-level system engineers can start at a salary of $67,000, according to PayScale.

Bonuses, profit-sharing, and commissions can figure into a system engineer’s yearly salary. Boston and New York are among the cities that report the highest earnings for system engineers. Companies specializing in telecommunications, aerospace, and computer networking tend to pay higher salaries compared to other industries.

Employment of all types of industrial engineers, including system engineers, is expected to rise 10 percent through 2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This growth is expected to be seen more in the area of healthcare than manufacturing, though manufacturing relocations and an increase in automated production systems will positively impact system engineers in the manufacturing field.


Helpful Resources

Want to learn more about what it takes to become and work as a system engineer? Review the resources we’ve supplied below to further research this occupation:

International Council on Systems Engineering – featuring workshops, networking opportunities, and certification information, INCOSE is a prime source of professional development and advocacy for system engineers

Systems Engineering Principles and Practice – from traditional to modern systems engineering, this book covers every detail you need to know about this profession. You’ll review information about how to make decisions, apply analysis techniques, understand software engineering techniques, and much more

Institute of Industrial & Systems Engineers – IISE offers existing and aspiring system engineers the opportunity to expand their skills and broaden their understanding of this field through conferences and training webinars

IISE Blogs – get first-hand insight into best practices, reviews of helpful tools, and professional advice for industrial and system engineers

“Fundamentals of Systems Engineering” – review this podcast of free MIT systems engineering courses addressing lifecycle management, systems integration, system architecture, verification processes, and more

ISE Magazine – published through IISE, this magazine covers industry news and trends, reviews of tools and technologies, project management tips, and other useful information for those working as system engineers

INCOSE Systems Engineering Handbook: A Guide for System Life Cycle Processes and Activities – review fundamental concepts about the life cycle of a system and the main activities and responsibilities of a system engineer in this comprehensive text

The Art of Systems Engineering: A How-To Guide for Systems Engineers – boasting to be the only true how-to book for system engineers, this text explores systems engineering methodologies that are proven to work for those seeking to excel in this profession


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