How to Become
a Systems Engineer
Education Pathways, Skills, and Certifications
Organizations that are large or complex need to make sure that their various systems are working together. The people who can make sense of these interlocking systems, pinpoint issues, recommend workarounds, and implement solutions are systems engineers.
If you want to learn how to become a systems engineer, this comprehensive guide can help you get through the academic, training, accreditation, and hiring processes.
What Is a Systems Engineer?
A systems engineer is someone who maintains and implements computer systems on behalf of an organization. They usually follow specific standard operating procedures (SOPs) or guidelines. The specific role and accountability of a systems engineer may differ from organization to organization and from task to task.
Systems engineers are versatile and flexible. You will find them developing systems and packages used by software providers and evaluating computer network models. They also build and support software that optimizes their company’s supply chain.
You can find a more detailed description of their role below.
What Does a Systems Engineer Do?
Systems engineers are tasked to oversee every step of the system or technical project. Their innovative designs seek to optimize the end-user experience and drive traffic to the company website.
They also take care of operational tasks such as system testing, costing, manufacturing, evaluating, and disposal. In addition, they need to ensure efficiency every step of the way.
Their most important tasks are laid out below.
Oversees System Improvements
Systems engineers coordinate improvements to devices, operating systems, and network hardware. They are in charge of monitoring existing systems, recommending changes, and installing and configuring new software and hardware.
They also provide direct technical support, evaluating how well and how quickly the systems are functioning for the staff. They fix problems with the physical network as they arise, and regularly test software and hardware to ensure they work according to SOPs.
Reviews and Updates SOPs
Systems engineers participate in the design, planning, technical review, and rollout of new system infrastructure. This is in line with their other tasks that involve keeping the network infrastructure compliant with the standards.
Since they’re usually dealing with the technical side of things, they need to be able to explain the system and its processes in understandable terms, especially to those who need to understand how it all works. Hence, they offer training and consultation to staff.
Systems Engineer Education Pathways
To stand out as a systems engineer, you need to get a proper education. You can complete a bachelor’s program, enroll in a bootcamp, or take an online course.
You might have a hard time identifying the best education path if you’re not aware of the pros and cons of each option. To help you sort it all out, let’s briefly explore what each path entails.
Systems Engineering Degrees
Most systems engineers have a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science or a related discipline. The best undergraduate programs for aspiring systems engineers are those that offer practical training in complex physical systems and a wide range of software applications, with an emphasis on industry-standard methods.
To get your bachelor’s degree, you need to spend four years studying at a university or college. To develop a more specialized skill set in programming or data architecture, you can spend an additional two years getting a Master’s Degree in Computer Science.
Systems Engineering Bootcamps
While boot camps can’t confer you a degree, they can provide you with the in-demand skills that will make companies like Google, Uber, Microsoft, and Facebook consider your application. If you enroll in a boot camp, you can launch your career after just a few months of extensive study.
At a coding boot camp, you can learn about a variety of tech subjects from seasoned professionals. Besides that, you’ll complete various projects to ensure that you develop essential skills. By the time you finish your course, you will have the know-how and the portfolio to help you ace your job interviews.
If you want to gain more leverage and be job-ready in just a few months, you can opt for a boot camp. While there aren’t any boot camp programs that focus specifically on systems engineering, you can acquire relevant programming skills and knowledge of computer networks in one of the best coding boot camps or cybersecurity boot camps.
Systems Engineering Courses
There are no boundaries to learning. Through MOOC platforms such as Udemy, Coursera, and Class Central, you can study systems engineering from your own home. Coursera’s Introduction to Systems Engineering course is a good place to start.
Before settling on an online course, check out the course syllabus to ensure that you’ll learn relevant hard skills. These courses are usually self-paced and inexpensive, and when you finish, you’ll get a certificate of completion that you can show to prospective employers.
How to Become a Systems Engineer: A Step-by-Step Guide
Below are five steps that you should follow to become a systems engineer.
Earn a systems engineering degree
If you want a career as a systems engineer, you need a degree in an engineering or computer science discipline. A bachelor’s degree is the minimum requirement for most systems engineering jobs.
Go for a master’s degree
When hiring for managerial positions, many employers prefer candidates who have a Master’s Degree in Systems Engineering. You can opt for a general program or a highly specialized concentration. It depends on the industry you want to work in and the types of jobs you wish to pursue.
Gain relevant experience
While education is essential to launching a career as a systems engineer, you also need to have real-world, hands-on experience. Internships and entry-level jobs will prepare you for the licensing process, which requires at least four years of relevant experience.
Become a licensed Professional Engineer (PE)
Earning a license given by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) is highly recommended, but not mandatory. PE credentials will likely increase your earnings while also increasing your responsibilities.
Get a professional certification
Again, getting professionally certified is voluntary, but according to CareerOneStop of the US Department of Labor, if you’re accredited by the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE), your skills will always be in demand.
Top Systems Engineer Skills
Apart from technical skills, it would help to have soft skills like time management, communication, and teamwork. That’s because, as with most jobs in the tech industry, you need to be able to meet deadlines, collaborate on big projects, and explain difficult concepts and tools to your co-workers.
But if you really want to be the cream of the systems engineering crop, make sure to develop the following hard skills.
Programming and Software Skills
The technical skills requirement largely depends on the industry you work in, but you need to be proficient in modeling and planning software. In addition, it is always best to learn various computer programs and top programming languages.
Knowledge of Software and Hardware Systems
Systems engineers need direct experience in the software and hardware they’ll work on when hired. Therefore, you should specialize in a specific field and learn all of those systems.
You also need to have ample experience in software development. Working closely with the software development team, you’ll help with software quality assurance, documentation, specification, and programming.
As a systems engineer, you need to be meticulous and detail-oriented. To be able to diagnose problems, you should become adept at analyzing a system both by its parts and as a whole. Be prepared to pay attention to small details and carry out necessary changes. Sometimes you’ll also be required to make large-scale changes to the system.
Systems Engineer Salary and Job Outlook
There is always a high demand for systems engineers. Different parts of their job overlap with the jobs of computer network architects, systems analysts, and systems administrators. All of these are part of the computer and information technology sector, which will see 11 percent job growth between 2019 and 2029, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
According to PayScale, the median systems engineer makes about $80,445 per year. Of course, this depends on such factors as experience, location, and specialization. If you are skilled in Linux and UNIX virtualization, Cisco networking, Windows, and basic administration, you can expect a higher starting salary.
Entry-Level Systems Engineer Job Requirements
You don’t need a master’s degree or PhD to start working as a systems engineer. To land an entry-level position, you should have experience with transport layer software and network layer software. Besides that, you should have relevant experience with virtualization tools like Virtual Box and VMware.
Experience with cloud technology, especially in Amazon Web Service (AWS), is also a great advantage. And those experienced in handling application stacks like NGINX, Ruby, Apache, JBoss, and Tomcat can add more value to their company.
According to PayScale, an entry-level systems engineer earns about $72,373 per year.
How to Prepare for Your Systems Engineer Job Interview
Before you can start a career as a systems engineer, you need to make sure you’re prepared for the hiring process. First, you need to study the background of the company you’re applying to and identify how you can add value as an employee.
Next, prepare your portfolio and update your resume. Make sure that it highlights the qualities they’re looking for in a new hire. It’s also good to prepare yourself by answering mock interview questions like those laid out below.
Systems Engineer Interview Practice Questions
- What are the core qualities you think an effective and productive systems engineer should have?
- What were the significant challenges you encountered in your previous job, and how did you handle them?
- How do you feel about learning new things and new technology?
- What do you think is the most challenging part of a systems engineer’s job?
- How would you feel if a team member made a fatal mistake on a project close to the deadline? How would you react to such a situation?
Systems Engineer Certifications
To be a reputable systems engineer, you should have one or more professional certifications. The ones listed below can help boost your expertise.
Associate Systems Engineering Professional
This is a certification conferred by the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE) and given to systems engineers just out of school and new to the job. You need to take and pass an exam to get certified.
Certified Systems Engineering Professional
This is also offered by INCOSE and is considered one of the most in-demand certifications for systems engineers. You need to have at least five years of relevant engineering experience to qualify. Besides that, you need to pass an exam and submit at least three character references.
Expert Systems Engineering Professional
To earn this certification, you need to have a minimum of 25 years of engineering experience. You have to provide three character references before your application is subjected to a peer review panel, which will decide your fate.
Certified Information Systems Security Professional
This particular certification is conferred by the International Information System Security Certification Consortium, or (ISC)², and this shows your ability to make designs and implement specific cyber security programs. You need to pass an exam and have at least five years of experience working as a systems security expert.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Systems Engineer?
If you choose to earn an academic degree, expect to set aside four years for your bachelor’s and about two more for your master’s. In addition, you’ll need an extra two years to gain the necessary industry-related experience.
Alternatively, you can take the shorter route and earn the necessary skills to land a job right away by enrolling in a coding boot camp. Bootcamps are increasingly becoming a popular alternative to a traditional college education. Here, you will acquire the real-world skills to help you start a career in tech within a few months.
The good thing about these coding boot camps is that, although they can’t earn you a degree in the relevant field, they can offer you a career boost. This is accomplished through mentorship, projects, and networking with such employers as Google, Microsoft, and Facebook. So, even without a degree, you can still be gainfully employed as a systems engineer.
Why You Should Become a Systems Engineer in 2021
You should become a systems engineer if you want an exciting career, plenty of opportunities for advancement, and a high income. Experienced or not, you can earn and learn a lot working as a systems engineer.
Every day as a systems engineer is new and exciting. In addition to getting to improve on the job, you can sign up for an upskilling program at a coding bootcamp or with an online platform. It won’t take long for you to earn more certifications and climb the organizational ladder. Don’t miss out on these chances; start your career today.
Systems Engineer FAQ
No, they are not the same. Systems engineers are responsible for the organization’s operating system, its hardware, and its in-house, commercial, and open-source services. In addition, they deal with the overall management of the assigned engineering project, focusing more on the physical aspects.
Software engineers, on the other hand, are tasked with developing software products and applications.
This discipline follows a systematic approach for operations, system retirement, technical management, realization, and design. These approaches are used to meet the needs of every stakeholder over the course of the system’s life cycle.
Earning a license from the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) is highly recommended but not mandatory. If you’re interested in becoming one, take and pass the Fundamentals of Engineering licensure exam after graduating.
After that, work for at least four years as an engineer. Finally, after completing the mandatory work requirement, take and pass the Professional Engineering exam.
If earning a lot of money is your definition of a lucrative career, then the answer to this question is yes, but it depends on how passionate you are. If you do something passionately, it’s always easy to be good at your job. And if you’re good at systems engineering, you will make a lot of money over the course of your career.