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Overview

Succinctly, a systems engineer is responsible for coordinating the construction, maintenance, and expansion of an organization’s computer systems. The term systems engineering can be traced back to Bell Telephone Laboratories in the 1940s. The need to identify and manipulate the properties of a system as a whole, which in complex engineering projects may greatly differ from the sum of the parts’ properties, motivated various industries to apply the discipline.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) defined system engineering in 1995 as a robust approach to the design, creation, and operation of systems. In simple terms, the approach consists of identification and quantification of system goals, creation of alternative system design concepts, performance of design trades, selection and implementation of the best design, verification that the design is properly built and integrated, and post-implementation assessment of how well the system meets (or met) the goals.”

Primary Responsibilities

  • Oversee development and maintenance of computer systems.
  • Identify departmental needs and make suggestions regarding technical direction.
  • Set up organization’s intranets.
  • Design and implement system security and data assurance.
  • Configure and install computer systems for other organizations.
  • Design and develop software.
  • Test software applications and systems.
  • Develop different types of software, including computer games, business applications, operating systems, network control systems, and middleware.
  • Apply knowledge of computing systems and software structure.
  • Analyze users’ needs.
  • Create flowcharts, diagrams, and other documentation.
  • Create manuals and detailed sets of instructions including algorithms that tell computers what to do.
  • Convert instructions into computer languages.

Education

To enhance the student’s job prospects, a Master of Engineering (M.E.) or Master of Science (M.S.) in Systems Engineering is a serious consideration. Colorado State University, for example, requires a minimum of 30 credit hours in their approved master’s program. A sampling of graduate courses are:

  • IT and Project Management
  • Foundations of Systems Engineering
  • Software Development Methodology
  • Electrical Power Engineering
  • Dynamics of Complex Engineering Systems

Some learning institutions have distance learning, namely Cornell University. It offers a Master of Engineering in Systems Engineering for those who have entered the workforce and wish to advance their education. Many of those prospective master’s degree students are engineers who already have professional jobs, and who want to pursue a professional master’s program without leaving their employment.

A master’s degree may open more workplace doors, however there are many schools offering bachelor’s degrees in systems engineering. At this level, the degree programs provide students with the science and math fundamentals necessary to analyze and design complex systems. Students use engineering principles to assess a given industry and create models that improve functionality. Undergraduates also engage in research that allows them to develop innovative methods of tackling problems and improving operations.

Employment

Most large corporations have systems engineers, particularly the aerospace industry: Lockheed Martin, Boeing, GE Aviation, NASA, Northrop Grumman, Ball Aerospace and Technology, as well as branches of the US military and it’s independent contractors. Other prominent companies are: Amazon, Dell, Raytheon, Intel, L-3 Communications, to name a handful.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics  has one category for Computer Software Engineers which has a median annual salary of $96,620 as or May 2010. The states with the highest concentration of workers in the computer systems field is Massachusetts. This state is also one of the top 5 paying states for this field with an annual wage of $101,670 as of 2010.