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How To Become a Systems Engineer: Skills, Qualifications and Education

October 12, 2021

‍According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there will be around 667,600 new computer and information technology based jobs by 2030. BLS also predicts that professionals with knowledge of cloud computing, big data collection and storage, and information security will be in high demand. 

This trend has appeared because businesses have transitioned into being more digital. Industries like manufacturing, transportation, finance and healthcare have all started doing things through digital means. 

And in doing so, each company needs to ensure that all of its systems - software applications, hardware equipment, network, storage and cloud - work seamlessly. This way, they can streamline business processes and successfully take on any projects, from concept to production. 

To achieve all of this organizations need system engineers

So, what does a system engineer do? What qualifications do you need to become a systems engineer? And what background and education requirements are required? You will find the answers to all of these questions in this article. Keep on reading.


What Is a Systems Engineer?

Systems engineers are professionals who look at the bigger picture and understand how technology fits into the larger scheme of companies' needs. They collect product requirements, design, install, configure and maintain complex systems to optimize business’ processes. Systems engineers also make sure that systems scale with the organization. 

Such professionals will work in many industries, and their responsibilities and duties vary significantly. But in most cases, their responsibilities include the following: 

  • Analyze organization's needs and stakeholders' requirements.
  • Recommend suitable hardware and software to meet company needs.
  • Develop new systems to increase employee efficiency.
  • Manage integrations between different platforms and applications.
  • Plan and implement upgrades to hardware and software in existing systems.
  • Monitor and optimize current systems.
  • Implement security procedures and oversee security systems.
  • Maintain detailed documentation and amend records.
  • Investigate and troubleshoot technical problems. 

As you can see from this list, becoming a systems engineer requires solid knowledge of engineering, math, computer science, quality control and project management. So, now it is time to discuss how to become a systems engineer.

How to Become a Systems Engineer?

To succeed in a systems engineer role, an individual must have a certain combination of education, experience and skills. So, let's take a closer look at each of these components. 

Education 

Most employers are looking for candidates with a bachelor's degree in computer science, informational technology or computer engineering. And usually, a bachelor's degree is enough to get an entry-level job. However, some senior-level positions may require a master's degree. 

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California, Berkeley, are among the best choices for undergraduate engineering programs. But you can also study systems engineering at many other schools. 

For example, Cornell University in Ithaca, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Southern California and the University of Pennsylvania all offer excellent undergraduate and postgraduate programs in this field.  

Undoubtedly a bachelor's or master's degree can help a candidate to stand out among other applicants. However, it is still possible to get a job as a system engineer without it, if you have the necessary skills and relevant experience. 

You can choose between multiple courses on platforms to get the knowledge you need. You can also enroll onto our intense Systems Engineering program, where students not only get all the theoretical knowledge a beginner specialist needs, but they also have the opportunity to do an internship to gain real-world work experience. 


Systems Engineer Certificates 

On top of education, professionals who want to advance their career even further might consider obtaining certificates in systems engineering. These certificates help to solidify and demonstrate a systems engineer's knowledge, skills and experience to potential future employers. 

The International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE) provides a three-level certification program:

  • ASEP (Associate Systems Engineering Professional) for those who just recently started practicing systems engineering. 
  • CSEP (Certified Systems Engineering Professional) for individuals with a minimum of five years of experience. 
  • ESEP (Expert Systems Engineering Professional) for experts with 20 years of experience. 

Depending on the technology that an individual uses at work, certificates in these areas might also be valuable: 

  • Security (Certified Information Systems Security Professional - CISSP, Certified Cloud Security Professional – CCSP).
  • Cloud (AWS, Azure and Google certificates)  
  • Virtualization (Citrix, VMware and Red Hat certificates)
  • Networking (CISCO, CompTIA and Citrix certificates). 

Systems Engineer Career Path 

Many systems engineers start their careers as network administrators, technical support specialists or as software engineers. After working as systems engineers, some professionals then shift to managerial positions (for example, Lead Systems Engineer or Chief Information Officer), or they may specialize in different systems solutions (Cloud Solutions Architect or SAP consultant).

Systems Engineer Hard and Soft Skills

The role of a systems engineer demands a firm grasp of both business and engineering. And if you want to succeed in becoming a systems engineer, you will need to learn certain hard and soft skills. 

Required technical skills may vary significantly as systems engineers can work in different industries and with different technology. Here’s what recruiters are looking for most usually:

  • Solid knowledge of Linux.
  • Understanding of user and group management principles and best practices.
  • Awareness of file system hierarchy standards. 
  • Knowledge of security principles.
  • Familiarity with network tools.
  • Experience with configuration management tools.
  • Understanding of hardware/software concepts and interfaces.
  • Experience with cloud-based technologies.
  • Familiarity with monitoring tools.
  • Proficiency in documenting processes.

Soft skills are equally important in a systems engineer’s career. And here is a list of the most valuable of them: 

  • Communication is undoubtedly the most critical soft skill for any systems engineer. This is because they interact with professionals from different fields daily, and should be able to explain technical information in an easy to to understand way to those outside of the engineering field. 
  • Conflict management is crucial. When working with various departments conflict can often pop up, but a systems engineers' job is to resolve any possible issues efficiently and to find solutions that everybody is happy with. 
  • Problem-solving is another essential skill, as dealing with complex problems is at the core of a systems engineer's job. 
  • Analytical thinking allows systems engineers to extract key information from data and design the most effective solutions to solve the problem at hand. 
  • Creative thinking helps systems engineers bring new perspectives to the table, to find innovative solutions to issues and to develop more efficient ways to carry out tasks.   
  • Systems engineers must also be detail-oriented. The more complex the systems are, the more important it is that each component is thoroughly reviewed and checked for errors.  

And as all of these skills are transferable and can be applied in almost any industry or profession, it makes perfect sense to put some time and effort into improving them. 


Conclusion

As businesses grow and use more complex systems, there is a demand for qualified professionals to maintain these systems. That is why systems engineers are in high demand across all industries: from software development and transportation, to manufacturing and defense. 

There are plenty of job opportunities and these positions are often paid really well. So, systems engineering is a perfect career choice for anybody who enjoys solving complex problems, and would like to work in a challenging role, where they can develop solid business and technical skills. 


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