8 October, 2019
Projects like computer chip design, infrastructure construction or software integration require complex engineering processes and contributions from numerous stakeholders. Professionals in systems engineering careers spearhead these efforts by taking on a wide variety of tasks. They manage both technical and business systems, ensuring solutions are properly implemented and enabling organizations to achieve their long-term goals.
If you’re interested in starting or advancing on a systems engineering career path, you need to cultivate a combination of multidisciplinary technical expertise and soft skills. Earning a Master of Science in systems engineering will equip you with the knowledge and experience you need to take on leadership challenges in a technical organization. With an advanced education, you’ll be prepared to apply technical concepts to address real-world situations, supervise technical operations and pass the Certified Systems Engineering Professional (CSEP) exam from the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE).
You can find success in a broad range of organizations by driving innovative problem-solving and efficiency. Here are some of the key factors that make a difference in achieving systems engineer career growth:
What Are the Roles and Responsibilities of a Systems Engineer?
The roots of systems engineering as a distinct field can be traced back to the work done at Bell Telephone Laboratories in the 1940s. During this era, the pioneering telecommunications company used a process-oriented approach to make unprecedented strides in world-changing technologies like transistors, computing and solar energy.
The U.S. Department of Defense soon adopted systems engineering methods to deploy technology on the battlefields of World War II. Following the war, the RAND Corporation was established to link research and development activities with military planning. Systems analysis became a cornerstone of how the nonprofit strategized for building weapons, aircraft and military bases.
Over the years, the role of the systems engineer has evolved with advances in technology – such as the evolution of cloud computing and the push toward multi- and hybrid cloud IT environments – and emerging opportunities in new industries. According to the International Council on Systems Engineering, experts generally watch over a system’s life cycle by applying the seven-step SIMILAR process:
- State the problem by describing the functions a system must fulfill
- Investigate alternatives, creating several designs and evaluating them for performance and cost
- Model the system based on the alternative designs
- Integrate subsystems to optimize performance
- Launch the system and begin producing outputs
- Assess performance based on figures of merit, technical measures and metrics
- Re-evaluate the system, inputs and processes, looking for ways to improve
Systems Engineer Skills
Systems engineers need a thorough understanding of how all aspects of a project come together and how each phase along the way impacts the final product. They guide teams through each step of development implementation. These experts must be able to engage with both fellow engineers and business leaders who may have limited technical knowledge.
To achieve consistent results and enable organizational growth, systems engineers need advanced skills in a variety of technical areas. Professionals who are interested in these positions should be able to:
- Apply axiomatic design principles to ensure projects meet customers’ needs
- Analyze and assess business needs
- Supervise all steps of technical development and implementation
- Build and maintain infrastructure and hardware
- Establish contingency measures to preserve data
- Run systems simulations to check quality
- Monitor performance and addressing bugs
- Oversee upgrades to systems and operations
- Perform systems analysis and wisely allocate resources for development and implementation
- Make financial decisions that keep a technical organization operating within budget
In addition, systems engineers maximize their effectiveness by building soft skills, like being prepared to:
- Provide knowledgeable and confident leadership for multidisciplinary teams
- Manage projects with strategies based in earned-value and situation analyses
- Solve problems to maximize performance and boost efficiency
- Tailor powerful communications – including presentations, written reports and one-on-one interactions – that inform and persuade stakeholders at all levels of an organization.
Where Do Systems Engineers Work?
Systems engineering methods evolved in the context of research and development, particularly for military applications. While R&D firms and military research remain important centers for work in the field, today’s professionals can find rewarding positions in many different settings. They contribute to any organization striving to achieve more effective functionality, enhanced reliability, accelerated product life cycles, reduced costs or greater sustainability.
According to PayScale, some of the top industries for systems engineers are:
- Aerospace and defense
- Software development
- Engineering services
- Automotive manufacturing
- Information Technology services
- Medical device manufacturing
For some jobs, engineers may be required to earn certification from INCOSE. To become a Certified Systems Engineering Professional, you must earn a degree in the field, gain five years of work experience, obtain three references and pass a multiple-choice exam.
Systems engineering skills will be invaluable to many companies in the years ahead. A 2019 study from LinkedIn reported high demand for employees who can manage complex technical processes like cloud deployment, solve business problems and lead teams. Careers in systems engineering have a promising future in an interconnected world of global industry and data-driven decision-making.
About GW’s Online M.S. in Systems Engineering
The online M.S. in Systems Engineering prepares IT, analytics and other technology professionals to supervise technical development and implementation processes from start to finish while maintaining system performance well into the future.
George Washington University offers a comprehensive selection of online master’s degrees in engineering. The programs are designed with the same curriculum as the on campus degree programs, with a focus on positioning graduates for career advancement in engineering. GW offers the following master’s degrees 100% online:
- Master of Science in electrical engineering
- Master of Science in engineering management
- Master of Science in systems engineering
- Master of Engineering in cybersecurity and compliance