What Is System Programming?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

This article provides an overview of system programming and the skills needed to start a career in this field.

[Featured Image] Two seated students and one standing student look at a computer monitor and discuss the meaning and features of system programming.

System programming involves writing and executing application software programs. Systems programmers use programming languages to develop software and hardware components and control computer operations in a constrained environment. 

This article discusses system programming and how to become a systems programmer. It also answers some common programming questions. 

System programming defined

System programming is used to develop applications that make life easier. For example, you can walk into a fast-food restaurant, walk to the counter, and place your order with a restaurant employee. Still, with an app developed by a software developer and system programmer, you can place your order on an app inside the store or at home to be picked up later. 

Developing a system for food ordering or any other task takes a team of IT engineers and software developers to design and test new applications. 

How to write a program

It’s the role of the programming engineer or software developer to write the programming system for an application. The basic steps for writing a program are: 

  • Consider how to solve the problem at hand

  • Design a solution to the problem

  • Write the code based on the design

  • Test the code and correct any errors 

  • Test the program with users to receive feedback

  • Release the program to the public 

Writing the code

System programming requires code writing for building system software. You can write code and save it in plain text using text editors like Windows Notepad or Mac TextEdit, or you can use software tools called code editors to write and edit code more efficiently.   

A code editor, or integrated development environment (IDE), formats code, edits it and performs debugging. The software program will identify the programming language, although not all IDEs can read all languages. 

Syntax highlighting

An advantage of using an IDE is that the IDE highlights the colour and style of the source code. The IDE will highlight important keywords, syntax errors, and other elements. Highlighting provides different colour markups to validate that the code is written correctly.

Code testing

When the code is written, it needs to be tested. The code must be tested line-by-line to catch errors before the application moves to the next step. The development team performs code testing, divided into two testing functions: structural and static. 

  • Structural testing is based on the program’s implementation and internal design.

  • Static testing checks for coding defects manually when the program is not running.

How to become a system programmer

To become a system programmer, you will need a certain level of education, experience, and skills. With the right skills, entering the workplace as a system programmer is possible from secondary school. Still, other qualifications are available to increase your chances of reaching higher-level jobs. 

Complete 10+2

To begin a career in system programming, you have to complete 10+2 and pass the Higher Secondary Certification (HSC) exam in the science stream, including maths, physics, and chemistry, with a score over 55 percent. 

Pass entrance exams

If you want to pursue a degree, you will likely need to pass the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) Main Purpose, the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) Advanced, or the Birla Institute of Technology and Science Admission Test (BITSAT), depending on the course you want to apply to. You may need to meet other requirements for the school you choose.

Alternatively, you can earn a diploma in computer programming, software development, or other fields of computer science. A passing score of 45 percent on the Class 10 exam is required. 

Earn a degree

To work as a system programmer, employers often require a bachelor's degree in computer science, software development, software engineering, or a related field. A Bachelor of Engineering (BE) or Bachelor of Technology (BTech) are common degree programmes for system programmers. Upon completing a bachelor’s degree, you can pursue a master’s degree programme to earn a Master of Science (MSc) or Master of Technology (MTech).   

Learn programming languages

To work in system programming, you’ll need various programming language skills. Among the languages systems programmers should know are C, C++, C#, B#, Java, Python, Perl, Rust, Ada, Go, Verilog, and VHDL. Learning some or all of these languages will benefit your job search. 

Develop skills

Along with programming languages, you'll need to develop technical and workplace skills to qualify as a system programmer. Some of the common skills that will help you succeed in this role include the following:

Technical skills

  • Reading system software loading and running instructions

  • Controlling computer inputs and outputs

  • Testing software programs and hardware and identifying errors

  • Fixing errors and modifying system software and hardware to maximise performance

  • Writing reports to document modifications and implement software

  • Preparing workflow charts and diagrams

  • Troubleshooting and solving user-facing issues

  • Analysing performance indicators

Workplace skills 

  • Logical thinking

  • Problem-solving

  • Persistence

  • Attention to detail

  • Time management

  • Communication

  • Teamwork

Next steps

If you’re interested in a career in system programming but aren’t sure it’s right for you, Codio offers the Introduction to Operating Systems Specialisation certificate course on Coursera to help you decide. Operating Systems and You: Becoming a Power User provided by Google can earn you a shareable certificate upon completion.

You can take each course online on Coursera and study around your schedule and personal commitments. When you complete a course, add it to your resume or college application to help your job search.

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