What Is a Systems Engineer (and How Do I Become One)?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Systems engineers develop, design, and implement engineered systems. Learn more about this and how to become a systems engineer with this guide. We include the educational requirements and skills to qualify for a systems engineer job.

[Featured image] Two systems engineers collaborate in front of a laptop computer.

Systems engineers develop and oversee all aspects of a complex system to solve a problem, from the initial creation of the system to production and management through the end product or solution.

Systems may include products, people, services, information, natural elements, processes, or several, depending on the job. As a systems engineer, you are in charge of troubleshooting and communicating with all parties involved in implementing and using the system. 

Systems engineers work in almost every industry, from health care to transportation, manufacturing, and software. It’s a career that allows you to solve problems, explore solutions, and build systems that address a problem or achieve a goal.

According to Glassdoor, systems engineers in India make an average of ₹9,03,600 per year as of March 2024 [1]. 

What does a systems engineer do?

A systems engineer’s day-to-day tasks vary somewhat by industry and company, but you can expect some everyday responsibilities to include the following:

  • Designing and implementing systems and tools

  • Troubleshooting issues with a company's systems and networks

  • Automating tasks for production environments

  • Installing new hardware and software

  • Performing system upgrades

  • Managing backup and recovery

  • Monitoring and capacity planning for servers

  • Conducting version management

  • Developing system security standards

  • Assessing resources to meet organisational needs

  • Overseeing help desk staff

How to become a systems engineer

So, how do you become a systems engineer? Let's take a more detailed look at the education, skills, and experience you'll need to become a systems engineer.

Systems engineering degrees

The first step in pursuing a systems engineering degree is earning a bachelor's degree. You then focus on your desired industry when pursuing a master’s degree. 

There are many different types of systems engineers, so once you choose your industry or get hired into a specific field, you can narrow your education pathway to that industry. Examples of systems engineering specialisations include:

  • Transportation systems engineering

  • Software systems engineering

  • Logistics engineering

  • Product development systems engineering

  • Biosystems engineering

Gaining on-the-job training is another critical piece to becoming a successful systems engineer. Real-world experience allows you to explore systems engineering first-hand and may help you decide what kind of systems engineer you’d like to become. 

Some systems engineers may further their education by becoming a professional engineer (PE) or earning a PhD in systems engineering. There are also several certifications for systems engineers who want to gain new skills specific to an area of interest.

Bachelor's degree

The first step in becoming a systems engineer is to earn a bachelor’s degree in systems engineering or other related fields, like computer engineering or mechanical engineering. Some systems engineers may hold a bachelor’s degree in technical disciplines such as computer science. 

Some modules you’ll likely see as part of a bachelor’s degree in systems engineering include physics, calculus, project management, statistics, and computer systems programming. 

Master’s degree

After you’ve earned your bachelor’s degree, pursuing a master's degree could give you more significant growth potential. It’s a good idea to build some field experience before pursuing your master’s degree or while working on earning your graduate degree.

Most systems engineers seeking master’s degree programmes want to expand their careers within engineering. Many applicants to graduate programmes also know the industry they want to work in, so these programmes are more tailored and industry-specific.

To be an eligible applicant, you’ll need to hold a bachelor’s degree in systems engineering, engineering, statistics, or a related field. Other admission requirements will vary by university.

Systems engineer certifications

Earning a certification in systems engineering is another way to demonstrate to a potential employer you have the skills and knowledge needed to do the job. These are a few standard options in the industry:

  • Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE)

  • Certified Systems Engineering Professional (CSEP)

  • Master Certified Electronics Technician (CETma)

  • Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA)

  • Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)

  • CompTIA Network+

Systems engineer skills

Working as a systems engineer requires a wide array of skills to understand what needs to happen within a process, create a system to make that process possible, implement it, and see it through while monitoring and problem-solving. 

Depending upon the industry, these are some of the top technical and workplace skills required of a successful systems engineer. 

Systems engineer workplace skills

Effective communication is critical since systems engineers collaborate with fellow engineers, programmers, end users, and various stakeholders. For example, systems engineers must communicate technical concepts to those with a technical background. 

This career also pulls on your ability to predict outcomes and solve problems. Systems are composed of many smaller moving parts that work together to achieve one result, and systems engineers need impeccable attention to detail and “big picture” skills to see a system from design to development. 

The list of workplace skills you'll need to be a practical systems engineer includes:

  • Communication  

  • Analytical skills 

  • Organisational skills 

  • Detail-oriented thinking

  • Ability to see the “big picture” 

  • Troubleshooting 

  • Time management  

Systems engineer technical skills

The job-specific skills necessary to become a successful systems engineer will differ by industry. Generally, having strong computer engineering knowledge and general software development is wise, as most systems engineers work with computer systems. 

Almost all systems engineers will benefit from project management skills since systems engineers act as the primary interface between management, customers, suppliers, and specialty engineers in the systems development process.

These skills could serve you well as a systems engineer:

  • Software development

  • Data architecture and programming 

  • Cloud computing

  • Networking

  • Scripting

  • Information security 

  • Software and hardware 

  • Risk management 

  • Systems engineering software

Systems engineer career path

Many systems engineers start in other entry-level roles, such as systems administrator, network administrator, or software engineer. The skills and experience gained in these jobs can prepare you for the big-picture work of a systems engineer.

Get started 

Learn more about systems engineering with Introduction to Systems Engineering or Foundations of Healthcare Systems Engineering on Coursera. Learn at your own pace from leading universities from anywhere with an internet connection.

Article sources

  1. Glassdoor. “Systems Engineer Salary, https://www.glassdoor.co.in/Salaries/systems-engineer-salary-SRCH_KO0,16.htm.” Accessed March 22, 2024.

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