What Does a Systems Engineer Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

Image shows a man in front of a bunch of machinery and circuits. He is compiling a report on his laptop. Text reads: "A day in the life of a systems engineer: perform routine systems and software audits; check existing systems and suggest improvements; manage and monitor LAN or WAN network services; receive and relay information to and from stakeholders; median annual salary: $114,600"

Image by Bailey Mariner © The Balance 2019

Business systems that run like well-oiled machines deliver dependable and high-quality goods and services to customers and clients. Maintaining those systems is vital, but it's not always enough. Growing companies continually implement bigger and better systems to remain competitive.

Systems engineers handle all these systems. These team players design and manage solutions, and they communicate essential information to the right people. They strive to provide positive user experiences, while aware of the demands and risks of company operations and objectives.

Systems Engineer Duties & Responsibilities

Systems engineer job responsibilities vary depending on the company and the system. The system requirements of a government agency are different from those of a manufacturer, however, this job generally requires the ability to do the following work:

  • Check existing systems and suggest improvements.
  • Develop new systems to increase company efficiency.
  • Apply tech solutions to strengthen systems.
  • Receive and relay information to and from stakeholders.
  • Advise on suitable hardware and software to meet company needs.
  • Acquire, install, test, and maintain project components and operating systems.
  • Review the security requirements of company data.
  • Customize systems from external vendors.
  • Review control documents.
  • Perform standard operating procedures.
  • Manage and monitor LAN or WAN network services.
  • Recommend equipment replacements, plan for upgrades, and handle purchases.
  • Maintain an inventory of network devices.
  • Perform routine systems and software audits.
  • Address system concerns and troubleshoot hardware failures.

Systems engineers consider the business demands and objectives throughout a project’s lifecycle. They help companies maintain quality, cost efficiency, and trust via their goods or services.

Systems Engineer Salary

A systems engineer's salary depends on the sector in which they're employed. The incomes for computer hardware engineers in 2018 were:

  • Median Annual Salary: $114,600 ($55.10/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: More than $172,630 ($82.99/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: Less than $66,700 ($32.07/hour)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018

Education, Training & Certification

Those seeking a career as system engineers must have a college degree, related experience, and sometimes a certification as well.

  • Education: Most employers ask for a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering or a diploma in a computer-related discipline. Other bachelor's degrees also can lead to a career in systems engineering. Some of these include information systems and general engineering.
  • Certification: Although not always required, gaining certification can put a candidate at the top of the list of applicants. Explore the different levels of certification provided by the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE).
  • Experience: Job postings often list specific areas of expertise and several years’ experience as job requirements. Recruiters give preference to candidates with a good understanding of systems engineering methodology and practices. Solid experience in project life cycle management is highly desirable as well.

Systems Engineer Skills & Competencies

Several essential qualities are needed to succeed in becoming a systems engineer.

  • Communication skills: Systems engineers must have good communication and interpersonal skills, allowing them to coordinate with team members in project management, security, asset management, customer service, or help desk departments.
  • Leadership skills: These engineers must be capable of evaluating the progress of teams and providing guidance and instruction to help teams solve problems and manage projects.
  • Analytical skills: Excellent conflict resolution, analytical, and decision-making skills are crucial to this position. Project management is also a desired skill.

Job Outlook

The demand for systems engineers in certain areas is strong as companies expand into national and international markets. Growth is stable even in other sectors, making it a solid career choice. The U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics anticipates job growth for civil engineers specifically at about 11% through 2026. This is faster than average for all occupations.

Work Environment

Systems engineers can find employment with any type of business and manage various systems, including military defense programs, sewage systems, telephone systems, electric power systems, and information technology systems. Locations and working conditions vary significantly by field. Some might be more mobile than others, traveling to various work sites. Others might spend their time primarily in offices.

Work Schedule

This is predominantly a full-time position, and about 30% of engineers report working more than 40 hours a week. Again, it can depend upon the sector of employment. 

How to Get the Job


Resume Resource provides a detailed resume template for systems engineers.


Indeed.com often has listings for this particular specialty, as opposed to engineers in general.


Prep for likely questions you'll be asked. Glassdoor offers some good examples.

Comparing Similar Jobs

Some similar jobs and their median annual pay include: 

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018