Want to Become a Systems Engineer? Here are the Skills Required

By Robert Half July 2, 2017 at 3:00pm

Do you want to be part of software development but also have a desire to work with hardware? If so, a job as a systems engineer may be the ideal hybrid job for you.

A systems engineer helps design and implement software. But what separates this IT professional from a software engineer is that a systems engineer also plays a large role in the infrastructure side of the solution.

Here’s a rundown of what these engineers do, what they earn and what qualifications are needed to be hired for this job.

Job duties and responsibilities

A systems engineer designs, implements and maintains the infrastructure necessary to run traditional client/server platforms, mainframes and web applications. This role includes installing and supporting software, debugging multiple systems and supporting an enterprise’s users. This specialist also performs high-level root cause analysis for service interruption recovery and implements preventive measures.

On any given day, the system engineer’s duties may overlap with those of a software engineer, systems administrator or network engineer.

Use our Salary Calculator to discover starting salaries for systems engineers in your area.

Job skills and expertise

The best systems engineers are flexible employees who thrive in complex and rapidly changing work environments and have a solid mix of technical and nontechnical skills.

On the technical side, an engineer must be able to perform analysis, troubleshooting and systems design. Some employers seek candidates with experience in software development, including specification, documentation and quality assurance. Most hiring managers require at least three years of direct experience in the software or hardware the company uses. Experience in a specific industry is also beneficial. As for education requirements, a bachelor's degree in systems engineering or a related field is generally preferred.

On the nontechnical front, systems engineers spend much of their time working with others to determine requirements and solve problems, so solid soft skills are an absolute must. They need top-notch abilities in communication, customer service, time management and teamwork.

Project management skills can be valuable in an engineering job as well, given the central role the systems engineer has in large projects that involve many different aspects of the enterprise.

Getting an engineering job

To start an engineering career, you need software development experience and the ability to design, implement, and maintain hardware and network infrastructure.

If you’re currently a software engineer, systems administrator or network engineer, you already have many of the qualifications for a career as a systems engineer. To enhance your credentials — and possibly increase your starting salary — consider adding one or more of these certifications to your resume:

Salary trends

Systems engineers are in high demand. If you have the skills and interpersonal attributes needed to succeed in this fast-paced and multidisciplinary role, becoming one could be a good career move in any industry — especially considering current engineer salary trends.

The most recent Robert Half Technology Salary Guide shows that the salary midpoint for a systems engineer is $101,000, depending on location, experience and other factors.

This salary increase reflects the strong demand this year for technology professionals in general, and the need for software development expertise in particular. If you have additional skills in basic administration, Cisco networking, Linux/Unix, virtualization and Windows, you could be offered an even higher starting salary.

This post has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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