Do you have the technical expertise, organizationwide perspective and attention to detail needed to maintain and upgrade a system throughout its life cycle? If so, the role of systems engineer might be right for you.

This interdisciplinary position requires a strong engineering background and the ability to focus on small details while also keeping the big picture in focus. Read on to learn more about the skills and responsibilities of this technology job.

What does a systems engineer do?

A systems engineer designs, implements and maintains the infrastructure necessary to run traditional client and server platforms, mainframes, and web applications. Typical duties for this position include:

  • Installing and supporting software and hardware
  • Debugging multiple systems
  • Performing high-level root cause analysis for service interruptions and implementing preventive measures

On any given day, the responsibilities of a systems engineer may overlap with those of a software engineer, systems administrator or network engineer.

Skills and experience valuable for a career in systems engineering

The most successful 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, systems design and validation. Some employers seek candidates with experience in software development, including specification, documentation and quality assurance. A thorough understanding of best practices in IT security is particularly valuable.

Most managers require at least three years of direct experience with 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. These pros need top-notch ability in communication, customer service, time management and teamwork.

Project management skills can also be valuable for this job, given the central role the systems engineer has in large projects that involve many different aspects of the enterprise.

Taking the systems engineer career path

If you’re looking to start a career in systems engineering, you’ll need a solid foundation of software development experience and the ability to design, implement and maintain network and other hardware infrastructure.

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

What type of salary can a systems engineer earn?

Use the Robert Half Salary Guide to discover starting salaries for systems engineers nationwide and in your area. The guide also features insights and exclusive survey data on the trends shaping the technology sector.

Systems engineers are in demand. If you have the skills and interpersonal attributes needed for this fast-paced and multidisciplinary role, pursuing a career in systems engineering could be a good move. And if you can bring additional skills like Cisco networking or Linux/Unix virtualization to the job, you could potentially earn a higher level of starting compensation.

Looking for systems engineer jobs?

Check out the latest listings for this role on the Robert Half website.