What does a systems engineer do?

Due to the wide definition of a system and all the different aspects involved in it, a systems engineer can do numerous things and work in various industries. Here is a simple definition: A systems engineer oversees the engineering, business and management aspects of a project or a system, and makes sure that all the parts properly work together. Systems engineers are concerned with the "big picture" of a project in addition to engineering aspects and must consider details like cost, schedules and social issues that may be associated with a project (www.graduatingengineer.com/resources/articles/20011016/Systems-Engineering).

For example, let's talk about a cell phone design project. A cell phone includes both mechanical and electrical parts, so both mechanical and electrical engineers work on it. A systems engineer, let's call her Jane, can work as the project manager who organizes the resources and the schedule needed for that project. Or, she can work as a quality engineer to ensure the quality of the parts and the end product (the cell phone). Or, she can be the marketing person who understands what the customer wants and ensures that the cell phone will meet customer needs and so on.

A systems engineer knows how to support her/his decisions by using appropriate methods at every level of an organization. Those decisions often involve an understanding of risks and uncertainties related to the future of a project. So, a systems engineer should know how to identify and analyze those risks and uncertainties, and make decisions (or support his/her boss in making certain decisions) based on that understanding.

Here are some more things our friend Jane can do: She can predict when customer expectations could shift in the future and what new technologies would emerge (see the business and engineering connection?). Based on that knowledge, she can propose technical updates for that cell phone, when to provide those updates, how to design the new version of that cell phone and when to release it to the market. What she does here is that she sees the "big picture" and works on how to make it better for the company she works for.

Overall, our graduates will have the knowledge to do the things listed below:

  • Solve complex engineering problems using systems engineering skills.
  • Manage units with technical / engineering functions.
  • Handle interdisciplinary issues and problems.
  • Make tactical and strategic decisions at every level of an organization from the entry level engineer position to top management (we sincerely hope you get there fast!).
  • Understand future trends in global markets and economy.
  • Find the best (optimum) solutions to problems (save time and money).
  • Manage multinational units, project and global supply chains.