According to The International Council on Systems Engineering, this field of study is "an interdisciplinary approach and means to enable the realization of successful systems." The field is attractive to students who wish to combine technical and management skills to successfully develop a product or system that meets the needs of a company or its customers. In this resource guide, you will have access to information on engineering degree programs and their courses, professional organizations and resources, and the job outlook for professional systems engineers.
Systems engineering can be considered a specialization in itself, since this field is generally not entered into without prior education and experience in one of several other engineering disciplines. However, as a professional you will have the option to work in any number of specialized departments, including software systems engineering, for example.
Colleges typically offer engineering courses at all levels on the education spectrum, but in order to secure an entry level job as a systems engineer you essentially need at least a bachelor's degree.
An associate degree is typically not enough to secure a systems engineering job, but the degree itself can offer students a number of benefits, including an introduction to the field and a less expensive way to earn prerequisites for a bachelor's degree program. Typically, community or junior colleges will offer an associate degree in science, which can then be applied to a bachelor's program. However, there are programs that offer a targeted associate degree. University of Massachusetts Lowell, for example, offers an Associate of Science in Mechanical Engineering Technology degree.
A bachelor's degree is typically required for entry level engineering positions. Individuals who become systems engineers typically study one of several engineering disciplines as an undergraduate. Students are also able to register for a minor in project management or communication, two subjects that may assist systems engineers in the professional realm.
A master's degree may help engineers acquire management positions and a higher starting salary. This degree can generally be completed in two years, and is likely to include the option to specialize. UC Berkeley, for example, lets students focus on mechanical engineering or nuclear engineering.
Students pursuing a professorship will typically need a doctoral degree, and are then qualified to teach at the college level. Graduates of a Ph.D. program may also become professional researchers, leading the charge in determining the future of engineering. They may also head up the management of especially complex or far reaching systems, overseeing their long term maintenance and development.
Ideal Candidates for Systems Engineering
A successful systems engineering student will be passionate about a variety of engineering disciplines, be they computer, electronic, industrial or environmental in nature. Companies seek systems engineers who have the ability to look at a system or product and discover ways to make it better, or to avoid potential problems. Feeling at ease in a management position is another important quality, given that systems engineers will be expected to draw from other professionals and entire teams to see a project to completion. Finally, systems engineers are in charge of ensuring a product or system is safe for public use, which means they must have a strong sense of responsibility and an interest in public safety.
Systems engineers are able to find employment in a wide variety of settings, from aerospace and software companies to government organizations. Companies that specialize in product development and technology will always need a systems engineer to make sure each step of the process goes smoothly, and to troubleshoot and fix any problems that arise. Engineering is a lucrative field; while the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not have data on systems engineering specifically, it lists similar occupations, like aerospace and chemical engineers, at an annual salary of $103,720 and $94,350 respectively.