What is Systems Engineering?

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Some people naturally focus on the details, while others tend to see the bigger picture. The details can't come together to form the big picture, though, unless the right system is in place. That's where systems engineering comes in. While systems engineers can be put to use in a variety of ways at different companies, they are especially common in firms that focus on things like defense contracting and aeronautics – companies that have a lot of moving parts that need to come together to make their end product or service a reality.

Systems engineering probably doesn't fit the bill of what you usually think of as a career in engineering, but if critical thinking and problem-solving are your strengths, it's definitely a path you should consider.

What Is Systems Engineering?

At its core, systems engineering, also known as industrial engineering, is about problem-solving and finding a way to make things work. According to INCOSE, the International Council on Systems Engineering, systems engineering is an interdisciplinary approach to creating successful systems to meet customer needs. In other words, systems engineers take an idea and plot out exactly how to make it a reality, coordinating how several different teams and departments will work together to achieve the end result. Systems engineering is vital to large businesses and corporations, which must balance daily operations with other business goals, like training, budgeting and manufacturing. Systems engineers look at systems and processes and look for ways to eliminate wasted time and energy. In many cases, companies are looking for systems engineers to optimize IT systems, but this could apply to a range of systems, from security to manufacturing and, in some cases, even customer service.

Because the needs of a business are constantly evolving, so is the job of a systems engineer. Not only must they develop initial systems (be those technical systems for an IT department or a manufacturing system for a plant or factory) and make sure they run smoothly, they must also stay current on the company's changing needs and revamp or even replace existing systems when necessary.

Careers in Systems Engineering

Systems engineering is a versatile field with a lot of flexibility. Systems engineers find work in the healthcare, defense, communications, aerospace, government, transportation and finance industries. Any business or company looking to link multiple processes would benefit from the expertise of a systems engineer, making the career possibilities virtually endless.

Job outlook for systems engineers is good, with employment projected to grow 10 percent between 2016 and 2026, which is higher than the average growth across all careers.

How Much Do Systems Engineers Make?

If you decide to pursue a career in systems engineering, you can also look forward to a nice paycheck. On average, systems engineers can expect to make $84,310 a year, with salaries going as high as $129,390 for the highest earners. Anyone interested in pursuing systems engineering should pursue a bachelor's degree. Major in systems engineering if your school offers a specialized program, or in another engineering discipline if they don't. Some schools now offer master's programs in systems engineering, as well, making it a viable option for people looking to change careers.