Systems software engineers are the creative professionals who research, design, develop and test both operating systems-level software and network distribution software, as well as compilers — all systems that allow computers to perform various applications. These professionals are often asked to analyze the needs of users and to design, create and modify basic computer systems. Systems software engineers also specify and analyze software requirements and establish operational specifications. Their work may involve applications that serve industrial, medical, communications, military, scientific, business, aerospace and general computing industries.
Day in the Life of a Systems Software Engineer
Systems software engineers usually work in offices and computer laboratories. Due to modern technology, they are able to provide technical support and other services from their main office and connect to a customer's computer remotely to solve problems.
On a typical day, a systems software engineer may perform the following tasks:
- Coordinate the construction and maintenance of a company's computer systems
- Plan for future expansion of computer systems
- Coordinate the computer needs for every department of a business
- Make recommendations regarding technical issues
- Set up an Intranet and networks that link computers within the company
- Configure, implement and install complete computer systems
- Work as part of a team that designs new software, hardware and systems
- Modify software programs to improve performance
- Monitor computer system performance to ensure proper operation
- Manage information technology projects or system activities
- Develop testing routines or procedures
- Provide technical support for software maintenance or use
Most systems software engineers work at least 40 hours per week. However, sometimes they work in the evenings and on weekends in order to meet project deadlines.
Important Characteristics for a Systems Software Engineer
Successful computer systems software engineers are typically good at analyzing and solving complex problems using logic and reasoning, critical thinking and mathematics. They are proficient at organizing and ordering data into steps that can create a successful outcome. Because systems software engineers sometimes assist less-technical clients or colleagues, they should have patience, good listening and communication skills as well as a mindset toward customer service.
Typical Steps for Becoming a Systems Software Engineer
Software engineer degree programs are only one component in the path to becoming a systems software engineer. Taking these steps can help you to achieve your career goal:
- Build a technical foundation in high school. Take advanced mathematics courses such as calculus and any computer classes your high school offers.
- Earn a computer science or software engineer degree. A four-year bachelor's degree, typically in computer science or software engineering, is required for software engineering jobs. Mathematics and information science are also relevant software engineer courses. For a more accelerated track into the workforce, you might start with a two-year associate degree in computer programming and work toward your bachelor's degree online while you gain experience as a programmer.
- Complete an internship. While not required, a part-time or summer internship in programming or software engineering can enrich your software engineer education with hands-on practice. An internship also gives you an opportunity to demonstrate your skills and abilities to a potential employer.
- Earn a professional certification to demonstrate your expertise to employers and establish your place in a software engineering specialty such as systems engineering. Certification programs include software engineer courses that generally focus on a specific skill or technology and are offered by technical institutes, professional associations and software vendors.
- Earn a master's degree to acquire a high level of technical knowledge. An advanced software engineer degree can prepare and qualify you to move from middle management into a leadership role as your systems software engineer career progresses.
- Systems Software Engineer, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Accessed November 2017, https://www.bls.gov/soc/2010/soc151133.htm
- Systems Software Engineer, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Accessed December 2017, https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes151133.htm
- Summary Report for Software Developers, Systems O*NET OnLine, Accessed November 2017, https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/15-1133.00
- Why All Programmers Should Earn Their Master's, Quartz, Accessed December 2017, https://qz.com/414542/why-programmers-should-get-a-masters-degree/