Systems Software Engineer: Job Outlook & Career Requirements

Apr 05, 2019

Learn about the work responsibilities of a systems software engineer. Discover what skills and education are needed in addition to job outlook and salary data to determine if this is the right career choice.

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Career Definition for a Systems Software Engineer

A systems software engineer designs computer software systems that streamline internal operations, such as communications, inventory and record keeping in industries ranging from finance to medical research. He or she may also design and maintain the intranet that connects various departments within an organization, provide technical support and design the company's computer security system. In contrast to programmers who code software programs so that they will function, software engineers work on a broader scale, employing a bird's eye view to design algorithms that direct a computer's actions. They may work as employees or independent contractors in private industry, government agencies, or consulting firms. Looking forward, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that software engineering will be one of the fastest growing professions in the nation for the next several years.

Education Bachelor's degree as a minimum, graduate degree required in some cases; certification options available
Job Skills Expertise in computer operating systems, communication, understanding of technology, specific industry knowledge
Median Salary (2018)* $110,000 for systems software developers
Job Growth (2016-2026)* 11% for systems software developers

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Required Education

While many employers require a bachelor's degree in computer science, computer engineering or computer information systems for systems software engineering positions, some may also require an advanced degree in systems design or a related discipline. Additionally, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Computer Society (IEEE CS) offers two levels of certification: Certified Software Development Associate (CSDA) designation is good for candidates without experience and a Certified Software Development Professional (CSDP) credential works for those with experience. Various software developers also offer certification programs, which may enhance a software engineer's skill set.

Skills Required

Software systems engineers must have in-depth knowledge of computer operating systems, hardware and software. Excellent written and verbal communication skills are essential to understanding a client's needs and providing technical support to customers with a non-technical background. They must understand current technologies, often requiring continuing education, and be able to apply that knowledge in various settings. Software systems engineers working in specific industries, such as telecommunications or banking, must also have knowledge specific to that industry.

Economic Outlook and Financial Forecast

For the 2016-20246 period, the BLS predicts 24% job growth for all software developers - much faster than the average job growth expected for all industries. Growth should be slower for systems software developers at 11%, and slightly faster for applications software developers at 31%. Systems software developers tend to earn higher salaries, with an annual median salary of $110,000 as of May 2018, while applications software engineers earned a median salary of $103,620.

Alternative Careers

Listed below are some more career choices in computers:

Computer Systems Analyst

If evaluating computer systems and designing solutions to boost productivity and efficiency sounds interesting, consider a career in computer systems analysis. Computer analysts examine existing equipment and determine if current devices can be upgraded or if new equipment should be purchased. They evaluate costs, select hardware and software, supervise the installation and customization processes, create user manuals and perform tests to make sure everything is operating properly.

Entering this field usually requires a bachelor's degree, but other majors besides computer science may be acceptable if one has programming or information technology experience. A master's degree might also be required for more technologically advanced positions. According to 2018 BLS data, 587,970 computer systems analysts were employed nationwide and received a median income of $88,740. Average employment growth of 9% is projected for this field during the 2016-2026 decade, as reported by the BLS.

Computer Network Architect

For those wanting a position in data network design, becoming a computer network architect is one possible career option. Network architects determine what communications activities need to occur and proceed to design a network with existing and new equipment. They evaluate costs, present ideas to management, select network components such as drivers and routers, plan for future network growth and draw out floor plans describing equipment placement.

Computer experience and a bachelor's degree with a computer major are necessary to qualify for a position. Some companies might require an information systems MBA. The BLS estimates that job opportunities for computer network architects should increase by 6% from 2016-2026, mostly driven by the expansion of mobile and wireless technologies. In May of 2018, the BLS reported the median annual salary of network architects at $109,020.

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