Why it is a great time to be a Systems Engineer (and how to become one)

Until not too long ago, only few companies employed Systems Engineers. In fact, until recently, there was not even a clear career path to become one. Things are changing on both fronts: The demand for Systems Engineers is going up steadily. And there are now systematic career paths for becoming a Systems Engineer.

Why Demand for Systems Engineers is growing

This question is partially answered in the Jama Article this Jama article.  Demand is certainly driven by the increased complexity of today’s products, and the need to deliver high-quality results on time and on budget. Competition is around every corner, and it’s easier than ever to disrupt existing businesses. A Systems Engineer ensures the “big picture” does not get lost, and coordinates between the various disciplines. I elaborate on the inter-disciplinary aspect of systems engineering in the article What is a Useful Perspective in Considering Requirements Engineering Relative to Systems Engineering?

Another reason is that in the past, many organizations started off as primarily either hardware or software companies. But for building truly innovative and disruptive products today, we must develop hardware and software simultaneously.

Safety First!

An important reason is the fact that more and more products enter our lives in a way that could be potential hazard. The obvious example is self-driving cars, but also think about networked smoke detectors or medical monitoring. A failure can result in injury, or even death. But to demonstrate safety, it is not enough to have components that are safe. The system as a whole must be designed with safety in mind. Demonstrating safety and complying with regulations creates an overhead. A Systems Engineer ensures that the overhead is kept in check, without compromising safety, while being compliant.

Becoming a Systems Engineer

There is a great talk by former INCOSE president Heinz Stoewer on the education of Systems Engineers. He argues that engineering students should be exposed early on to systems engineering concepts, and outlines his ideas on an academic curriculum. Universities are reacting, in various ways. The Stevens Institute of Technology, for instance, released a few years ago a white paper on five trends transforming the future of Systems Engineering, Of course, they offer a Master’s degree in Systems Engineering.

A different approach is taken by M.I.T., which offers a professional certificate through an on-line program. This is aimed at practitioners who can continue their regular work, while pursuing this certification.

And INCOSE itself has been offering their Systems Engineering Professional Certification (SEP) for many years now. This program is often chosen by companies that want to systematically train their work force.

Organic Education

But as of today, we still see many Systems Engineers building their own career: It often starts with a solid engineering degree as the foundation, which is built upon with practical experience, self-learning, networking, reading, and so forth. While this works and creates fine Systems Engineers, it’s not enough to cover the demand in the market place.