For anyone who's just getting started in a development career, it's exciting to learn about all the paths you can take to become an engineer. One particularly popular field is computer systems engineering.
Keep reading to learn what computer systems engineering is, what Computer Systems Engineers do, how much they make, and how to get into this very in-demand field.
What is computer systems engineering?
Computer systems engineering involves the design, assembly, and maintenance of networks of computers for individuals and organizations. This interdisciplinary field combines computer science, engineering, and mathematical analysis.
Just about every kind of company and organization has its computer systems engineering challenges. Still, Computer Systems Engineers are especially in demand in the government, manufacturing, transportation, and telecommunications industries.
What does a Computer Systems Engineer do?
The next time you connect to a computer network at work or school, think about all of the components that make up that network. It's not just the other computers connected to the network but also the routers, servers, cables, backup power equipment, and remote access systems. Plus, the software that lets all of these components talk to each other and work together.
So, who put the whole system together? Who decided what kind of equipment and components should go into it? It was all designed by a Computer Systems Engineer.
A Computer Systems Engineer works with people and organizations to create computer systems and networks that meet their needs. Keep in mind that different companies have different requirements and priorities for their computers and networks.
For example, while a manufacturing company may prioritize inventory tracking and payment systems, a government contractor may need to put security above all else. A Computer Systems Engineer can translate the needs of a company into the right hardware, software, and network structure to meet those needs.
Computer Systems Engineers typically work with components and hardware such as servers, routers, file storage systems, networking cables, desktop machines, and employee laptops. Their primary goal is to ensure that a company's computers are connected in a way that meets business requirements while making the most efficient use of computing resources. They may also assess the effectiveness of a company's current system and offer advice and improvements.
While Computer Systems Engineers used to focus on local systems, today, they also integrate companies' computer systems with remote servers and other cloud-based tools such as virtual machines.
Though Computer Systems Engineers do work with software, they also work a lot with hardware, equipment, and components. This makes them different from Software Engineers. On the software side, Computer Systems Engineers work extensively with operating systems through shell scripting.
In short, Computer Systems Engineers are the go-to people for IT professionals and System Administrators whenever there's a problem or concern. They're trained to look at a computer system's architecture and assess its stability, security, and interoperability.
What skills should a Computer Systems Engineer have?
Since Computer Systems Engineers work extensively with computer technology, they should have a solid grasp of computer science and how computers work. A significant part of their day-to-day job involves testing and troubleshooting systems. They also need to be able to tell when issues stem from the hardware, software, or something else.
Computer Systems Engineers are expected to know how to design, connect, and integrate computer networks, both local and remote. They also need to understand how proposed changes to a network structure will affect the costs and operability of the whole system.
Lastly, a Computer Systems Engineer needs to have top-notch communication and analytical skills. Communication skills are especially key because they work closely with Software Engineers, IT specialists, cybersecurity experts, and managers to understand both the technical and business requirements of a computer system. They should also be critical thinkers and good problem-solvers with a high level of curiosity and willingness to ask questions.
How much does a Computer Systems Engineer make?
Computer Systems Engineers are in demand worldwide and by companies in every field. That's because companies are more reliant on functioning computer systems now than ever before.
According to a recent survey, the average Computer Systems Engineer salary in the U.S. is about $52,300 — with an average bonus of $5,500 per year.
What factors affect a Computer Systems Engineer's salary?
Two major factors affect how much a Computer Systems Engineer can expect to make: the type of organization they work for and their location.
Field and organization
While $52,300 per year is the national average, some fields and organizations pay Computer Systems Engineers a lot more. Generally, government and research agencies offer well above the average salary. And in particular, many federal agencies, from the Navy to the Department of Commerce, pay Computer Systems Engineers over $100,000 per year on average.
Many Computer Systems Engineers live on the coasts. That makes them far more in demand in the Midwestern states, where salary expectations are well above 25% of the national average. Major exceptions to this include Virginia and Maryland, where there's high government demand for Computer Systems Engineers.
Interested in becoming a Computer Systems Engineer?
Computer systems engineering is an excellent career choice for anyone ready to start a new career in development. There's high demand, and Computer Systems Engineers can look forward to job security and good pay.
So, how do you get started with computer systems engineering? First, build your skills with an online programming course and get more familiar with mathematical analysis, cybersecurity, and shell scripting. Or, if you'd rather learn everything all at once, check out our Computer Science Career Path.