How many systems engineers do you know in person? How many of them are certified?
The odds that you will answer ‘none’ to both questions are high, because systems engineers are only few. In 2012, there are only about 8,000 recorded systems engineers in over 50 countries, according to the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE). When this is compared to other engineering disciplines like civil, chemical, and mechanical, this population is perhaps one of the smallest slices of the pie.
No one is to blame for this imbalance. Systems engineering is relatively new in the industry, which only originated in the mid-1960s. At the time military and space programs needed a specialized engineering field that can integrate all disciplines to work together.
It was only in 1990 that the INCOSE was established. In 2004, the organization introduced its professional certification program.
There are about 1,250 certified systems engineering professionals as of 2012, which is still relatively few. This is why systems engineers are high in demand both in the government and private sector.
But wait… what is the job of systems engineers anyway?
As a field, systems engineering deals with all engineering disciplines and specialty groups to be combined for a certain project. The goal of this engineering field is to provide an efficient, streamlined process in completing the project starting from concept to production to operations, while considering the business and technical aspects.
Much of the work of systems engineers are with program managers. They ensure that the requirements of all relevant stakeholders are met while devising the best solutions. It is the job of systems engineers to translate technical needs into overall system architecture, creating the best operational capability – all of these while minimizing costs.
In every project, systems engineers handle the smooth flow of operations. Whenever the projects proceeds or changes direction, these engineers are responsible for determining the necessary adjustments in costs and schedule without compromising performance. This is why systems engineers need to have critical knowledge in all areas of the project including technical management, development, and acquisition of complex technology systems.
Because systems engineers deal with other engineers and businessmen, they have to find a way to interpret processes and solutions that both set of professionals could understand. Some projects concerns might have jargons embedded in them, and it is the job of the systems engineers to speak in terms the other end could comprehend.
Before one could work as a systems engineer, he or she has two options: undergo certification from INCOSE or from universities; or get a bachelor’s degree in systems engineering.
In the case of INCOSE, their certification program has three levels – expert systems engineering professional (ESEP), certified systems engineering professional (CSEP), and associate systems engineering professional (ASEP) – which increase in terms of leadership, accomplishment, and experience.
Taking the bachelor’s degree route is also recommended, but will require a longer time at three to four years. Like any bachelor’s degree in engineering, the first two years of a BS in Systems Engineering are mostly about the understanding of the field in general. This is followed by specialization when the third of fourth years come. In all, systems engineering students will touch topics in science, design engineering, and business management.
Several industries require system engineers. Five of these industries are petroleum, industrial, environmental, software and electronics.