Systems Engineer

What does a Systems engineer do?

Systems engineers are the primary interface between management, customers, suppliers and specialty engineers in the systems development process. They are concerned with the overall process of defining, developing, operating, maintaining and ultimately replacing quality systems. Where other engineering disciplines concentrate on the specifics of a system, systems thinking allows the systems engineer to focus on the integration of all of these aspects as a coherent and effective system. Systems are not strictly related to computers, but heavily rely on the newest technology and advancements in engineering.

A systems engineer’s responsibilities may include:

  • overseeing projects and ensuring they run smoothly
  • system design and analysis as well as communication, mathematical and business skills
  • working with data and project managers to understand systems
  • consulting with customers to determine their needs
  • implementing new systems, correcting software errors in existing systems and improving performance through hardware upgrades
  • preparing progress and specifications reports, maintaining inventory and overseeing payroll.

Interview with a systems engineer

Di Shen | SYSTEMS ENGINEER | HYSA Systems Integration & Technology Validation Competence Centre

Why did you choose this profession?
I have always felt passionate about technology, especially with regard to sustainable energy systems. Finding sustainable energy solutions is imperative in the world we live in today, and I want to make my own contribution in this area.

What training did you undergo?
I completed a Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences at the School of Automation, Wuhan University of Technology. The main aspects of my training included programming skills, systemic modelling and control algorithm.

Which characteristics does a person require to be an efficient systems engineer?
A systems engineer needs to be mathematically inclined and be a practical/logical thinker.

Is experience as important as formal training?
Yes, all experience gained serves to deepen one’s understanding of the work and improve one’s ability to solve problems.

Describe a typical day on the job
This depends largely on the project schedule, but system modelling, control algorithm design, programming and result analysis are always involved in any one given project.

What do you like the most about your work?
I really enjoy the sense of accomplishment I feel when the system performance is improved by my control algorithm.

Are there any aspects of the job that you aren’t enthusiastic about?
Yes, the monthly report!

What advice would you give to someone starting out in your career?
Please work hard and make the most of your time spent studying. Experience and training might determine the proficiency of you work, but when it comes to the engineering research, the level of your basic disciplines (especially mathematics) could determine the heights you can attain.

What’s been the highlight of your career to date?
That would be when I developed what was probably the first fuel cell hybrid vehicle emulator in South Africa.

What are your goals for the future?
I hope that one day I can drive a fuel cell vehicle to work that I designed myself.

Describe your job in three words
Promising • Challenging • Exciting

Interview with a systems engineer

Morewane Johannes | JUNIOR SYSTEMS ENGINEER | Air Traffic and Navigation Services

Why did you choose this line of work?
By profession I am an electrical and computer engineer. I chose this line of work because, looking at the future, I thought that the integration of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science would put me in a better position to make a contribution to and better understand the advancement of technology.

What training did you undergo?
I did a four-year Electrical and Computer Engineering degree at the University of Cape Town. I also did two weeks’ vacation work at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology. I attended a two-week mentoring programme with the Department of Science and Technology. I also attended a one-week professional development programme at the University of Cape Town. Recently, I completed a one-year graduate programme that was offered by Air Traffic and Navigation Services.

What type of personality is required?
A disciplined personality. Anyone can make a plan, but it takes discipline to execute the plan. The entrepreneur, author and motivational speaker Jim Rohn said, ‘In life we must all suffer from one of two pains: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret.’ I strongly believe that discipline is key, not only to my work, but to life in general too.

Experience vs formal training?
Experience is the best teacher. In fact, I think that experience is more important than formal training. As my lecturer used to say, ‘What I hear, I forget. What I see, I remember. What I do, I understand.’

Describe a typical day on the job
In the first hour, I prepare myself by checking my emails and calendar and reviewing any work that I was busy with. I draft a daily work schedule and then proceed with my duties, which are normally planning, problem-solving, contract evaluation, writing user-requirement statements, and research. I also socialise with colleagues, participate in employee support programmes, attend meetings, and involve myself in projects like community social investment and sustainable development programmes.

What do you enjoy most about your job?
The planning aspects, because learning to plan is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It has always been easy to brainstorm, but coming up with a workable plan is hard. I believe that the hardest things in life are worth fighting for, since those are the things that reveal our true capability and potential. Sometimes our weaknesses are our strengths – we just don’t know it.

Your career highlight thus far?
The four years acquiring my degree; that was when I discovered things about myself that I never knew before. The experience made me more aware, and a better person. I acknowledged the mistakes that I made. I believed in the inner me and realised what a wonderful creature God had created in me.

What are your goals for the future?
My goal is be recognised as a professional engineer through registration with the Engineering Council of South Africa; to execute my work in accordance with professional guidelines; to continuously improve my professional skills through further studying and training; to give back to my community through social development programmes; to venture into business; to have a family of my own; and to serve God through all I am.

Advice for someone starting out in your industry?
Heed Winston Churchill’s words: ‘Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.’

Describe your job in three words
Plan • Document • Review

WHAT QUALIFICATIONS DO I NEED?

Systems engineers usually hold at least a bachelor’s degree or diploma in computer science, software engineering or another related field. Students may benefit from taking industry-specific courses, such as business, management or accounting. Engineers may also be required to have extensive experience in the field, which they may gain through internships in undergraduate school. Keeping up with the latest technological developments is imperative for systems engineer professionals.

WHAT SUBJECTS DO I NEED?

Contact each institution for their specific requirements, but these subjects are recommended: 
• Electrical Technology
• Mathematics
• Physical Sciences
• Information Technology

WHERE CAN I STUDY?

University of the Witwatersrand
Various Programmes
www.wits.ac.za

University of Pretoria
Various Programmes
www.up.ac.za

University of Stellenbosch
Various Programmes
www.sun.ac.za

UNISA
Various Programmes
www.unisa.ac.za

Cape Peninsula University of Technology
Various Programmes
www.cput.ac.za

Tshwane University of Technology
Various Programmes
www.tut.ac.za

Varsity College
Diploma: Information Technology (Software Development)
www.varsitycollege.co.za

CTI Education Group (Private College)
Certificate: Information Systems (Software Development)
www.cti.co.za

WHERE CAN I GET MORE INFO?

International Council on Systems Engineering South Africa – www.incose.org.za

Sources:
www.infosecinstitute.com
www.incose.org
www.study.com