How to Become a Computer Systems Engineer


Step-by-Step Guide

Here are the essential steps for becoming a computer systems engineer:


1. Excel at math, calculus, probability, electronics and programming in high school

2. Determine if this field is suited to your interests

3. Pursue a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering

4. Get an entry-level job after graduation

5. Determine which area of application interests you the most

5. Pursue a graduate degree in that area

6. Get a mid or senior-level job in that area

7. Advance your career as you gain experience


Continue reading below to get a more thorough idea of what it takes to get into this line of work. We've also included helpful information for this career, such as an overview of salary level expectations, a list of possible employers, and much more!



What Education Will I Need?

A bachelor’s degree in a field related to computer engineering will qualify you for most jobs in systems engineering. A graduate degree will open up more career options, and better prepare you senior-level roles, including jobs in research and teaching.


In High School: Begin preparations for this career while you’re in high school by taking coursework in electronics, calculus and probability. You should also learn programming and gain exposure to scientific software, such as Maple.





What is a Computer Systems Engineer?

A computer systems engineer is an information technology professional who combines their knowledge of computer science, engineering, and mathematical analysis to develop, test and evaluate complex systems involving software, circuits, computers, networks and more. 



What Do They Do?

Computer systems engineers are responsible for identifying the various software and hardware needs of an organization, and developing plans for those needs to be met. Their techniques include requirement analysis, modeling and simulation, decision and risk analysis, and design optimization.



What Are the Typical Jobs Duties?

Computer systems engineers are typically responsible for the following tasks:


• Assessing then computer systems, hardware and software needs of an organization

• Presenting plans to management and explain why they are in the organization’s best interest to pursue them

• Maintaining current knowledge of developments in the field of computer technology

• Sourcing appropriate equipment for the organization, based on its needs and budgetary restrictions

• Installing and testing the necessary software and hardware

• Providing technical support and service

• Liaise with different departments, such as Sales & Marketing



Are There Diverse Areas of Application for Systems Engineering?

Computer systems engineering has many diverse areas of application areas, which include software systems, defence and aerospace systems, technology management, power systems, robotic systems, and many others.


Success Tip: Taking electives in diverse areas is a great way to help you find a field of application that’s of interest to you, and may help you narrow your career focus.



Is This Field Right for Me?

If you have the following traits, you should be a good fit for this career:


• An inquiring and inventive mind

• A strong capacity for details

• An ability to see the big picture of a project

• Patience, and a systematic approach to trouble shooting

• An aptitude for math and science

• Enjoyment from work that requires precision

• A customer-centered, results-oriented approach to work





Who Employs Computer Systems Engineers?

Job opportunities typically exist with the following types of organizations:


• Computer and IT consulting firms

• Government departments and agencies (all levels)

• Aerospace and defence companies (including government and contractors)

• Utilities companies and 'smart grid' companies

• Robotics companies

• Educational institutions

• Telecommunications companies

• Employers in the tech industry

• Applications development firms

• Computer hardware manufacturers



What is the Salary of a Computer Systems Engineer?

Computer systems engineers earn a median salary of $100,240 per year in the United States. Their salary can vary based on factors such as their level of experience and education, the specific region in which they work, level of responsibility involved in the job, and other factors. 



More About Salary Levels

As mentioned above, the salary level you could earn as a computer systems engineer can vary, typically depending on the following factors:


• Your level of education

• Your level of experience

• The specific responsibilities of your job

• The size and type of your employer

• The region in which you work

• Many other factors


Computer Systems Engineer Salary in Alberta: According to the 2015 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, the average salary of Albertans working in the “Computer Engineers” occupational group is $88,149 per year. Unfortunately, similar statistics from reliable sources could not be found for the rest of Canada.


Computer Systems Engineer Salary in the United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary level of Americans working in the “Computer Network Architects” occupational group is $100,240 per year.*


*Unfortunately, reliable salary information for the career “Computer Systems Engineer” in the United States could not be found from reliable sources. However, the salary level of “Computer Network Architects” gives us a good idea of what you could earn. 



Job Openings - Current Opportunities

Our job board below has "Computer Systems Engineer" postings in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia.



What Career Advancement Possibilities Are There?

Displaying competence and a good work ethic can afford you plenty of career advancement options, including:


• Moving into senior-level roles

• Moving into management/administrative roles

• Moving into teaching or research roles

• Moving into self-employment/consultancy work

• Moving abroad for similar roles

• Taking on a similar role in another company

• Moving into a different industry 


Success Tip: Earning a graduate degree in computer systems engineering, electrical engineering, or a similar field can greatly help advance your career in this field by qualifying you for jobs in research, teaching, and senior-level administrative roles.



What is the Work Setting Like?

Computer systems engineers typically spend most of their time in an office or laboratory environment working with computers, testing equipment and documenting systems.



What Are Their Working Hours?

Most computer systems engineers work full-time, although according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 1 in 4 work part-time. Overtime during work days is not uncommon, and they may experience pressure to meet project/task deadlines.



What are Careers Similar to This One?

Listed below are careers that may be in the same field, or they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and/or responsibilities as 'Computer Systems Engineer':


• Broadcast Engineer

• Chief Information Officer

• Computer Programmer

• Computer Scientist

• Electrical Engineer

• Hardware Engineer

• IT Manager

• Network Architect 



Scholarships for Becoming a Computer Systems Engineer

All of the scholarships on our Computer Engineer Scholarships and Software Engineering Scholarships pages are relevant for becoming a computer systems engineer.


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!




Please consult the following resources to learn more about what it takes to get into this line of work:


• What Can I Do With My Degree?: “Computer Systems Engineering” (n.d.). Carleton University. Retrieved January 31, 2017.

• Subject: “Computer Systems Engineering” (n.d.). University of Bath. Retrieved January 31, 2017.

• Occupational Profile: “Computer Engineer.” (n.d.). Alberta Government - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved November 7, 2019.

• Occupational Outlook Handbook: “Computer Network Architects.” (n.d.). United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved January 31, 2017.

• Occupational Outlook Handbook: “Computer and Information Systems Managers.” (n.d.). United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved January 31, 2017.



Majors in Our Database Relevant for this Career

We have career guides for over 60 university majors in our database. Below we've outlined those that are most relevant to becoming a computer systems engineer. Click on the link(s) to see what else you can do with these majors!


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Computer Systems Engineer Career Guide