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  • Writer's pictureMachiel Richards

Have you had your coffee yet? The under appreciation of a systems engineer.

To many people, this title will not make sense and most will probably ask "Why did he decide on this title?".

However, for a systems engineer in the IT field this title will make a world of sense and most will probably laugh and say, "Oh yes! I agree".

The reason why I have chosen this topic, and this title for that matter, is because of the fact that by the time most people get out of bed and have their first cup of coffee, the average IT systems engineer would have probably had 3 cups already.

A systems engineer usually works long hours or gets up quite early in the mornings to start their day and with the average amount of hours worked being anything from 12-18 hours per day, they rely a lot on coffee to keep them going.

Now I am not saying that all engineers are "coffee-holics" ;-) , however, being in the IT industry for over 23 years now and having worked with some of the best and brightest system engineers out there, I can attest that it certainly is true for at least 80% of them.

This article is thus dedicated to those under appreciated systems engineers out there, who work tirelessly to keep everything running and to make companies look good.

So let's look at some more in depth information into what a systems engineer does, and why they are important in today’s technologically advanced time period.

The Invisible Backbone of Technology

Systems engineers are the unsung heroes of the tech world. They work behind the scenes, ensuring that complex systems function seamlessly.

Unlike their counterparts in more glamorous tech roles, systems engineers often receive little recognition for their work.

Their efforts, crucial to the stability and efficiency of technological systems, go unnoticed by the public and are sometimes undervalued even within their organizations.

Public Perception and Under appreciation

One of the reasons for this under appreciation lies in public perception.

High-profile software engineers in companies like those in Silicon Valley are often celebrated for their contributions to trendy apps and platforms, overshadowing the foundational work of systems engineers.

This skewed public image is further reinforced by media portrayal,where systems engineers are rarely the focus of popular tech narratives.

The Educational aspect

Another contributing factor is the perceived disparity in education and skill levels within the engineering profession.

Unlike the tightly regulated field of medicine, where the AMA limits the number of practitioners, engineering is more accessible, leading to a diverse range of skills among professionals.

This accessibility, while positive in many respects, has inadvertently led to a diluted perception of engineers' expertise.

A systems engineer is often associated with the phrase "Jack of all trades but master of none", but let me clear that up in stating that a systems engineer by the time they reach senior level, is both a "Jack of all trades" and a "Master of everything".

System engineers are continuously evolving with not only technology but also in terms of their own knowledge and training.

Engineers are often required to develop a solution to a specific problem, and with this comes research, testing, learning and eventually building these solutions.

In most cases they also need to keep in mind the security of the systems, sustainability, growth opportunities, ease of management and usually requires multiple systems or software to interact in order to reach the end goal.

It will usually be found that systems engineers are in possession of multiple degrees, certifications and titles but never a degree stating they have a doctorate in systems engineering or something similar. The main reason for this in my opinion is that a systems engineer needs to always keep evolving and they deal with such a vast amount of technologies that it is difficult to put a “status” or “degree” to it.

Media Representation and Stereotyping

The media's portrayal of engineers often falls into stereotypes, depicting them as isolated and overly technical individuals, overshadowed by more charismatic roles in technology. This representation fails to capture the creativity, problem-solving skills, and critical thinking that are hallmarks of successful systems engineers

Real-Life Challenges in Systems Engineering

Several real-life examples underscore the challenges and critical nature of systems engineering.

Systems engineers are so often found being involved in projects that spans over a period of months, sometimes spending up to 20 hours per day without any overtime, leave or sometimes even a proper thank you.

Staff will usually see the end results of these projects and be happy that things are being fixed or upgraded and will in some cases enjoy these moments when things just start working or start being easier. that said, most of these people will never truly understand the work and hours that went into completing these projects.

Not only are engineers involved in projects but let's think about the every day working of a company's systems.

Let’s take a company’s in-house developed system as an example. Let’s say you have a custom system that has been developed within the company and you are proud of the functionality that you are able to get from the system. Then one day, something goes wrong for no apparent reason and nobody knows why?

In some cases if something goes wrong on an internally developed system, the developers will troubleshoot and fix the programmatic errors or even data errors if this is the case.

In most other cases, these issues will end up with the systems engineers to not only troubleshoot the systems, but to also fix the problems and develop a solution that will keep these problems from happening in future.

Engineers can easily work up to 18-20 hours trying to troubleshoot something on a system and develop the solutions, sometimes to the detriment of their own lives, time with their kids,spouse and family.

In my time in this industry I have seen this ruining marriages, seeing engineers working during Christmas day and even while they are sick or in a cast after operations, due to necessity of their skills.

They are expected to be available no matter what as they possess the knowledge to find and fix problems on a level that most people never understand.

Their way of thinking about a problem is different than the norm and they have a tendency to see details that most people may overlook. This makes each engineer extremely unique and also good at what they do.

The Crucial Role of Systems Engineers

Despite these challenges, systems engineers play a vital role in the success of technological projects.

They are responsible for ensuring that different components of a system work together harmoniously, a task that requires a deep understanding of both the big picture and the minute details. Their work is essential in preventing system failures, which can have catastrophic consequences.

Management's Lack of Understanding

A significant issue that systems engineers face is the lack of understanding of their role by management.

Managers often focus on deliverables and outcomes, without fully appreciating the complexity of what goes into creating a stable and efficient system.

This lack of understanding can lead to unrealistic expectations and under-resourcing, further exacerbating the challenges faced by systems engineers.

The Need for Greater Recognition and Support

The path forward requires a shift in how systems engineers are perceived and valued, both by the public and within their own organizations.

Greater recognition of their essential role, better representation in media, and more understanding from management are necessary to ensure that systems engineers receive the appreciation and support they deserve.

A Typical systems Engineer Job Description

In general, the following tasks may be part of a typical systems engineer job description:

  • Evaluate existing systems and identify areas of improvement

  • Design and develop new strategies that can help improve the functioning or efficiency of the organization

  • Serve as a liaison and hub of information for stakeholders

  • Serve as an advisor to senior management regarding the hardware and software needs of the organization

  • Install, test and maintain the various components of a computer system

  • Assess the security needs for the organization’s information, such as HIPAA compliance for healthcare organizations

  • Manage and monitor network systems

  • Perform routine audits of systems and software

  • Troubleshoot malfunctioning hardware and software

In conclusion, systems engineers are the backbone of technological innovation and stability. Their work, while often invisible and underappreciated, is crucial to the success of complex projects in various industries. It is high time that their contributions are recognized and valued, ensuring that they receive the support and acknowledgment they rightfully deserve.

Do you want to know more about what a systems engineer does on a daily basis or how a systems engineer can benefit your company?

Feel free to comment on this post or contact us at SeWorx for more information.

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