Systems Engineering

What is a Systems Engineer?

The profession of Systems Engineer, or SE, has been made possible by an advanced post-industrial economy.

Ironically, the profession has little to do with either systems or engineering in a strict sense. Systems engineers at companies such as Vignette or Netscape apply their technical expertise in support of the sale of technical products, typically computer hardware or software.

To provide this support, an SE will typically:

  • Solicit technical requirements from customers
  • Give presentations on and demonstrations of products
  • Provide advice on what products might fufill the customer's needs
  • Write more formal documents such as proposals and white papers
  • Tell customers to piss off (Just testing to see if you're actually reading this)
  • Serve as a point of contact for technical issues at major accounts
Systems engineers do not typically:
  • Sell products
  • Provide routine post-sales product support
  • Develop products
  • Provide consulting services for system design and integration

These functions are performed by other folk, namely sales reps, technical support people, engineers/developers, and professional services consultants respectively.

Principal Qualifications
The qualifications for this profession are technical knowledge in the appropriate domain, verbal and written communications skills, and the ability and desire to work closely with salespeople and customers. Having these qualities combined in a balanced way in a single person is relatively rare. Specifically, people with technical knowledge often prefer to be engineers or developers, and most people interested in sales and customers prefer to be sales reps.