Systems engineers are professionals in a relatively new field, one that has only been defined since the 1940s. Though it has become an essential process across various areas of enterprise, many people are still unsure about what these roles entail. |
Perhaps the best preliminary description would be a comparison with software engineering. That discipline consists of the design, development, and implementation of abstract data structures and processes to be used in computers. Though its process deals with abstract structures, its practitioners are engineers, in the same way, that the people who design large-scale electrical frameworks are.
In a similar fashion, systems engineers deal more with abstract structures than with concrete things, though even this is not always true. How, then, do we describe the role they play?
Perhaps the best way to understand this field is to break down the title word for word. At the most basic level, the term can be defined as a group of component parts functioning together as a whole. So, for example, if we were to analyze the functioning of a newspaper office, we can break it down into an editorial team, a business department, and a web development team. Each of these are components of the office, and they interact in order for the newspaper to function. They might have weekly joint meetings, an office intranet, and several employees in each sector who function as messengers between departments. These methods of interaction are another component part. Each department could then be further broken down into subcomponents; the business section might have a marketing and advertising team, a strategy group, and an account management group.
So, in this hypothetical newspaper office, we have all of these parts working together as a functioning whole. This whole, then, we could accurately describe as a system.
The Word "Engineering"
If one were to analyze any field of engineering, one would find that they all involve research, planning, design, and maintenance. Yet systems engineers fall into their own category.
The word "multidisciplinary" is often used to describe this rather broad field. What that denotes is that it involves the skillful combination of multiple specializations in order to approach a problem.
Thus, people who work in these roles use various tools to approach problems. To borrow from the news office example above, let's imagine that a team gets hired to help overhaul the newspaper's web presence. The website needs to be designed so that it's easily accessible to the editorial team and the marketing department. Our systems engineers, then, might help oversee the development group's work while ensuring that open channels of communication and access are always available in the future. Concepts from computer science, social science, and organizational theory might be put to use here.
This is a very exciting and rewarding field for those who are creative problem solvers.
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