What does the future hold for systems engineers?

From aerospace and defense to consumer electronics, systems engineers are advancing 21st-century technology to new levels. Because of the accelerating demand for system capabilities and growth in the business environments where systems engineering is performed, the need for qualified systems engineers is growing quickly. According to a report published by the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE), there are two trends that are leading to increased opportunity for systems engineering jobs. First, emerging technologies are driving increases in the number of components, functions, and interactions. Second, more and more industries are recognizing systems engineering as a discipline, though they may use different names to describe the roles.

Systems Engineers Shared Practices

Systems engineering shares practices with many different industries, including biomedical, automotive, energy, information, transportation, aerospace, defense, and consumer electronics. INCOSE recommends that engineers integrate systems engineering principles into their roles to complement their domain-specific education.

Educational Resources

Educational resources such as systems engineering degrees and certifications can help working professionals learn about best practices, theoretical concepts, real-world applications, and more. Studying systems engineering in a formal setting can prevent companies and teams from relying on their own trial and error to implement system capabilities. Educational programs, such as those offered at UMBC, also provide industry-specific tracks so that students can specialize in their area of interest and apply what they’ve learned directly into their jobs. Today, companies with systems engineers are able to use advanced practices such as:

  • Modeling, simulation, and visualization
  • System of systems engineering
  • Design traceability by model-based systems engineering
  • Product-family and composable design

systems engineersGraduate degrees and certificates which cover these topics offer great opportunities to learn practical tools to use in the workplace. This means that mechanical, biomedical, electrical, aerospace, chemical, environmental, and other engineers can build on these foundations in their own jobs to overcome challenges and design innovative, effective new solutions.

Defining Systems Engineers

In addition to the growing applications of systems engineering in these industries, the modern definition of the systems engineer position is also changing. The role is expanding to meet the needs of modern systems. Whereas the job used to vary from “managing requirements to being the technical leader on a project,” now the role integrates higher-level tasks that are critical to the success of projects. This includes organizational and leadership skills, knowledge of software tools, educational and theoretical foundations, and full life-cycle experience, among other things. Many of these proficiencies overlap with Technical Management and are valuable for well-rounded systems engineers. These competencies, both technical knowledge and “soft-skills,” are crucial not just for individual jobs, projects, and companies, but also at a global scale.

Significant Contributions

The INCOSE report highlights the ways in which systems engineers contribute to human and societal well-being. Clean water, energy security and sustainability, access to healthcare, safety and security, and other Grand Engineering Challenges for the 21st century–as described by the National Academy of Engineering–are all areas where systems engineers can make an impact. Solving socioeconomic and physical environment challenges requires the deployment of complex and innovative systems. Historically, humanity’s challenges have been met by engineers and today’s challenges are no different. In order to face these global changes, systems engineers must prepare themselves for the task. By applying systems knowledge, engineers can address issues related to globalization and trade, population growth, security, environmental change, and the sustainability of natural resources. These are all critical trends that can improve the social condition and advance our quality of life.

These trends may seem like they exist on a huge scale, but there are many day-to-day engineering positions which address them. Government programs, commercial applications, and public-private partnerships are addressing these societal challenges daily. For example, the FAA Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) is a decades-long undertaking to overhaul air traffic management “to provide the safest, most efficient aerospace system in the world” by increasing safety and improving environmental impacts of both commercial and military aircraft systems. Commercial medical applications also present critical opportunities where systems engineers can work to reduce death and injury due to accidents with medical devices. Government and commerce work together on a variety of systems including transportation and aerospace where they solve issues with safety, reliability, and maintainability. Additionally, systems engineering principles help solve issues with stakeholder needs and requirements. In complex public-private projects, it is necessary to ensure that requirements are met, validated, integrated, and accepted by all involved parties.


The need for qualified systems engineers means that these jobs face a bright future. Companies in a wide variety of industries are looking to fill roles with people who have relevant experience and can deliver on their system needs. To meet these needs, UMBC offers highly applied Master’s and Certificate programs for working professionals. Our faculty is comprised of systems engineers in both the government and private sector working across a variety of industries and our courses equip our students with the skills that employers are seeking. Visit the program page to find out more!

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