The world is full of complex things, and until our robot overlords take over, it needs people to make those complex systems. Systems engineering is the interdisciplinary field that ties all that complexity together. But there are some shocking secrets that you might not see from the outside looking in!

Keep reading to learn all about the lesser-known lore of a real systems engineer.

1. How Do You Like Your Alphabet Soup?

In the Doctors Dilemma, George Bernard Shaw remarked, “All professions are a conspiracy against the laity.” Perhaps in no other field is the dominance of the acronym so present. Systems engineers deploy alphabet soup as a weapon against business stakeholders who get to make decisions about things the engineer thinks he knows more about.

Here is just a sample:

  • Functional flow block diagram (FFBD)
  • DFD – Data Flow Diagram
  • EIA – Electronic Industries Alliance 
  • SOLID – Single, Open, Liskov, Interface Segregation, Dependency Inversion
  • PCI – Payment Card Industry
  • EE – Electrical Engineering
  • KISS, FUBAR – I’ll let you look these up!

2. Systems Engineering is a Man’s World

According to Georgetown University, up to 88% of engineers around the world are men. The reasons behind this statistic are varied and controversial. But as engineers, numbers don’t lie to us.

For whatever reason, the professional is completely dominated by men. This presents both a challenge and an opportunity. It’s up to society to figure out what to do with this fact.

3. Soft Skills Become Hard Skills

When you get your systems engineering degree, you won’t really be an engineer. You don’t know anything yet! There is a steep learning curve to become a skilled consultant that takes years of on the job training.

At some point though, you hang out your shingle and declare to the world, “Yeah, I know what I’m doing, I’m an engineer!”. Once you are passing out business cards, your nerd self becomes less important than your social self. Your soft skills will determine your destiny.

4. We’re Making It Up As We Go Along

It might sound scary at first to think that engineers are “making it up”, but it’s not. There is a method to the madness. Engineers, almost by definition, are working on the cutting edge of human ingenuity and going where no one has gone before.

This doesn’t mean we’re doing anything stupid, far from it. It means that a systems engineer is literally making something that no one really has any experience with. As complexity increases, the likely hood that it’s a “new thing” increases.

5. Mostly You’re Guessing Based on Reputation

It is described as interdisciplinary, but what is systems engineering? A good systems engineer is like a jack of all trades in the fields needed to build the project. It’s obviously impossible that one person knows everything, so how do they get it done?

A systems engineer gets good at figuring out the real deal. This decision is mostly a guess based on the reputation of the junior associate presenting a solution to the senior. It’s not always what you know, it’s who you know.

What is a Systems Engineer?

Systems engineering is about building the world. These are the people who create complex objects in our society that make everything better. It’s a field that takes know-how, confidence, and sometimes a little bluff.

We know systems, and we know engineers. If you’re ready to take your career to the next level, check out our blog for more great insights into the field!

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