What do Systems Engineers do?
So I’m still out in Tucson writing specifications for a pretty big integration job that’s coming up quickly. This is really not my forte’, I’m more of a design and programming sort of guy. What my days have consisted of for the last couple of weeks is talking to people from a variety of engineering disciplines about their current designs and plans for the future, writing requirements for all of these smaller machines and subsystems with the goal of creating a statement of work (SOW) that various vendors (including ourselves) can quote to. As these discussions proceed, a lot of ideas are tossed around and interesting solutions to problems are found. In general, when I’m talking to mechanical, controls or software people things move along pretty smoothly, but there seem to be a lot of middle level management people involved that somewhat complicate things.
Quite a few of the people I have been dealing with are known as Systems Engineers. So I asked one of them today what he usually does at this company, does he design, or manage projects or what? He said no, he usually spends a lot of time writing specifications and documents to make sure that those who are managing, designing or otherwise implementing are doing their jobs correctly. A lot of the mid level management people it turns out are Systems Engineers.
I am out here with a total of six people including myself to do nothing but gather all of this information and organize it into these specifications, requirements documents and SOWs. Much of the delay associated with completing our task has to do with getting information from the various Systems Engineers involved with different aspects of the project: security, safety, IT, production etc. So if we are talking to the designers and getting most of the technical information from the other engineers and designers, and we are writing all of the specifications and requirements, and Systems Engineers usually write specifications and other documents but obviously aren’t writing these requirements documents, what exactly do Systems Engineers do? They have certainly been sitting in on our discussions, but considering they have been involved in this project for at least the last couple of years and this fairly critical work hasn’t been done I have really been wondering what they typically do all day.
So far I am seeing a lot of similarities to the comic strip “Dilbert” in my recent activities. I am not sure if this is a symptom of larger companies or government-related work, but I am truly going to enjoy being back in a position where I can speak my mind again. Part of being in a larger company involves playing your role and not stepping on other’s toes, but as a technical person sometimes I’d really like to be able to apply technical solutions to business and organizational problems. The question is, will anyone listen?
And what the heck do Systems Engineers do?