What is Systems Engineering?

Transdisciplinary problem solving

Systems engineers are trained to think in terms of the whole system.

How does systems engineering work? Take a car for example. Mechanical engineers work on the engine and other mechanisms; electrical engineers work on the wiring; computer engineers might work on the programs that allow the car to run. All of these pieces are the machine itself, we haven’t even gotten into the user experience yet!

None of these things alone constitutes a car. This is where a systems engineer comes in. They work to integrate each individual system to develop the system of systems – or, the car in this example.

Systems engineering is an intrinsically interdisciplinary field. 

It focuses on the holistic understanding of stakeholder needs, exploring opportunities and documenting requirements. This is done through synthesizing, verifying, and validating solutions while considering the life cycle of the complete problem. 

Play Video

Watch: A brief introduction to systems engineering.

Play Video

Watch: Bill Miller, technical director with INCOSE, discusses the future of systems engineering.

Systems-thinking in action

Systems thinking is more than just a method – it’s a guiding philosophy.

By employing systems-thinking, systems engineers are able to consider the impact a choice has on the rest of the system to maximize positive impact. 

Applying systems-thinking improves the odds of success when dealing with complex socio-technical problems in various fields, including healthcare, social science, and business.

Systems Engineering and Related Disciplines

The systems engineering discipline is inherently broad in its scope. Because of this, some of the courses offered in our program introduce core principles of related disciplines. 

See our course offerings here. 

Systems engineers work in most engineering disciplines and are responsible for the system concept, architecture, and design.

They manage complexity and risk and develop processes for successful systems.

Industrial engineers are trained to design and analyze components of  man-machine systems. 

They make individual human tasks more productive and efficient by optimizing flow, utilizing alternate materials, and optimizing the configuration of workspaces.

Engineering Management

Engineering managers typically require training and experience in both management and the specific engineering discipline used by the team they are managing.

They are specialized in a type of management that is required to lead engineers/technicians and projects. 

Operations researchers utilize an analytical method of problem-solving and decision-making that is useful in the management of organizations.

Problems are broken down into basic components and then solved in defined steps by mathematical analysis.

Example Career Paths

  • IT/Software Development
  • Systems Engineer
  • Manufacturing
  • Project Manager

Example Career Paths

  • Process Engineer
  • Industrial Engineer
  • Manufacturing Engineer
  • Supply Chain Analyst

Example Career Paths

  • Engineering Manager
  • Chief Engineer
  • Project Manager
  • Senior Lead Analyst

Example Career Paths

  • Data Analyst
  • Data Scientist
  • Operations Analyst
  • Research Analyst

Systems Engineering at Colorado State University is about developing integrative solutions to the world's most complex problems.