All systems engineers should have an understanding of basic concepts and a strong technical background, but these qualities go beyond just the necessities. From 40+ years of experience, I have found that a good systems engineer must have the following 10 qualities.
#1 Patience and Perseverance
To create a complicated system, an engineer must have a lot of patience and perseverance. The more complex the system the longer and more tedious a project it becomes. An engineer cannot figure out everything at once. It takes time to see the big picture, to look for all the small details. You will test and test and still find errors. You have to have patience to know that it takes time and determination to keep going after hundreds of failed attempts.
#2 Ability to Know When You Are Done
A good systems engineer wants their project to be flawless, but often it’s too easy to fall into a perfectionist trap. You tell yourself, “One more change and it will be perfect.” However, doing this may mean you never complete your project and all that hard work will become obsolete. The best engineers know when their system is good enough and when the system needs a little more re-engineering.
#3 An Analytical Brain
Most engineers are naturally analytical, which is probably why they were attracted to the field in the first place. From the moment they could talk, they were the ones that continually asked questions and analyzed the world around them. A good systems engineer can go one step further than just analyzing and look for solutions to the problems and questions they analyze.
#4 Knowledge of Systems Engineering Software Tool(s)
In this day and age all systems engineers should have some experience with tools. Most colleges, especially grad school level, use systems engineering software tools. These tools allow you to create complex systems. They help you organize your information and develop documentation and reports at a much quicker pace and with higher accuracy. They can also help you analyze your information better. Even though you should already be a pro at analyzing, using a tool can help your organize the information in a way that makes analyzing faster and easier. Tools can make you into a better systems engineer. Tools, such as Innoslate®, are capable of improving you as a systems engineer.
#5 Strong Organizational Skills
You need organizational skills in order to handle the amount of information that a systems engineer deals with on a regular basis. It is important to organize well, so you are able to track status and history accurately and create documents and reports that are understandable. Although a tool can greatly improve the way you organize, you still need to understand organizational concepts.
#6 Ability to See the Small Picture
One of the greatest qualities a systems engineer can have is to be detailed oriented. You should be able to look at the small picture and see that all the details are thoroughly reviewed and that no errors occur. You need to be detail oriented type of person. Much of what we do is planning. Just like if you are an event planner, you have to make sure all the details are just right to make the ultimate goal (the event) a success.
#7 Ability to See the Big Picture
The overall system needs to be looked at just as much as the small details that make up the system. You need to make sure that the goal of the entire system is kept in mind throughout the planning. A good systems engineer needs to be able to determine future needs as well. They must have vision (I talk about this in my upcoming book on LML) and be detail oriented, but still be able to see the big picture.
#8 Well Rounded Background
A bad systems engineer knows systems engineering concepts and definitions like the back of his hand, but knows nothing else. A good systems engineering tries to be knowledgeable in other subjects relating to their field. A great systems engineer understands the importance of being well-rounded. A well rounded background will help a systems engineer analyze and find potential issues better than anyone else.
#9 Communication Skills
Unfortunately, English is not a high priority for many engineering colleges. Systems engineers need to communicate well. They need to be able to communicate to non-engineers. Communication skills take time and practice to perfect. If you are a systems engineer and you know that communication is not a strong skill of yours, make the effort to improve.
#10 Ability to Lead, Follow and Work Well in a Team
At some point in your career you will have led, followed, and worked in a team. The best systems engineers know how to do all three well. A good leader knows how to follow and work together with others. A leader understands what his or her team needs to know and understand. The inability to do all three can be detrimental to a project. Systems engineers, more often than not, do extremely important work and need a good leader and a good team to follow.
It takes a lot of time to develop all these qualities. I know I did not have all of them when I began my career. Don’t let this discourage you, but make it a goal to obtain each one of these qualities.
If you think you have these qualities, join our team.