Top 5 Places to Look for Systems Engineer Jobs in the US
To understand what a systems engineer does, it's critical to differentiate between a systems engineer, a systems architect, and a systems administrator. The architect designs a system or network: how it's supposed to operate, which security mechanisms will run and how they'll function, and the basic efficiencies it will leverage. Engineers take those specifications from the architect and then build and program the solutions. Once these systems are in place, administrators take over the day-to-day operations and maintenance.
Although these three roles involve different responsibilities, they aren't purely separated and do overlap to some degree. The system engineer's centralized position means that he'll take an active role in suggesting design elements and will also frequently be involved in various aspects of its regular operation.
The massive nationwide transition to remote work that we've seen this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic ensures that systems engineers will be in high demand for years to come. This isn't a change from the current trend, however — it merely amplifies it. Over the past year, we crawled numerous national job boards to find out where various IT positions were, then identified some of the highest clusters outside of traditional areas like San Francisco and NYC. In 2019, the states outlined below posted more systems engineer positions alone than total IT positions in nearly half a dozen individual states.
What a Systems Engineer Looks Like
Although many information technology roles require only experience and specific certifications, the broad range of an engineer's responsibility requires a similar breadth of knowledge. A bachelor's degree in computer science or computer engineering is a typical requirement, with a master's degree often forming a cornerstone for more senior roles.
This isn't to say that certifications aren't valuable. Although a degree forms the basis of an engineer's education, what allows him to advance is experience and continued education. Two of the more frequently seen certs are these:
- CompTIA Server+. This certification is considered a core element of an engineer's training. It is the only vendor-neutral cert that covers all of the major server platforms, and earning one indicates that you're capable of working in any environment.
- Architecting Microsoft Azure Solutions. Traditionally, networks were designed around on-premise data centers. Over the past decade, however, cloud computing has fundamentally transformed the way systems are designed. Azure is Microsoft's cloud offering, and knowing how to build systems within it noticeably increases a computer system engineer's value. This is an advanced certification and not one you'll be expected to have on day one, but setting a long-term goal will enable you to work toward it regularly.
A well-rounded engineer will feel just as comfortable working in either a data center or in the cloud. More and more corporations are adopting a hybrid approach, with some elements housed on-premises and others hosted virtually. If you're only able to build a system within one of these, your career will be severely limited. The more familiar you are with multiple platforms, infrastructures, and services, the more highly you'll be sought after.
Where to Find Systems Engineers
One of the advantages of cloud computing is the increased flexibility IT professionals have in choosing where to work. Rather than being locked into traditional urban centers, we found a surprising concentration of engineers throughout the Midwest, the South, and the Southwest.
This state is home to numerous large corporations that are household names, such as Walgreens, Boeing, State Farm, Allstate, and McDonald's. Some of the more tech-heavy employers you'll find include Motorola and TransUnion. It's interesting to note that, when you look at the certifications required in job postings across all of IT, more than one in six mentioned a CompTIA cert — underscoring the earlier point about the importance of Server+.
It's no surprise that Chicago dominates the landscape, with over 21 times the number of tech job postings as the next highest city. However, numerous other locales offer tremendous IT opportunities, and 84 locations had more than a thousand job postings in the previous year. One of these was Scott Air Force Base, the home of the Air Force's Institute of Technology.
One of the unique aspects of Missouri is that it's the only state with two Federal Reserve Banks. While this involves a tremendous amount of IT infrastructure, it drives a correspondingly high number of related systems as banks and other financial institutions from all over America feed into it. There are also numerous businesses in the state with high technological requirements, such as Centene (healthcare & insurance), Reinsurance Group of America (insurance), and Edward Jones Financial (finance & securities).
Saint Louis and Kansas dominate the tech landscape, providing a shocking 87 percent of the IT jobs posted last year. Systems engineers were incredibly popular, and the number of job postings for these positions was exceeded only by closely related network engineers.
Another state with tremendous IT requirements is North Carolina. It's easy to miss this state when looking at some of the more densely populated areas of the Eastern Seaboard, but not judging a book by its cover has never been clearer than with this state. Home to a number of Fortune 500 companies, such as Bank of America and Lowe's Home Improvement, it's also a classic incubator for various tech businesses.
Systems engineers will find themselves quite at home here. In 2019, an average of eight new systems engineer jobs were posted every single weekday for the entire year, providing literally thousands of career opportunities. Unlike the first two states on this list, these jobs were widely distributed between a half dozen different locations, including Charlotte, Raleigh, Durham, Cary, Morrisville, and Fort Bragg.
This state's investment in technology has continued uninterrupted since World War II, anchored by defense and aerospace spending. The economy has evolved far beyond just these sectors, however, and Arizona is home to GoDaddy, Benchmark, Carvana, Axon, and Infusionsoft. These big names are only a few of the more than 8,000 technology companies operating in Arizona.
The number one most advertised IT position in Arizona for 2019 was systems engineer, with 80 percent more offerings than the second-highest, which was sysadmin. This emphasis on engineering demonstrates Arizona's commitment to development, which is underscored by the fact that nearly a third of these positions are for senior systems engineers.
A bustling center of industry and innovation, this midwestern state is home to a shocking number of tech-heavy companies. This is anchored by UnitedHealth Group, the sixth-largest company in the nation, followed by Target, Best Buy, and 3M. It has a strong financial services sector, hosting U.S. Bancorp, Ameriprise Financial, and Thrivent Financial.
Minnesota is a largely rural state, and it isn't surprising to find that 88 percent of IT jobs in 2019 were advertised for the Minneapolis/Saint Paul area. Similar to Arizona, the most advertised position was for systems engineer, although the ratio was slightly more favorable to junior engineers in this northern state.
Systems engineers are absolutely crucial to businesses positioned to maximize market share via virtualization, and this is something that's happening across the nation. The list of states above demonstrates that the Midwest is experiencing tremendous IT growth, but you also have options with a sultry Southern climate or a warm, dry, desert environment.
Having an idea of where you want to wind up for your next job is a great start, and you should follow up by using our State of IT Jobs map to dig deeper. You can download a free jobs report that will give more location-specific information, such as overall job health, employers with the most openings, and the relative ratio of various specialties within information technology.