Microsoft Systems Engineer Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

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Get the truth about a Microsoft systems engineer's salary, education and career prospects. Read real job descriptions and see the pros and cons of becoming a Microsoft systems engineer.
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A Microsoft Systems Engineer Career: The Pros and Cons

Information technology (IT) professionals who gain the Microsoft Certified Solution Expert (MCSE) credential, previously known as the Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer credential, can work as systems engineers and software developers. Check out the table below for a list of pros and cons of a career as a Microsoft Systems Engineer.

Pros
Strong employment opportunities (projected 22% growth from 2012-2022)*
Higher-than-average pay (median salary of $103,000 in 2014)*
Opportunity for travel*
May have option of telecommuting*

Cons
Formal education often required (54% hold a bachelor's and 23% hold a master's degree)***
Will require ongoing certification**
May encounter mandatory overtime (25% of professionals work more than 40 hours per week)*
Must be able to multitask*

Sources: *Bureau of Labor Statistics and **Microsoft Corp., ***O*Net OnLine.

Essential Career Information

Job Description

Microsoft systems engineers work within businesses that utilize Microsoft servers, cloud based applications and other Microsoft software. They help clients use these platforms and software to accomplish their IT needs by connecting systems via desktop applications, optimizing Windows code for client use, tracking system bugs, coding subsystems and designing solutions.

A systems engineer might also be thought of as an architect, builder, code inspector and repair man. Although the career path might be partially limited to those companies and clients who use Microsoft products, it is also possible to further specialize within the field. For example, you might be able to concentrate in areas such as network infrastructure, project management solution, designing databases or server design.

Salary and Career Prospects

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for software developers was around $103,000 in 2014, with an estimated 22% growth rate from 2012 through 2022. This figure did not take into account the possible change in salary that a Microsoft-based certification may offer.

Systems software developers and engineers can work as part of a larger IT team within a large or multinational corporation. They can also be part of a small crew handling the needs of a startup, or they can work independently as freelance contractors. Because of the explosive growth in computing technology and the need for systems/software engineers to ensure smooth systems operation, these professionals can find diverse employment in settings such as the corporate world, healthcare, education or software development firms, just to name a few.

What Are the Requirements?

Education

In order to become a Microsoft systems engineer, you will usually need to first obtain an undergraduate degree in either computer science or software engineering. Undergraduate degree programs in software engineering teach many of the requisite skills needed to design, analyze and plan programs. The broader-based undergraduate program in computer sciences provides a good general foundation, which can allow you to then continue study through a graduate degree program or on-the-job training.

Certification Process

A systems engineer must first gain official certification from Microsoft before he or she can use the brand name Microsoft in a professional title. Microsoft hosts both in-person classes and online training for those wishing to pursue the Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert credential. Currently, two separate tracks to the certification are offered - Cloud and SQL Server 2012. It should be noted that while Microsoft does offer training, students should not rely upon that training for a complete education in the subject matter. Microsoft considers the MCSE certification an expert-level credential and assumes that a student has either hands-on experience, formal education or a mixture of the both prior to attempting certification.

Top Skills

While the work of a systems engineer/software developer is varied, there are certain skills commonly sought after. Workers in this profession must have the ability to analyze user needs, design needed software, work collaboratively with other IT team members and evaluate and troubleshoot the performance of a system. Being able to document all aspects of the system or software and creating flow charts to assist other team members are also considered important skills for this profession.

Jobs from Real Employers

Job trends seem to indicate that employers are interested in potential employees who have a 4-year degree, additional certifications in design software, strong analytical abilities and a willingness to collaborate with other team members. Here's a preview of postings from May 2012.

  • A New York company is seeking a computer systems engineer with excellent problem solving skills and a willingness to learn the company's business model. They are looking for candidates with a 4-year degree in computer science or another IT-related degree and additional certifications, including MCSE and A+.
  • A computer software and hardware firm in Baltimore seeks two systems engineers for six-month contract work. Candidates must have at least three years of experience working with Microsoft servers, MCSE certification preferred. They will be responsible for setting up and maintaining Microsoft servers.
  • A technical services company in Houston, TX, is looking for an MCSE/MCP professional to provide support services in handling specific application systems. Candidates must have good interpersonal skills and a high school education.

Standing Out in the Field

Education

While not required for the MCSE certification, a formal education is often a standard requirement of employers. Completing an undergraduate degree program in the computer sciences tells employers that you understand the academics behind software development theory and application. A graduate degree furthers this study by providing a more research-oriented focus on computational systems and the scientific characteristics of software development.

Certifications

If formal schooling is not an option, certification in other aspects of software development and engineering could be a good alternative. Certification like the COMPT TIA GREEN IT shows an understanding of how to implement IT solutions in an eco-friendly way while the COMPT TIA credential shows you are a professional with solid networking skills. Microsoft also offers continuing certification levels above the MCSE. These certifications further the marketability of the software developer by not only expanding their formal credentials, but also showing employers that the employee or applicant has a diverse set of skills and a wider knowledge base.

Alternative Careers to Consider

Computer Hardware Engineer

These IT professionals work with the physical components of a computer. Their days are spent researching, designing and developing circuit boards, routers and computer chips. Most work in high tech manufacturing firms and research facilities. Entry into the field usually requires an undergraduate degree that can be in the fields of computer engineering or electrical engineering. This career field is expected to grow by 9% in the years 2010 through 2020. The median annual pay for computer hardware engineers in 2010 was $99,000.

Database Administrator

Database administrators use software programs to organize and store data for companies. The BLS lists an undergraduate degree in management of information systems as a common gateway into the field. These workers usually find employment in banks, hospitals and insurance companies, to name a few. With an expected 31% growth in jobs from the years 2010 to 2020, this field may be a good fit for those who prefer to work with software rather than develop it. The median annual pay for these professionals was $73,000 in 2010.

Computer Programmer

Programmers write the code that tells software how to behave. While it is true that software developers often write code, programmers have a much more in-depth understanding of this specialty. Coders must understand programming languages and may be called upon to re-write codes to fit other applications such as mobile devices. They typically work in offices, and it is possible to gain employment in this field with a 2-year degree in computer science or a related program. The BLS reports an expected 12% increase in the numbers of jobs in this field between 2010 and 2020. in 2010, these professionals made a median salary of about $71,000.

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