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systems engineer vs. Data Engineer: What Are the Differences?

Learn about the two careers and review some of the similarities and differences between them.

Systems engineers and data engineers are both important roles in the tech industry. Though they share some similarities, there are several key differences between them. In this article, we discuss the differences between a systems engineer and a data engineer, and we provide additional information on each profession.

What is a Systems Engineer?

Systems engineers are responsible for the design and implementation of complex systems. They work with teams of engineers to identify the requirements for a system and then design a solution that meets those requirements. Systems engineers are involved in every stage of the development process, from initial concept through to final testing and deployment. They often work with software engineers, hardware engineers and other specialists to ensure that the system meets all the necessary requirements. Systems engineers must have a strong understanding of both hardware and software, as well as the ability to integrate the two.

What is a Data Engineer?

Data Engineers are responsible for designing, building, and maintaining the complex data infrastructure that organizations rely on to make data-driven decisions. Data Engineers work with Data Scientists and other stakeholders to understand the data needs of the organization, and then design and implement the systems that will collect, process, and store that data. Data Engineers also develop the ETL (extract, transform, load) processes that ensure data is properly cleansed and transformed before it is loaded into the data warehouse. In addition, Data Engineers are responsible for ensuring that the data infrastructure is scalable and reliable, and that it meets the performance needs of the organization.

Systems Engineer vs. Data Engineer

Here are the main differences between a systems engineer and a data engineer.

Job Duties

Systems engineers typically focus on maintaining and improving existing systems. They evaluate the performance of a system and determine ways to improve it, such as by updating software or redesigning hardware. Systems engineers also troubleshoot issues with a system when users report problems and devise solutions to address those issues.

Data engineers often work with large amounts of data to extract useful information that helps inform decisions. They may analyze data to identify trends that can guide future development. Data engineers also design databases that help facilitate user access to important information. Finally, data engineers often develop tools to support the work of other engineers.

Job Requirements

Systems engineers typically need a bachelor’s degree in computer science, engineering or a related field. Data engineers also need a bachelor’s degree, but their educational focus is often on mathematics and statistics. They might pursue a degree in data science, computer science or another relevant field. Some employers prefer candidates to have a master’s degree as well, but it is not always required for entry-level positions.

Both systems engineers and data engineers might benefit from pursuing certifications through professional organizations, such as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) or the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE). These certifications can help professionals stay up-to-date on the latest technology trends and show employers that they are committed to their career.

Work Environment

Systems engineers typically work in an office setting, but they may also travel to client sites. They often collaborate with other IT professionals and communicate with clients about their projects. Data engineers usually work in a data center or server room environment. They spend most of their time working on computers and using software programs.


Both systems engineers and data engineers need to have strong analytical skills. They use these skills to identify problems and develop solutions that improve the efficiency of their systems. They also both need to be able to effectively communicate their ideas to other members of their team, as well as customers or clients.

Systems engineers typically need to have a more in-depth understanding of computer science concepts than data engineers. This is because they often design and oversee the implementation of complex technical systems. Data engineers, on the other hand, focus on developing and maintaining the databases that store data for organizations. As such, they need to have a strong understanding of database management systems.

Both systems engineers and data engineers need to be able to work effectively in team environments. However, data engineers may need to be more independent in their work, as they often are responsible for designing and building their own databases. Systems engineers usually work more closely with other members of their team, as they often need to coordinate the efforts of multiple departments when implementing new systems.


The average salary for a systems engineer is $93,522 per year, while the average salary for a data engineer is $113,717 per year. Both of these salaries can vary depending on the type of company you work for, your level of experience and your location.


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