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

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

Systems engineers and electrical engineers are both important roles in the engineering field. Though they share some similarities, there are several key differences between the two. In this article, we discuss the differences between systems engineers and electrical engineers, and we provide additional engineering professions you may be interested in pursuing.

What is a Systems Engineer?

Systems engineers are responsible for the design, development, testing and implementation of complex systems. They work with other engineering and technical staff to ensure that the system meets the needs of the customer or client. Systems engineers typically work in the aerospace, automotive, defense and IT industries. They may also work in other industries that utilize complex systems, such as transportation, healthcare and manufacturing.

What is an Electrical Engineer?

Electrical Engineers are responsible for designing, developing and testing electrical equipment, systems and components. They work in a variety of industries, including the automotive, aerospace, computer, consumer electronics and telecommunications industries. Electrical Engineers typically have a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. They use their knowledge of physics, math and computer science to design and develop electrical equipment, systems and components. They also test these products to ensure they meet safety and performance standards. Electrical Engineers typically work in offices, but they may also travel to worksites to observe equipment or systems in operation.

Systems Engineer vs. Electrical Engineer

Here are the main differences between a systems engineer and an electrical engineer.

Job Duties

Electrical engineers design and test electrical equipment, like computers, vehicles, appliances and machines. Systems engineers work with electrical engineers to develop these products, but also consider how people will use them and the surrounding environment when evaluating them. For example, a systems engineer might evaluate an aircraft’s radar system, while an electrical engineer might design that system. A systems engineer might then evaluate the data from that radar system to determine if it’s safe for the aircraft to take off.

Job Requirements

Systems engineers typically need a bachelor’s degree in engineering, computer science or a related field. They might also pursue a master’s degree to gain more advanced knowledge in their field. Additionally, many systems engineers become certified through the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE). This organization offers certification programs that teach professionals how to use systems engineering tools and methods.

Electrical engineers usually need at least a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering to enter the field. Some employers prefer candidates who have a master’s degree as well. Additionally, many electrical engineers become licensed professional engineers (PEs). To obtain this license, they must pass two exams administered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES). The first exam covers general engineering topics, while the second exam focuses on electrical engineering.

Work Environment

Electrical and systems engineers typically work in different environments. Electrical engineers often work in laboratories, where they can test new products or conduct research to improve existing technology. They may also work in factories, where they can help manufacturers develop new products that meet the needs of their customers. Systems engineers usually work in offices, where they collaborate with other professionals to create solutions for clients.

Electrical engineers may spend a lot of time working on projects outdoors, such as when they’re testing electrical equipment in a laboratory setting. Systems engineers rarely work outside because they don’t need to be physically present at client sites.


Both systems engineers and electrical engineers use technical skills to perform their jobs. This can include circuit design, advanced mathematics, linear systems and analysis and electrical schematics. They also both need to have the ability to follow safety protocols because they are often working with dangerous materials.

Systems engineers typically work on larger projects that involve multiple teams and departments. As a result, they need to have strong communication and interpersonal skills to coordinate between different groups. They also need to be able to think strategically to develop plans that will achieve the desired outcome of a project.

Electrical engineers usually work on smaller projects or specific components of a larger project. As a result, they may not need to have as strong of communication and interpersonal skills. However, they still need to be able to think strategically to develop plans for their component that fit into the larger system.


The average salary for a systems engineer is $93,522 per year, while the average salary for an electrical engineer is $94,718 per year. Both of these salaries can vary depending on the type of work you do, your location and your level of experience.


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