Site Search
The Riley Guide

Home >> Careers & Education

System Software Engineers

System Software Engineers


Education

School Search

Zip?
Subject?
Degree?
Where?OnlineCampus
Both

What's Needed:

  • Most systems software developers have bachelor’s degrees in computer science or electrical engineering.
  • The field requires a solid understanding of how low-level software interfaces with hardware, so highly technical degrees provide the best foundation.
  • Some employers prefer a master’s degree or Ph.D for senior software architect positions.
  • Developers advance through experience and continuous learning of evolving technologies.
  • Technical professionals with related backgrounds, such as quality assurance, sometimes transition to software development.

What you study:

Study topics include:

  • Low-level programming
  • Data structures
  • Operating systems
  • Algorithm design
  • Software engineering
  • Computer organization
  • Computer networking
  • Mathematics


A Day in the Life

You troubleshoot new system software written for a wireless chipset.

Your morning as a systems software developer begins at home with strong coffee and several urgent messages from the test lab. It is never a good sign when quality assurance engineers become agitated. According to test results, the new firmware enhancements have broken the wireless networking chipset’s ability to stay locked on a frequency. An important telecommunications customer is demanding the enhancements by next week, so this failure is critical. Your job today will be to troubleshoot the firmware, also called system software, and fix the problem. The error could be a simple coding misstep or a faulty algorithm. You hope fervently for the former.

You find that a critical software function is overwriting a part of memory needed to manage wireless signaling.

After verifying the software bug with the test team, you review the new code for errors and see none. You conduct more sophisticated communications tests in the lab and narrow the problem to one specific scenario. When wireless signal strength fluctuates, the new system compensates too slowly and loses its lock. You review the relevant code with a colleague and find that a new function is overwriting a part of memory that is supposed to hold information about signal strength.

While your colleague makes the changes and retests the firmware, you work on another project creating a module to support a new wireless protocol. The customer's product, a wireless access point, has some idiosyncrasies that need special handling. Your development team holds a conference call with the customer's lead engineers to review the platform's technical specifications. The next two hours are spent exhaustively mapping requirements, which must be thoroughly documented and formally approved prior to writing code.

Your team meets with the customer's lead engineers to review tech specs.

After the call, you and your team order dinner and plan the development work. You are excited about beginning a project based on new technology and will spend much of tomorrow documenting your proposed approach. You will then meet with management and peers to review the proposal, and the conversations are sure to be technically and creatively challenging.


Certifications and Licensing

Certifications are generally optional but can help candidates obtain a position or promotion. The Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon University offers several highly respected certifications. In particular, the software architecture certification addresses real-time, embedded systems development. The IEEE offers the Certified Software Development Associate, Certified Software Development Professional, Wireless Communication Engineering Technologies, and Certified Biometrics Professional certifications.


Job Flexibility

Full-time versus part-time:

Most systems software developers work full-time. Many contribute to complex projects that require some overtime in order to meet deadlines.

Work location:

The majority of systems software developers are employed in computer systems design, electronic instruments manufacturing, and the telecommunications and computer equipment industries. They usually work on teams in offices and labs although some are able to telecommute.


Recommended Websites

  • U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook – The site provides a broad introduction to the software development field, which includes systems as well as application software. It highlights each specialization and the positive growth outlook for this creative profession. For a closer look at systems software development, also consult professional websites in the field.
  • IEEE – The IEEE is the largest global professional association for technical advancement and engineering standards. The site links to sister sites for many IEEE technology specializations, which is valuable for learning about options in systems software development. Rich career and student resources make this website essential for people exploring technical interests.
  • Association for Computing Machinery – The ACM is a worldwide educational and scientific society for the computing fields. The site includes a timely career news section for students and professionals and a computing news section with articles on key developments in the field.
  • Software Engineering Institute – The SEI is a federally funded academic center focused on research and best practices in software engineering. The site includes an extensive library of webinars, podcasts and publications on a range of software engineering and development topics.


Salaries by City

See typical salaries and ranges for this career below*. Shift click to sort by more than one column -- for example first shift-click on state and then shift-click on salary to find best and worst salaries in each state.

StateCity / RegionTypical SalarySalary RangeJob Count% of All Jobs
AKAnchorage$83,860$65K - $112K1900.11%
ALBirmingham - Hoover$87,050$61K - $116K5200.11%
ALHuntsville$102,110$64K - $144K2,1401.05%
ALMobile$68,760$49K - $104K1400.08%
ALMontgomery$82,500$62K - $133K2200.14%
ARFayetteville - Springdale - Rogers$80,790$44K - $123K2300.12%
ARFort Smith$67,530$41K - $93K500.04%
ARLittle Rock - North Little Rock - Conway$76,220$49K - $96K6800.20%
AZPhoenix - Mesa - Glendale$96,020$61K - $144K5,6900.33%
CABakersfield - Delano$118,310$83K - $168K3300.12%
CAFresno$93,550$55K - $172K1000.03%
CALos Angeles - Long Beach - Glendale (Metro Area)$110,830$70K - $163K13,2800.34%
CAModesto$93,360$44K - $146KN/AN/A
CAOakland - Fremont - Hayward (Metro Area)$112,850$41K - $177K4,4800.46%
CAOxnard - Thousand Oaks - Ventura$105,090$65K - $150K5300.18%
CARiverside - San Bernardino - Ontario$114,500$77K - $169KN/AN/A
CASacramento - Arden - Arcade - Roseville$89,250$66K - $140K4,4100.54%
CASalinas$109,980$73K - $163K2300.15%
CASan Diego - Carlsbad - San Marcos$105,580$73K - $150K7,1500.57%
CASan Francisco - San Mateo - Redwood City (Metro Area)$108,900$78K - $153K10,9701.10%
CASan Jose - Sunnyvale - Santa Clara$127,660$86K - $176K24,7902.76%
CASan Luis Obispo - Paso Robles$79,510$46K - $115K1500.15%
CASanta Ana - Anaheim - Irvine (Metro Area)$108,810$65K - $153K8,0500.57%
CASanta Barbara - Santa Maria - Goleta$99,900$64K - $153K9200.55%
CASanta Cruz - Watsonville$91,500$45K - $157K1700.20%
CASanta Rosa - Petaluma$114,550$75K - $155KN/AN/A
CAStockton$96,680$62K - $158K800.04%
CAVallejo - Fairfield$105,450$78K - $154K900.07%
COBoulder$109,690$68K - $152K1,7001.07%
COColorado Springs$105,960$76K - $142K1,7400.72%
CODenver - Aurora - Broomfield$99,830$63K - $145K6,2500.51%
COFort Collins - Loveland$101,640$72K - $142K1,3701.03%
COGreeley$80,170$34K - $114K600.08%
CTBridgeport - Stamford - Norwalk$87,950$45K - $155K1,7200.42%
CTDanbury$98,290$56K - N/A1800.28%
CTHartford - West Hartford - East Hartford$84,720$58K - $129K1,0800.20%
CTNew Haven$77,250$56K - $138K5500.20%
CTNorwich - New London$78,960$40K - $123K1100.09%
CTWaterbury$81,250$52K - $115K400.06%
DCWashington - Arlington - Alexandria (Metro Area)$114,040$70K - $164K28,6001.22%
DEWilmington (Metro Area)$101,040$75K - $143K1,1700.36%
FLCape Coral - Fort Myers$101,020$62K - $142K900.04%
FLCrestview - Fort Walton Beach - Destin$103,380$73K - $143K1600.21%
FLDeltona - Daytona Beach - Ormond Beach$69,440$44K - $95K800.05%
FLFort Lauderdale - Pompano Beach - Deerfield Beach (Metro Area)$88,620$65K - $130K1,6500.23%
FLGainesville$74,300$36K - $125K700.06%
FLJacksonville$91,920$67K - $121KN/AN/A
FLLakeland - Winter Haven$75,810$52K - $101K500.03%
FLMiami - Miami Beach - Kendall (Metro Area)$85,440$50K - $118K9600.10%
FLNaples - Marco Island$83,920$63K - $104K800.07%
FLNorth Port - Bradenton - Sarasota$93,830$46K - $173K1700.07%
FLOcala$79,600$59K - $122KN/AN/A
FLOrlando - Kissimmee - Sanford$81,670$49K - $117K1,6000.16%
FLPalm Bay - Melbourne - Titusville$108,820$69K - $150K1,2200.64%
FLPensacola - Ferry Pass - Brent$87,310$43K - $120K400.02%
FLPort St. Lucie$70,550$44K - $94K300.03%
FLTallahassee$69,800$34K - $115K1300.09%
FLTampa - St. Petersburg - Clearwater$84,700$54K - $125K2,6100.23%
FLWest Palm Beach - Boca Raton - Boynton Beach (Metro Area)$96,600$63K - $146K6500.13%
GAAthens - Clarke County$61,240$42K - $104K300.04%
GAAtlanta - Sandy Springs - Marietta$94,520$60K - $140K9,3000.41%
GAAugusta - Richmond County$84,710$47K - $134K1100.05%
GAColumbus$75,920$49K - $108KN/AN/A
GADalton$84,710$42K - $126K800.13%
GAGainesville$54,260$41K - $85K400.05%
GAMacon$104,210$62K - $161K900.10%
GASavannah$88,940$70K - $113K800.05%
GAWarner Robins$84,740$61K - $131K1300.23%
HIHonolulu$84,070$62K - $115KN/AN/A
IAAmes$28,730$26K - $65K400.09%
IACedar Rapids$77,450$55K - $113K1,2400.90%
IADavenport - Moline - Rock Island$89,030$49K - $135KN/AN/A
IADes Moines - West Des Moines$92,010$59K - $128K6400.20%
IADubuque$79,860$57K - $176KN/AN/A
IAWaterloo - Cedar Falls$73,130$55K - $161K1300.15%
IDBoise City - Nampa$81,580$66K - $96KN/AN/A
IDCoeur d'Alene, ID$87,040$60K - $114KN/AN/A
ILBloomington - Normal$77,440$65K - $94KN/AN/A
ILChampaign - Urbana$91,030$64K - $138K1800.19%
ILChicago - Joliet - Naperville (Metro Area)$91,690$56K - $129K11,7600.32%
ILLake County - Kenosha County (Metro Area)$93,130$61K - $136K1,7700.48%
ILPeoria$79,400$43K - $119K1800.10%
ILRockford$89,920$63K - $130K500.04%
ILSpringfield$80,380$64K - $110K400.04%
INFort Wayne$92,120$63K - $130K9200.46%
INGary (Metro Area)$56,660$42K - $90K400.02%
INIndianapolis - Carmel$84,580$59K - $123K1,8800.21%
INKokomo$103,860$78K - $119K2700.69%
INLafayette$80,460$51K - $112KN/AN/A
INMuncie$83,430$58K - $118KN/AN/A
INSouth Bend - Mishawaka$86,420$71K - $119KN/AN/A
KSLawrence$62,600$26K - $76KN/AN/A
KSTopeka$59,570$47K - $99K1000.09%
KSWichita$91,720$57K - $132K1,0400.37%
KYBowling Green$69,300$56K - $94KN/AN/A
KYElizabethtown$81,340$18K - $136K400.10%
KYLexington - Fayette$75,550$54K - $111KN/AN/A
KYLouisville - Jefferson County$82,070$53K - $117K9300.16%
LABaton Rouge$71,510$45K - $92K3500.10%
LALafayette$53,090$32K - $103K700.04%
LANew Orleans - Metairie - Kenner$74,290$51K - $132K3300.06%
MABarnstable Town$118,180$61K - $144K800.08%
MABoston - Cambridge - Quincy (Metro Area)$110,230$70K - $154K19,4301.14%
MABrockton - Bridgewater - Easton (Metro Area)$103,320$70K - $117KN/AN/A
MAFramingham (Metro Area)$99,960$68K - $144K4,4602.84%
MAHaverhill - North Andover - Amesbury (Metro Area)$125,570$52K - N/A700.09%
MALawrence - Methuen - Salem (Metro Area)$94,830$58K - $122K1000.17%
MALowell - Billerica - Chelmsford (Metro Area)$111,790$72K - $150K2,7202.33%
MANew Bedford$86,460$65K - $134K400.07%
MAPeabody (Metro Area)$103,150$68K - $142K700.07%
MAPittsfield$89,810$57K - $130K2400.72%
MASpringfield$89,770$63K - $134K2000.07%
MATaunton - Norton - Raynham (Metro Area)$113,700$72K - $165K1500.35%
MAWorcester$123,530$77K - $150K1,3700.56%
MDBaltimore - Towson$113,680$70K - $179K6,5000.52%
MDBethesda - Rockville - Frederick (Metro Area)$94,290$54K - $138K4,1100.73%
MDHagerstown - Martinsburg$104,180$64K - $179K3200.33%
MEPortland - South Portland - Biddeford$87,390$61K - $121K1300.07%
MIAnn Arbor$79,370$53K - $120K7300.38%
MIBattle Creek$87,200$61K - $137KN/AN/A
MIDetroit - Livonia - Dearborn (Metro Area)$93,350$56K - $138K1,7300.25%
MIFlint$73,630$50K - $96K600.05%
MIGrand Rapids - Wyoming$83,460$57K - $116K9100.24%
MIHolland - Grand Haven$72,790$52K - $140K500.05%
MIKalamazoo - Portage$69,420$34K - $110K1300.10%
MILansing - East Lansing$68,320$46K - $105K1400.07%
MIMuskegon - Norton Shores$74,730$44K - $94K800.14%
MINiles - Benton Harbor$65,100$51K - $89K300.05%
MIWarren - Troy - Farmington Hills (Metro Area)$80,660$56K - $121K4,5800.43%
MNMinneapolis - St. Paul - Bloomington$94,250$60K - $141K6,6300.38%
MNSt. Cloud$76,040$47K - $121K400.04%
MOJefferson City$75,110$51K - $125K600.08%
MOJoplin$57,450$21K - $86K300.04%
MOKansas City$90,980$57K - $177K2,3700.24%
MOSpringfield$39,800$26K - $93K500.03%
MOSt. Louis$91,330$63K - $128K2,3000.18%
MSGulfport - Biloxi$44,130$29K - $91K500.05%
MSJackson$85,460$67K - $119K1000.04%
MTBillings$69,040$44K - N/A400.05%
MTMissoula$63,320$38K - $90K500.09%
NCAsheville$86,560$54K - $135K500.03%
NCCharlotte - Gastonia - Rock Hill$104,190$74K - $142K3,1600.37%
NCGreensboro - High Point$88,730$60K - $120K3000.09%
NCHickory - Lenoir - Morganton$75,490$54K - $111KN/AN/A
NCJacksonville$171,150$94K - N/AN/AN/A
NCRaleigh - Cary$92,780$65K - $127K2,1600.42%
NCWilmington$64,440$49K - $75KN/AN/A
NCWinston - Salem$98,870$66K - $121K2600.13%
NDFargo$65,760$30K - $90K5400.43%
NELincoln$57,810$37K - $92K5100.31%
NEOmaha - Council Bluffs$84,760$54K - $116K1,2900.29%
NHManchester$108,900$80K - $156K2600.26%
NHNashua (Metro Area)$111,960$74K - $159K8600.67%
NHPortsmouth$90,920$60K - $123K600.11%
NJAtlantic City - Hammonton$116,010$66K - $146K600.04%
NJCamden (Metro Area)$103,990$76K - $148K1,1300.23%
NJEdison - New Brunswick (Metro Area)$106,850$69K - $152K3,1800.33%
NJNewark - Union (Metro Area)$102,290$70K - $147K1,7500.18%
NJTrenton - Ewing$105,770$78K - N/A7000.33%
NMAlbuquerque$97,010$68K - $146K1,8400.50%
NMLas Cruces$75,980$47K - $111K2400.37%
NMSanta Fe$94,230$63K - $179K400.07%
NVLas Vegas - Paradise$88,500$30K - $129K4700.06%
NVReno - Sparks$107,140$70K - $143K2400.13%
NYAlbany - Schenectady - Troy$81,850$53K - $130K5900.14%
NYBinghamton$87,840$51K - $126K4000.38%
NYBuffalo - Niagara Falls$78,560$47K - $115KN/AN/A
NYIthaca$90,260$63K - $119K900.19%
NYKingston$72,040$46K - $107K300.06%
NYNassau - Suffolk (Metro Area)$86,280$44K - $149K2,2500.18%
NYNew York - White Plains - Wayne (Metro Area)$102,690$69K - $153K11,3600.22%
NYPoughkeepsie - Newburgh - Middletown$104,990$71K - $119KN/AN/A
NYRochester$86,470$58K - $123K2,0100.41%
NYSyracuse$80,840$53K - $134K5900.20%
NYUtica - Rome$95,590$59K - $164KN/AN/A
OHAkron$83,930$50K - $111KN/AN/A
OHCincinnati - Middletown$72,300$50K - $113K1,8300.19%
OHCleveland - Elyria - Mentor$77,120$43K - $114K1,0600.11%
OHColumbus$88,830$61K - $118K1,7000.19%
OHDayton$90,270$60K - $128K5300.14%
OHToledo$78,740$51K - $106K600.02%
OHYoungstown - Warren - Boardman$73,350$62K - $103K800.04%
OKLawton$83,060$48K - $119K300.08%
OKOklahoma City$69,810$44K - $114K1,1100.19%
OKTulsa$83,810$52K - $155K6500.16%
ORCorvallis$106,120$64K - $136KN/AN/A
OREugene - Springfield$81,780$43K - $131K2900.21%
ORPortland - Vancouver - Hillsboro$100,300$59K - $142K3,1100.31%
PAAllentown - Bethlehem - Easton$105,640$64K - $150K6300.19%
PAAltoona$60,430$34K - $104K600.10%
PAErie$67,030$30K - $129K600.05%
PAHarrisburg - Carlisle$83,190$52K - $117K9500.31%
PALancaster$84,630$53K - $122KN/AN/A
PAPhiladelphia (Metro Area)$96,700$63K - $145K8,5500.47%
PAPittsburgh$78,570$53K - $132K3,0600.27%
PAReading$87,130$58K - $117K1000.06%
PAScranton - Wilkes - Barre$72,260$64K - $114K2400.09%
PAState College$68,110$42K - $111K800.12%
PAWilliamsport$85,130$67K - $109KN/AN/A
PAYork - Hanover$95,770$59K - $149K800.05%
PRSan Juan - Caguas - Guaynabo$68,120$46K - $107K4400.06%
RIProvidence - Fall River - Warwick$98,500$57K - $152K2,0300.38%
SCCharleston - North Charleston - Summerville$71,270$53K - $110K5600.19%
SCColumbia$72,810$50K - $115K2700.08%
SCGreenville - Mauldin - Easley$73,020$51K - $95K4600.15%
SCMyrtle Beach - North Myrtle Beach - Conway$66,640$51K - $100K600.06%
SCSpartanburg$72,220$60K - $92K1100.10%
SDRapid City$66,810$42K - $77K300.05%
SDSioux Falls$83,220$58K - $108K1200.08%
TNChattanooga$79,800$41K - $113K1400.06%
TNClarksville$71,750$30K - $112K400.04%
TNJohnson City$123,660$65K - $185K400.04%
TNKingsport - Bristol - Bristol$75,750$37K - $134KN/AN/A
TNKnoxville$85,830$52K - $122K3400.10%
TNMemphis$78,840$39K - $108K6100.10%
TNNashville - Davidson - Murfreesboro - Franklin$82,790$36K - $112K8400.11%
TXAmarillo$70,490$37K - $128K1000.09%
TXAustin - Round Rock - San Marcos$99,290$60K - $147K7,2400.89%
TXBrownsville - Harlingen$89,070$69K - $115K300.03%
TXCollege Station - Bryan$75,640$43K - $125K500.06%
TXCorpus Christi$77,410$54K - $125K400.02%
TXDallas - Plano - Irving (Metro Area)$97,830$64K - $139K12,1400.58%
TXEl Paso$73,450$63K - $99K1300.05%
TXFort Worth - Arlington (Metro Area)$91,250$60K - $137K1,8100.21%
TXHouston - Sugar Land - Baytown$88,780$54K - $141K8,3700.32%
TXKilleen - Temple - Fort Hood$92,220$62K - $127K1500.12%
TXLongview$81,870$53K - $115K500.06%
TXLubbock$74,580$46K - $117K600.05%
TXMcAllen - Edinburg - Mission$86,460$49K - $163K700.03%
TXMidland$82,150$54K - $135K300.04%
TXOdessa$100,320$59K - $137KN/AN/A
TXSan Antonio - New Braunfels$97,770$66K - N/A1,0800.13%
TXSherman - Denison$96,820$64K - $136KN/AN/A
TXTyler$75,270$26K - $115K400.04%
TXWaco$82,050$47K - $136K700.07%
UTOgden - Clearfield$85,970$57K - $136K3500.18%
UTProvo - Orem$88,180$54K - $128K9200.51%
UTSalt Lake City$91,710$60K - $137K2,0300.33%
VABlacksburg - Christiansburg - Radford$74,700$31K - $145K1700.26%
VACharlottesville$77,200$54K - $115K4100.43%
VAHarrisonburg$88,110$59K - N/A900.16%
VALynchburg$98,450$62K - $118K700.07%
VARichmond$95,740$65K - $160K1,7600.29%
VARoanoke$92,040$54K - $139K2400.16%
VAVirginia Beach - Norfolk - Newport News$90,440$61K - $134K1,8200.25%
VTBurlington - South Burlington$92,260$61K - $128K6500.56%
WABellingham$100,240$68K - $140K600.08%
WAKennewick - Pasco - Richland$85,480$52K - $117K700.08%
WAOlympia$85,440$82K - $110K2600.28%
WASeattle - Bellevue - Everett (Metro Area)$98,710$78K - $150K13,6700.97%
WASpokane$86,810$55K - $140K1000.05%
WIAppleton$95,790$52K - $116K400.04%
WIEau Claire$73,530$47K - $121K400.06%
WIGreen Bay$79,100$54K - $96K900.06%
WILa Crosse$80,010$53K - $118K400.05%
WIMadison$89,990$57K - $119K1,1100.33%
WIMilwaukee - Waukesha - West Allis$82,090$60K - $113K9300.12%
WIRacine$90,630$76K - N/A300.04%
WVCharleston$65,160$42K - $129K2200.15%
WVHuntington - Ashland$66,410$35K - $109K400.04%
WVMorgantown$64,620$46K - $90K5100.83%
WVWheeling$60,670$29K - $84KN/AN/A