Systems Engineering vs. Related Disciplines

A phone that fits in your pocket yet has enough processing power to provide information at the touch of a button.

A rocket launched into space.

A wildfire detected with aerospace applications and quickly controlled.

In each of these examples, systems engineers bring related fields together using systems thinking to solve complex problems. Systems engineering looks at the overall process of a system, from the initial conceptual definition of the system to the ultimate replacement of the system. Other engineering disciplines focus on specific systems, where systems engineers integrate all of the individual systems to produce a coherent, effective system.

Advanced technology, innovative manufacturing, increased cybersecurity concerns, and consumer demand for instant gratification all contribute to the high growth rate for positions in the workforce that provide solutions to these complex systems.

Fields closely related to systems engineering, include:

  • Operations Research
  • Software Engineering
  • Control Engineering
  • Industrial Engineering

As technology becomes more complex and interconnected through systems, the need for skilled engineers in disciplines related to systems engineering continues to grow. Systems engineers act as the bridge to bring together operations research, software engineering, control engineering, and industrial engineering.

Operations Research

Operations research supports systems engineers by helping them make better decisions. Utilizing modeling, data, statistics, and optimization, operations research solves complex problems with the goal to achieve maximum results with minimal risks.

Whether it be improving physician training, optimizing supply chains, or designing an Olympic village, operations research is found in most organizations. Using data and programming, operations research solved scheduling issues in the FIFA World Cup. Maximum results were achieved with increased revenue and improved game schedules, while risks were minimized in the form of lower travel costs and better resource allocation.

“It’s the fastest-growing job you’ve never heard of.”


Careers in operations research are growing at a higher-than-average rate due to large, small, public, and private businesses optimizing processes, equipment, and labor.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows a 25% growth rate from 2020 to 2030 as well as high salaries. The median wage for all industries is $86,200, with the federal government being the highest at $119,720. Job opportunities in the field include:

  • Analytics Expert
  • Data Scientist
  • Operations Analyst
  • Research Analyst

Software Engineering

Software Engineering shapes modern systems engineering practices through the design, development, and testing of software used throughout the entire system.

With more jobs available than people to fill them, along with rapid changes in technology, software engineers are in high demand with a projected growth rate of 22% through 2030.  

Consumers require seamless checkouts when purchasing online, secure transactions, and apps to track their orders. This is just one example of designing and developing software that works within a larger system of warehousing, logistics, and transportation.

According to Industry Wired, the top 6 industries hiring software engineers are:

  1. Retail
  2. Healthcare
  3. Research and Development
  4. IT Services
  5. High-tech
  6. Government and Defense

With high demand and continuous growth, software engineers enjoy higher than average salaries. The median annual pay is $110,140 for all industries. CareerKarma lists the top 10 companies paying the highest salaries for software engineers as:

  1. Twitter
  2. Netflix
  3. Google
  5. Apple
  6. Amazon
  7. Adobe
  8. Facebook
  9. Cisco
  10. Microsoft

Control Engineering

Control Engineers stabilize constantly changing systems to achieve outcomes by measuring, analyzing, designing, correcting, and implementing control techniques.

Control engineering systems are everywhere. One found in your home is the heating and cooling system. You set the desired temperature and based on external factors; the thermostat controls the temperature. This controlled engineering system even allows you to control your home’s temperature from your phone when you are away.

The average annual pay for a control engineer is $97,958 and growth is 7% from 2020 to 2030. Industries, where control engineers are frequently hired, include:

  • Manufacturing
  • Pharmaceutical
  • Defense
  • Artificial Intelligence

Other systems utilizing control engineering include simple household systems to complex, high-performing systems such as:

  • NASA deploying a new satellite
  • The navigation system in your vehicle
  • Automatic coffee maker

Look around – it won’t be hard to spot the work of a control engineer.

Industrial Engineering 

Industrial engineers optimize integrated systems of people, money, knowledge, equipment, materials, and processes to make the workplace better.

Have you taken a trip to Disney? Here, industrial engineers get into their guests’ heads to understand their wants and needs. Problem-solving at Disney enhances complex systems to bring thrills, amazement, and smiles to visitors of the Magic Kingdom.

Every industry has a need to improve work processes and optimize operations which translates to a faster than average growth rate projected of 14% from 2020 to 2030 and a median annual wage of $88,950. Industrial engineers rank in the top three fastest-growing jobs for women in the U.S. at an astounding rate of 82% growth.

Types of projects an industrial engineer may work on include:

  • Streamlining the process for passengers to board an airplane
  • Designing exercise equipment for the disabled
  • Determining if robots should be added to an assembly line
  • Creating a process for shortening lines at an amusement park
  • Developing public transportation schedules
  • Planning the location of a production plant to minimize distribution

Continue learning

Learn more about the interdisciplinary problem-solving approach of systems engineering. Reach your career goals through a variety of on-campus and online programs offered at Colorado State University.

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