Sunday, July 21, 2013

A day in the life of ... A Systems Engineer

Systems Engineers (SEs) are to technology, technical problems and product design as Business 
Analysts are to the business aspects of an organization. SE roles vary across companies and
sometimes even within the same company and they are of many different types e.g. SEs in my
previous firm used to be of three types: 

Tier-1 SEs: these focus on writing documents that spec out a product release into several 
component features. Sometimes they also help product managers and lead architects plan the
release roadmap for a product.

Tier-3 SEs: these SEs work on documenting the design level details of particular features.
This work requires a lot more detailed, in-depth knowledge of underlying protocols, product
components, architecture etc. These SEs work more closely with architects and developers
as their work product more fully fleshes out the design details of an architecture and 
provides a document that developers can use as a basis to scope out and actually build into
the product release.

Tier-2 SEs: these are less frequently found in organizations, because sometimes these roles
are also fulfilled by tier-3 SEs. When they do exist in organizations, they function in 
roles that document the network level specifications or requirements that tie designs of 
several tier-3 SE specified features so that overall system design and architecture is 
consistent and stable, particularly for large systems that need to scale to several million
subscribers, have very high availability (e.g. 99.999%) requirements, are mission-critical, 
or have very high performance or thruput requirements.

In what follows, we look at the typical day in the life of a tier-3 SE: 

0730: get to work, read through email. keep track of release 
      plan, any impending deadlines, change to project schedules 

0800: prepare for morning meeting, go through notes, track 
      current progress on features being worked, make lists of 
      work done, work to do, blocking issues etc

0830: attend morning meeting with manager, architecture team and 
till  developers. discuss issues that impact feature or 
1030  surrounding features. identify experts you can tap to 
      complete feature definition. try to help other SEs, 
      developers and architects with open issues

1030: work on feature, read up protocol specifications, network 
till  details, architecture documents etc

1400: attend tier-1 or tier-3 document reviews. these may be 
till  reviews of your own documents act as scribe capturing 
1600  meeting minutes and all defects raised. track owners and 
      level of criticality to product and release.

1600: meet with various SMEs to clear any gating issues to keep 
till  your design document on till  track. validate design ideas 
1800  with developers to ensure they are in scope, and designed
      keeping in mind both feasibility and project timelines.

1830: log off and go home

2100: work with teams in other centers (if working in a global 
till  organization) to help them meet their deadlines and ensure 
2300  timely product delivery.