How To Become a Systems Programmer: A Complete Guide

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 4 November 2022

Published 23 August 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Systems programming is machine-dependent programming that is concerned with writing and executing application development software programs. Using low-level assembly programming languages, systems programmers develop software programs that suit the hardware and system components and efficiently control computer operations in a resource-constrained environment. By understanding the requirements and duties of a systems programmer, you can decide if it is a career that could suit you in the long term. In this article, we discuss how to become a systems programmer, discover what these professionals do, and answer some common questions about this profession.

What Is Systems Programming?

Systems programming involves using assembly languages like C, C# and C++ to overcome resource constraints and write a set of computer system software programs that are compatible with the computer hardware. These programs enable the efficient functioning of the operating system and the management of file access, memory, I/O operations and other hardware resources. They can handle starting, stopping, compiling and linking computer programmes. Embedded systems programming is useful for programming Internet of Things (IoT) devices.

Related: What Is C Programming Language? Benefits and Career Advice

What Does A Systems Programmer Do?

A systems programmer is an IT professional responsible for designing, developing, installing and ensuring the proper functioning of operating systems and software applications and programs that run on these systems. Working as per client specifications, they use development tools to write and test software programs. They also plan, modify and upgrade existing hardware and software systems, install configuration changes, automate operations, carry out capacity planning and test and integrate new products. Additionally, they diagnose and fix problems, write operating manuals and documentation and provide user training and support.

Systems programmers typically work with software development companies, telecommunication companies, technology consultancy companies, banks, financial services companies, law firms and public sector organisations.

Related: What Is Software Engineering? Complete Guide

What Skills Should A Systems Programmer Have?

A systems programmer can benefit from having various hard and soft skills. Most employers prefer candidates with a mathematical aptitude, strong problem-solving skills and proficiency in various systems programming languages like C, C++, JavaScript and Java. To keep up with technological advancements, systems programmers may need to stay updated on the latest programming trends and understand their commercial impact.

Since these programmers need to interact with clients and collaborate with other programmers and stakeholders, it is essential for them to have excellent communication and interpersonal skills. Being patient, analytical and attentive can help them undertake, complete, examine and troubleshoot complex programming projects. Additionally, good organisational and time management skills are essential.

Related: Backend Developer Skills: Definition and Examples

What Qualifications Should A Systems Programmer Have?

It is possible to become a systems programmer after 10+2 if you have the right aptitude and are proficient in the required programming languages. However, you might benefit more in your career from getting a bachelor's degree, a master's degree or even a doctorate in computer science, software engineering, software development, database administration or a related field. Many employers prefer to hire candidates with advanced degrees, especially for senior programming positions.

How To Become A Systems Programmer

You can become a systems programmer by following these steps:

1. Complete 10+2

It is essential to pass the Higher Secondary Certification (HSC) exam in the science stream, with physics, chemistry and mathematics, from a recognised board. That is the minimum required eligibility for many college-level programming courses. You may also need to score more than the minimally required 55% aggregate marks as the cut-off for these courses in most colleges is very high. With the right aptitude and programming knowledge, it is also possible to become a systems programmer directly after getting the HSC certification.

2. Pass various entrance exams

You may have to appear for and pass various national or state-level competitive entrance exams to gain admission to a college of your choice. These exams include the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) Main Purpose, the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) Advanced and the Birla Institute of Technology and Science Admission Test (BITSAT). You can also take the Maharashtra Common Entrance Test (MHT CET), the Indraprastha University Common entrance test (IPU CET), the Lovely Professional University National Eligibility and Scholarship Test (LPU NEST) and many others.

3. Get a diploma or a certification

You can pursue a diploma in computer programming, software development, advanced computing, computer hardware and computer-aided interior space. The course syllabus may cover programming languages like C++, Python and Java, software development techniques and programming concepts. To get admission to a diploma course in computer programming, you need to pass your Class 10 exam from a recognised board, with at least 45% marks.

The duration of most diploma courses is one year. You can also do a postgraduate diploma in computer programming, which may require a relevant graduate degree and can take two years to complete. Additionally, there are many free or fee-based professional certification courses that you can complete in a few hours, weeks or months. You can either take a job after earning your diploma or opt for higher studies.

4. Earn a bachelor's degree

You can complete a three-year or four-year bachelor's degree in computer programming and a related field to become a systems programmer. Some of the fields you can pursue are computer science, software development, software engineering and database administration. Colleges typically select candidates for their bachelor's degree courses based on a candidate's scores in higher secondary and competitive entrance exams.

Some of the graduate-level courses you can do are Bachelor of Computer Science (BCS), Bachelor of Science (BSc) in computer applications, and Bachelor of Science (BSc) in computer science statistics. You can also choose to pursue a Bachelor of Technology (BTech) in computer science or a BSc in mathematics.

5. Obtain a master's degree

A bachelor's degree in a relevant field is essential for admission to master's degree programmes. Some of the postgraduate courses you can do are Master of Science (MSc) in computer communication, Master of Science (MSc) in computer science, MSc in operation research and computer applications or MSc in statistics and computer applications. Other programmes you can complete are a Master of Computer Applications (MCA), a Master of Technology (MTech) in computer and information science or an MTech in computer science.

6. Complete a doctorate degree

It is necessary to have an MCA, MSc or MTech degree to gain admission to a doctorate programme. Some doctorate-level courses that you can pursue are PhD in computer science and applications or a PhD in computer science. Doctorate degrees may be necessary for senior systems programmer positions or for research or teaching roles.

7. Master programming languages

You can supplement your academic learning by doing some in-depth studies of the programming languages that systems engineers use. Most of these programming languages have low memory usage and offer low-level system access. Some of the most popular programming languages for systems programmers are C, C++, Embedded C++, C#, B#, Java, Python, Rust, Ada, JavaScript, Go, Lua, Verilog, VHDL and Assembly Language.

Related: Similarities and Differences Between C++ and Java

8. Develop soft skills

A positive attitude and in-depth research skills are essential for this career. Systems programmers often have to find solutions for unexpected problems, and so self-learning skills are crucial. You may need to understand, explain and implement new concepts. It can also help to have excellent communication, time management and team player skills.

9. Network with programmers

There are many benefits to networking with other systems programmers, especially with professionals more experienced than you. It may be possible to get programming tips and advice from them, learn how to advance your career and get information about available job positions. By networking, you can also keep yourself updated on the latest technological advances and developments in the systems programming field.

10. Research available positions

You can look for available positions for systems programmers on online job sites like Indeed, company websites, professional networking sites and social media. It is essential to carefully read the job requirements and compare them with your existing qualifications and skills.

11. Send job applications

After selecting jobs that fit your qualifications and expectations, you can apply for them with a well-crafted cover letter and resume. It may help to create a template cover letter and resume and customise those for each job that you apply for. It is essential to check the cover letter and resume for spelling mistakes and grammatical errors before sending them.

12. Prepare for the job interview

It helps to compile a list of frequently-asked interview questions and prepare well-researched answers for these. Practise answering those questions with mock interviews. You can ask a friend or family member to assist you or record yourself on video. After assessing your performance, take the necessary steps to improve your performance.

Salary And Job Outlook For Systems Programmers

The national average salary for a systems programmer is ₹11,26,335 per year. The exact pay may vary according to your qualifications, skills, job position, experience, employer and location. With technological advances, the job outlook for systems programmers remains strong.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.

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