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Systems developer: Job description

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Systems developers maintain, audit and improve organisational support systems by working on the internal operations of computers, using existing systems or incorporating new technologies to meet particular needs, often as advised by a systems analyst or architect. They test both hard and software systems, and diagnose and resolve system faults.

The role also covers writing diagnostic programs and designing and writing code for operating systems and software to ensure efficiency. When required, they make recommendations for future developments. Depending on the type of organisation, developers can become either systems or applications specialists. 

The work undertaken by systems developers is generally of a highly complex and technical nature, and involves the application of computer science and mathematics in an environment which is constantly evolving due to technological advances and the strategic direction of their organisation.

Job titles and descriptions in IT are not standardised. Systems developers may be called systems programmers, engineers, or web developers. Alternatively, the programming language they use may become part of their title, such as Java or C# developer. The work of a systems developer can also form part of a software engineer or multimedia programmer's role.

Depending on the organisation, a systems developer may have a more defined role and work within a group of IT specialists, which can include systems analysts and systems designers, or they may work solely on testing systems. Nevertheless, as systems developers often manage the support systems required by an organisation to effectively run, the role can also require an employee to communicate effectively and translate the needs of different teams into systems developments.

Typical work activities

Tasks vary according to the type of organisation and size of employer but may typically involve:

  • analysing user requirements;
  • researching, designing and writing new software programs;
  • testing new programs and fault finding;
  • evaluating the software and systems that make computers and hardware work;
  • developing existing programs by analysing and identifying areas for modification;
  • integrating existing software products and getting incompatible platforms to work together;
  • creating technical specifications and test plans;
  • writing and testing code and then refining and rewriting as necessary;
  • writing systems to control the scheduling of jobs on a mainframe computer or to control the access allowed to users or remote systems;
  • writing operational documentation with technical authors;
  • maintaining systems by monitoring and correcting software defects;
  • working closely with other staff, such as project managers, graphic artists, designers, developers, systems analysts, and sales and marketing professionals;
  • consulting clients and colleagues concerning the maintenance and performance of software systems and with a view to writing or modifying current operating systems;
  • investigating new technologies;
  • continually updating technical knowledge and skills by attending in-house and/or external courses, reading manuals and accessing new applications.

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Written by Ashleigh Wilson, Newcastle University
November 2013

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