I mean, a "system" at the scale of a NASA project comprises operationalized learning across both machines and people (and supplier-contracts, and legal corporate entities.) With tolerances and maintenance plans and backups for the people-parts as well as the machine-parts of the system.
I don't know if I would describe the design of such a system as "management"; it's more akin to the sort of incentive-system creation that tax regulators or MMO game designers go through, but with a lot more rigor and data.
They take the intangible requirements of the client and beat them into a robust series of defintiions that outline what the whole raft of pieces that must assemble together to perform that duty must do, and then also confirm it does indeed meet the client needs. Meanwhile, the PM makes sure the team delivers on time, within budget, with the right organisational oversights to confirm processes are followed, quality management is maintained, etc.
In most large roles, systems engineers are at least one step removed from the majority of design. In many ways, he works on an abstraction layer of the design, but also provides abstraction layers to the other engineers he works with or DIRECTS.
Unfortunately, people seem to think that it means I'm a software developer, in IT, or something along those lines. It's quite unfortunate as both my Master's and Ph.D. were more towards mechanical engineering.
It's okay to use equivalent language when seeking out jobs. Try looking for "product design" or "product management" roles that emphasize technical competency.
Reach out to INCOSE and IISE professional organizations for help. Those organizations exist to represent your skill set to industry. Challenge them to improve recruiter and human resources recognition of the term "Systems Engineer".
Product Management is what most of our graduates end up doing, but they're usually doing it in software jobs. That said, we have a number of patent and IP lawyers come out of our program and a lot of people go into medicine or biomedical. The latter since we have a dedicated biomedical option as we have a number of faculty in that area.
I'm currently dual hatted as a system's engineer and software developer, so people are always inadvertently right when they ask me that question.
The term has been co-opted by people in IT doing (I think) operations type work.
It certainly makes a job search much more frustrating since the number of IT positions greatly outnumbers those for the traditional definition.
Requirements management tools are often similar to IBM Rational DOORS http://www-03.ibm.com/software/products/en/ratidoor
SysML is a modeling language, similar to UML, that some organizations use for Systems Engineering http://sysml.org
Model Based Systems Engineering (MBSE) is the general term for modeling systems (for example with SysML) and then applying computer analysis tools to those models to perform Systems Engineering optimizations.
Google Project Ara made use of MetaMorph Software Tools to help module designers perform PCB layout, component integration, module pricing estimation, package fit check, module performance, and specification compliance. See http://www.metamorphsoftware.com and https://webgme.org
In general, there is a lot of opportunity to modernize MBSE tools and bring them to a wider audience.
There's also a Systems Engineering version of Enterprise Architect (http://sparxsystems.com.au/products/ea/systems.html) that I think is great for the price.
MDAO = Multidisciplinary Design Analysis and Optimization
In practice, the most common systems engineering tools that I've seen are actually excel and powerpoint. Not knocking either of those tools (or the role of systems engineer), but that seems to be the current state of the field.
For much larger projects, or projects of projects (think large engineering systems of systems that take years to design/build/test/deploy), there's all kinds of software available. My company uses Oracle Primavera for this sort of thing.
Also, don't forget Excel. Excel is everywhere and used for all sorts of things it probably shouldn't be used for.
A key reason Excel is the default is that people have access to it, while Matlab is prohibitively expensive.
One way to break that trend is to choose GNU Octave, the open source alternative to Matlab. The more widely GNU Octave gets used (or similar free tools) the more likely we are to move beyond an Excel by default engineering culture. GNU Octave covers a large percentage of Matlab features and is able to run Matlab code. https://www.gnu.org/software/octave/
There are other tools, like SageMath, that are built on Python and may make an even better Excel alternative for organization that aren't dependent on legacy libraries of Matlab code.
I've been a part of the SymPy team for several years including mentoring GSoC for two of those years.
The problem with SageMath is that you still have to convince people who are familiar with Excel to learn a new environment. Part of the reason why Excel is taught to the undergrads in that civil engineering program is that they use it in their co-op jobs. It becomes a self-perpetuating cycle since they don't learn any alternative as students so they go with what they know in their jobs.
Hope that helps to clarify my prior comment. Happy to discuss more.
I never meant to imply that Microsoft Project is a suitable tool for aiding in any of these things. Anyone crazy enough to try...
But if you want to make a Gantt chart, Project does well enough. The NASA systems engineers I knew certainly used Project for that purpose. Thus I hardly think you can say that it "isn't suitable for systems engineering" as it is useful in creating/viewing/editing one of the key tools of a system engineer's work -- a project schedule.
Really. This is a manual for waterfall design of large, complex, one-off or small-quantity systems. Bridges and buildings are designed this way. It's slow, but it works. Errors in the requirements are really expensive to fix.
Source: am systems engineer for complex systems that can't go down and are heavily used by millions... but not as cool as NASA.