Telecommunications Engineering Specialist  What They Do

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Telecommunications Engineering Specialists Career Video

Insider Info

dotTelecommunications engineers are typically electrical or computer engineers who specialize in telecommunications.

What is telecommunications? It is the process of linking people at long distances using cable, telephone or broadcasting.

The world of telecommunications is changing rapidly. Engineers in this field will find themselves working with new technology on many different projects, such as:

  • Cellular phone communications and design
  • Local area networks (groups of computers linked together through telecommunications)
  • Satellite communications
  • Standard phone communications or POTS (plain old telephone systems)
  • Video conferencing and teleconferencing
  • Internet maintenance and design

If you're thinking about this kind of work, you'd better have a knack for solving problems and an ability to keep a cool head under pressure.

Telecommunications engineers spend a lot of time getting systems up and running, often with thousands of people waiting. That can mean a lot of pressure!

Sharon Black is a telecommunications engineer, professor and lawyer. She says there are four main career tracks in telecommunications.

First, there's equipment management and installation. This is the hands-on wiring and electronics. People in this area tend to have a two-year (associate) degree from a technical college.

Second, there's management. This involves doing things like understanding databases, helping a company track all of their gear and charging the usage back to the various departments, as well as knowing what's insured and what the warranty periods are.

Third, there's applications. Applications might involve working within the tourism or banking industry, figuring out how to make telecommunications technology work for their needs.

Fourth, there's policy and administration. These positions tend to attract people with legal or accounting backgrounds. They're usually not entry-level positions, so you'll have to work your way up.

In the past, most telecommunications engineers would be found working for big phone companies and other large corporations. Now they're just about everywhere -- on university campuses, in hospitals, in small consulting companies and yes, in large telephone companies.

As our economy becomes more global, telecommunications engineers can expect to have a lot of work. They'll be designing and maintaining communication systems for industrial companies, banks, schools, newspapers and anyone else who wants to stay in touch around the world.

Working hours vary. Those telecommunications engineers in charge of maintaining local area networks may be called in the event of an emergency. In this case, they might have to work irregular hours.

Usually, these engineers can expect a typical workweek. Some overtime is common, however. And when crises happen, telecom engineers need to fly in to the rescue.

"The nice part about that is that there are some people who want those hours," says Black. "For example, here in Colorado there are skiers and they want to be on the slopes during the day, and they don't mind doing the weekend or nightshift."

Engineers get into telecommunications with either an electrical or computer engineering background. For this reason, it's hard to get a tab on the exact number of telecommunications engineers in the country.

Because of the global nature of this industry, some are predicting a new type of telecommunications engineer will be in demand in the future.

"The opportunities and the requirements really are expanding," says Black, who has been in telecommunications since the 1970s. "If you never want to travel, that's fine -- there's lots of work to be done. But if you do want to travel, companies like Nike have plants all over the world and they have to communicate with them."

Experts agree that the future of telecom is digital. Masoud Ardakani teaches a graduate course in digital communication. "In the past 10 years, all the communication systems have moved toward being digital," says Ardakani. "All the mobiles, Internet, everything is based on digital communications."

A growing number of telecom engineers are women, but they're still in the minority. "In terms of gender, like most of the other engineering disciplines, it's male-dominated," says Ardakani. He estimates that 80 percent of the students in his graduate course are male.

Fortunately, there is an association to encourage and assist women to enter the telecommunications industry. It's called Women in Cable Telecommunications (WICT) and it has 6,025 members.

"WICT has experienced tremendous growth over the past few years, in terms of both membership and program offerings," says Melissa Northern, a spokesperson for WICT.

WICT has introduced a program called 'Tech It Out" to highlight this career opportunity to women as well as to middle school, high school and college-aged females who may be considering a technology career.

Just the Facts

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At a Glance

Keep systems like telephone and computer networks up and running

  • You have to think analytically and with common sense
  • The world of telecommunications is changing rapidly
  • Get a degree in electrical or computer engineering