Telecommunications 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,
- 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
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
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.