Optical engineers work for companies that produce robotics. They also work in laboratories, hospitals, and universities, as well as in telecommunications and construction. Companies that employ optical engineers can be found in all geographic areas of the country, although some areas have a higher concentration than others.
Some college students work part time or during the summer as laser technicians, optics technicians, or in another related technician job. This work experience is not only a valuable learning tool, but it may lead to a full-time employment offer once they complete their education.
Students in an undergraduate or graduate program can learn about job openings through internships or cooperative programs in which they have participated. College career services offices can also be a source of job leads. Professional associations also provide information on companies that are seeking optical engineers. In many cases, new graduates research companies that hire optical engineers and apply directly to them.
Optical engineers with a bachelor of science degree often start out as assistants to experienced engineers. As they gain experience, they are given more responsibility and independence and move into higher-ranked positions. Engineers who show leadership ability, good communication skills, and management ability may advance to project engineers, project managers, team leaders, or other management positions.
Engineers often return to school to obtain advanced degrees, such as a master's or doctorate degree. With advanced training and experience, they can move into more specialized areas of engineering. Some engineers move into areas of research and become principal engineers or research directors. Engineers may also become college professors or high school teachers.
Some engineers move into sales and marketing. Selling optical devices requires a depth of technical knowledge and the ability to explain the features and benefits of a product. Many engineers, after having spent years designing products, are well equipped for this type of work.
Other optical engineers go into business for themselves, either becoming consulting engineers or starting their own design or manufacturing firms.
Read Optical Engineering (https://www.spiedigitallibrary.org/journals/optical-engineering?SSO=1) and the IEEE Photonics Journal (https://www.photonicssociety.org/content/journals) to learn more about the field.
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In college, join a study group or optical engineering club, if there is one. As an alternative, consider student membership in The Optical Society or SPIE.
Participate in the National Society of Professional Engineers’ mentoring program (https://www.nspe.org/resources/career-center/mentoring-resources).
Use social media such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter to stay up to date on industry developments, network, and learn about job openings. One resource is the Optics and Photonics Industry Network LinkedIn Group.