Telecommunications Engineer Careers: Salary Info & Job Description

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A telecommunications engineer's median annual salary is around $96,000. Is it worth the education requirements? See real job descriptions and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming a telecommunications engineer is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming a Telecommunications Engineer

The primary duties of a telecommunications engineer include tasks like designing, building and testing the electronic components that make up a company's communication systems. The pros and cons of choosing this career are listed in the following table.

Pros of a Telecommunications Engineering Career
Above average yearly salary (mean annual salary of around $100,000 in 2014)*
Variety in job responsibilities*
Can work in most areas of the country*
Typical 40-hour work week*

Cons of a Telecommunications Engineering Career
Sluggish growth in employment (3% increase predicted from 2012-2022)*
Licensing required to serve public directly*
Frequent continuing education needed to keep current in the field*
Undergraduate education programs can take 5 years to finish*

Source: *U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Career and Salary Info

Job Description and Duties

A telecommunications engineer is a type of electronics engineer who works with an organization's communication systems. You can be involved in tasks that range from system design to keeping equipment up-to-date. This might include testing for faults and making repairs, though these duties can also be handled by telecommunications technicians, who work in the field more than most engineers.

As a telecommunications engineer, you are often responsible for analyzing the needs of your customers and then designing and building appropriate communication systems. You might upgrade and integrate existing communication systems with computer networks, supervise the installation of new equipment and train staff in its use. You might also be involved in building and testing prototypes for new equipment. Telecommunications engineers must also keep current with new technology.

Salary and Job Growth

Although the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that electronics engineers earned a mean annual salary of about $100,000 in May 2014, the average salary for engineers working in the telecommunications industry varies. For example, the BLS figures for 2014 also indicated that those who work in the satellite telecommunications industry earned about $93,000 annually, whereas those working for wireless telecommunications companies that aren't related to satellites earned around $95,000. Although your salary might be above average, job growth for engineers has been in slow. In its 2012 data projections, the BLS predicted job growth of 3% from 2012-2022 for electronic engineers. Some jobs will be created through engineering firms and the computer systems design industry.

Training Requirements

Education Requirements

Typically, a 4-year degree in electronics engineering or a related area is needed to work as a telecommunications engineer. Some 2-year schools have transfer agreements that allow you to complete your general education requirements and finish your specialty education at an engineering school. Some bachelor's programs are designed to take 5 years and provide more hands-on experience, while other 5-year programs offer you the option to earn a joint bachelor's/master's degree. You may also investigate a program to see where they place their emphasis, theoretical practice or practical knowledge.

Licensing

If you want to work as telecommunications engineer, you might need to be a licensed professional engineer (PE). This means you need a degree from an education program accredited by the ABET, Inc., formerly the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, at least four years of work experience and a passing score on two exams administered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying. The licensing exam has 2 parts: the Fundamentals of Engineering exam, which you can take near the completion of your degree, and the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam, which you take after working for the required 4 years.

Also, some states require additional licensing of their own for telecommunications engineers, equipment installers, repairers and other professionals. This typically includes paying the required licensing fee and passing a licensing exam, although some states will license you if you have their required number of years of work experience or proof of licensing in another state.

Skills

As a telecommunications engineer, you often work as part of a team and might be responsible for the supervision of other engineers or technicians. As a result, you should be able to work well with others and have good verbal and written communication skills. You might also be required to work directly with clients and explain complex ideas to customers who may not have technical training.

Job Postings from Real Employers

In March 2012, the following job openings were posted and show the duties that a telecommunications engineer may be required to perform. These posting show that you can be hired as a telecommunications engineer on a range of seniority levels:

  • An information technology (IT) company in Washington, DC, is looking for a senior telecommunications engineer with over 10 years of experience in areas like wireless communications systems, networking systems and hardware platforms, such as Avaya and Cisco. This candidate would be mentoring junior and intermediate telecommunications engineers.
  • An IT staffing firm recruiting for a client located in Pittsburgh, PA advertised for a telecommunications engineer with 7 years of work experience to design, implement and maintain voice and data communications systems. Candidates with Cisco and Avaya certifications are preferred.
  • A construction company in Oklahoma is seeking a telecommunications engineer with a bachelor's degree in engineering, IT or science, although a candidate with a master's degree is preferred. Its requirements include managing, implementing and updating all aspects of voice and video communications, including instant messaging and video conferencing.
  • A power company in San Francisco, CA, is seeking a telecommunications electrical engineer to work as part of a team responsible for designing a telecommunications system for substation high voltage equipment.

How to Stand Out in the Telecommunications Engineering Field

Certification Options in Computer Systems

In addition to completing your education and licensing requirements, you can better your chances of finding employment by earning certifications in computer systems, such as network and computer security as well as wireless technologies and networks. Many employers seek candidates who are certified in specific hardware systems.

Certification Options in Digital Media

The Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) offers certifications, such as the Digital Video Engineering Professional (DVEP), that can improve your chances for employment in the field of digital media. This certification is good for 3 years. Six months prior to expiration, you can ensure your recertification by completing 21 recertification units (RUs).

Recertification units can be earned by taking SCTE courses, such as routing and switching techniques, IP networking, channel bonding and Ethernet transport. You might also earn RUs by attending local SCTE chapter meetings, giving a presentation at a national conference or submitting possible certification questions to be incorporated in future certification exams. If you don't earn the required RUs, you may retake your certification exam.

Certification Options in Telecommunications

Earning credentials from professional organizations like Building Industry Consulting Service International, Inc (BICSI) can also distinguish you in the telecommunications engineering field. If you'd like to advance in the telecommunications field, one option that might help is to earn the Registered Telecommunications Project Manager (RTPM) designation. This credential is in its interim stage but expected to be made official in 2012. BICSI offers the training and exam you'll need to pass to earn this certificate.

BICSI also offers a Wireless Designer (WD) credential to those who work in the wireless telecommunications field. To earn this credential you'll need 2 years of experience in wireless design and a passing score on the Information Technology Systems Design Fundamentals exam or a current Registered Communications Distribution Designer or Registered Information Technology Professional credential, both of which are offered by BICSI.

Alternative Careers and Job Descriptions

Although you might be interested in a career as a telecommunications engineer, the education and licensing requirements might seem daunting to you. If so, you might want to consider a similar position that deals with telecommunications network support or a position that requires less training and allows you to work in the field.

Network and Computer Systems Administrator

Network administrators often support a company's computer systems, including its telecommunications systems, by offering design, installation and maintenance support. It often requires a bachelor's degree, though in some cases an associate degree and work experience can be enough. The BLS reported the 333,210 network and computer systems administrators employed in 2010 earned an average salary of more than $72,000.

Electronic Engineering Technician

Engineering technicians help engineers design, build and test electronic equipment and components that are used in the telecommunications industry. Though you might find employment with only a high school diploma, completing an associate degree in engineering technology might give you a better chance of finding work. According to the BLS, 147,750 electrical and electronics engineering technicians worked across the country in 2010, with an average annual salary of almost $57,000.

Telecommunications Technician

As a telecommunications technician, such as an equipment installer or repairer, your responsibilities focus on fieldwork like setting up and repairing cable, satellite, telephone and computer networks, often at a customer's home or office. A high school diploma might be the only education requirement, since most of your training will be done on the job. You also might choose to earn an SCTE designation like Broadband Premise Installer (BPI), Broadband Distribution Specialist (BDS), Broadband Transport Specialist (BTS) or Broadband Telecom Center Specialist (BTCS), which shows you have achieved a level of technical proficiency that is recognized in this industry. The BLS reported there were over 190,000 telecommunications equipment installers and repairers working in the U.S. in 2010, earning an average annual salary of almost $53,000.

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