Becoming an Optical Technologist: Salary Info & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of a career as an optical technologist? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming an optical technologist is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of an Optical Technologist Career

Optical technologists install, maintain and repair the optical equipment used in research laboratories and various industries. Read on to learn more about the pros and cons of a career as an optical technologist to see if this is a career you'd like to pursue.

Pros of an Optical Technologist Career
Can work in many industries (telecommunications, robotics and fiber optics)*
Some jobs require minimal education for those with the right experience**
Excellent employment benefits**
Opportunity to work with cutting-edge technology***

Cons of an Optical Technologist Career
Possibility of exposure to radiation and biohazards****
Low salary for entry-level positions*****
Security clearance may be required***
Advanced degree is required to earn more than the national average*****

Sources: *Monroe Community College, **, ***Sandia National Laboratories, **** Eastern Washington University, *****

Essential Information

Job Duties

Optical technologists can find work in a variety of fields including automotive technology, telecommunications, fiber optics, robotics and digital imaging. They may work with equipment such as microscopes, telescopes, binoculars, ophthalmoscopes and related components. Some optical technologists conduct research used in the development of new products. They develop test methodologies and design test fixtures. Optical technologists document the results of tests and research. They also analyze and interpret the data.

Salary and Career Info

Although doesn't provide salary statistics specifically for optical technologists, it does provide information for those who work in the field of research technology. In July 2015, according to this source, research technologists overall earned a salary range between $31,385 and $69,068, with a median salary of $41,240. Some of those with doctoral degrees earned significantly more.

What Are the Requirements?


To be successful in this occupation, you must be good in science and math. However, according to job postings for optical technologists that appeared in June 2012, educational requirements vary widely. Some employers look for several years of pertinent experience rather than a college degree. Other employers require an associate's or bachelor's degree in the field of technology, and candidates with graduate degrees may be preferred or required for certain positions.


You may also be required to obtain a security clearance if you work for the government or for an employer who receives government contracts. You should also have good problem-solving skills and an affinity for working with your hands.

Job Postings From Real Employers

Job postings for optical technologists typically describe the job duties, education and experience required for employment. Some positions require a security clearance, and a college degree is often a prerequisite to this type of job. Following are actual positions for optical technologists that were open in May and June 2012.

  • A company in Mississippi was looking for a full-time optical alignment technologist to work on the research and development of light detection and ranging technology. The goal of this project was to develop a seafloor imaging system. Job duties included prototype assembly, optical component alignment, troubleshooting and assisting during experiments. An associate degree was required along with experience with class III and IV lasers. Overseas travel might be required.
  • A company in California wanted to hire a full-time senior optical technologist to work on a laser-based optical system designed for cataract surgery. Job duties included assembling, testing and aligning the optical system using instruments such as cameras, interferometers and wavefront sensors. At least five years of optical alignment experience were required.
  • A Maryland manufacturer sought a full-time optical technologist to develop multilayer fabrics for military products. Duties included software and test method development, work with laboratory personnel and field trials. A graduate degree in physics or an associated discipline and five years of related experience were required. Candidate had to be able to obtain a security clearance.
  • A laboratory in New Mexico was looking for a senior R&D laboratory support technologist with training or experience in optics to participate in research and development of technology that used the infrared spectrum at the terahertz level. An associate's degree or higher education in the technology field was required. Candidate had to be able to obtain a security clearance.

How to Stand Out

Obtaining a college degree in the field of optics is one way to launch your career as an optical technologist, since some employers require a pertinent degree. In addition to obtaining a degree, joining a professional organization such as the International Society of Optics and Photonics or the Optical Society of America could give you an edge over the competition. Membership in this type of organization provides benefits than can increase your opportunities for career advancement. You'll receive networking opportunities and educational resources that can make you more valuable to employers. Other benefits include subscriptions to professional publications and discounts on seminars, courses and products. Professional organizations also provide career services, such as job postings and searchable databases that will make your resume available to prospective employers.

Other Careers to Consider

Materials Scientist

If you'd like to earn more money than an optical technologist, a career as a materials scientist might interest you. Like many optical technologists, materials scientists work in research and development. They design new products and test procedures and document their findings. They teach others how to perform tests, and they report the results to their peers. The mean annual wage of a materials scientist in 2011 was around $87,000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This salary is considerably higher than that of optical technologists, but the job outlook isn't as good, with only a 4% increase in jobs projected between 2010 and 2020.

Ophthalmic Laboratory Technician

Ophthalmic laboratory technicians manufacture eyeglasses and contact lenses according to prescriptions provided by opticians, ophthalmologists and optometrists. Their job duties include grinding and polishing lenses, dipping lenses into coatings and assembling eyeglasses. Some ophthalmic laboratory technicians make lenses for other types of optical equipment, including binoculars, telescopes and microscopes. No formal training is required for this occupation, and many technicians learn their skills on the job. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, ophthalmic laboratory technicians in 2011 earned a mean annual wage of around $30,000. Jobs in this occupation are projected to increase by 13%, which is average.

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