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How to Become a Telecommunications Engineer & Specialist

Telecommunications tower with stylized network that a telecommunications specialist creates.

Telecommunications covers information technology, cloud computing, computer networks, software, and everything web-related. Learn how to become a telecommunications engineer and be in the heart of worldwide communications.

With the increasing influence of the internet, employment for telecommunications specialists and electronics engineers continues to attract top candidates. These professionals enjoy fulfilling work and excellent pay. They play a vital role for many businesses or government organizations. Telecommunications equipment is more important than ever in our interconnected world.

However, the telecommunications engineering field is quite competitive. This guide will break down how to become a telecommunications specialist and electronics engineer. It will also showcase the benefits of this position, available specializations, and potential certifications to pursue.

What is a Telecommunications Engineer?

Telecommunications specialists go by a variety of titles. They may be known as telecommunications engineers, telecommunications electronics specialists, telecommunication experts, and telecommunications computer networking specialists.

Regardless, telecommunications specialists are the professionals who analyze the communication needs of businesses. After analysis, these engineers then design or recommend equipment needed to accomplish communications goals. They also update or link communication equipment and networks.

Notably, telecommunications specialists do not build telecommunications equipment themselves. They might put together equipment from components assembled at manufacturing plants or link multiple parts. They may also replace components to create a more streamlined, effective communications network for a company.

How to Become a Telecommunications Engineer

Those who want to become telecommunications engineers face a straightforward path to success.

Step 1: Acquire a Bachelor’s Degree

First, all telecommunications engineers or specialists must have a bachelor’s degree. An associate-level degree is not enough to secure employment in this field.

Most telecommunications specialists have bachelor’s degrees in either electrical engineering or electronics engineering (slightly different).

  • What Type of Degree Do do You Need?

Generally, a degree in electrical engineering, electronics engineering, or a similar field is appropriate. You must have a solid academic background in telecommunications principles and practices to be hired.

Some places of employment want candidates to have a four-year degree in engineering. Generalized engineering degrees prepare a candidate for various job positions within telecommunications. Some degrees may further offer specializations in electrical engineering or telecommunications engineering. These are obvious and logical pathways for career success.

No matter the precise degree concentration chosen, candidates should obtain a degree accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology or ABET. This accreditation board ensures that a given degree program has enough rigor and academic relevance to be attractive to employers.

Employers prefer candidates if their degrees come from an institution accredited by the ABET. While you can find employment without an accredited degree, it will be more difficult. Luckily, many of the best in-person and online bachelor’s degrees in engineering hold accreditation by the ABET.

  • Do You Need a Master’s Degree?

No, although it’s often helpful when securing employment in this competitive field. Master’s-level degrees are not strictly necessary, though they can help you gain an advantage over other candidates.

Furthermore, some advanced telecommunications specialist positions require a master’s degree or extensive experience. For example, network architect positions often require a graduate degree due to the technical nature of this job.

 

Network architects usually require an MBA or Master of Business Administration in information systems or with a related concentration. You can apply to a university for a combined four-year engineering degree program at some schools with an immediate transition to a two-year MBA program.

Alternatively, you can get a four-year bachelor’s degree first. Then you can gradually work toward a master’s degree over time while also accumulating real-world work experience. Bottom line: master’s degrees are helpful but not always necessary.

  • Do You Need a Doctorate?

No. As with master’s-level programs, doctoral-level degrees are not necessary. These may over-qualify telecommunications specialists from certain positions, decreasing their chances of employment.

This changes when an engineer reaches the executive level, however. Doctoral degrees could be excellent if you wish to pursue employment as a CEO or network architect. This degree could also be helpful when seeking a salary in the high six figures.

 

Still, most telecommunications specialists don’t need to worry about getting doctorates soon after graduation. In this industry, on the ground, in-person training is more important.

  • Online vs. In-Person Programs

You should also consider whether to pursue an online or in-person college program. Online programs are flexible, often feature asynchronous classes, and are great if you need to work while finishing your degree.

Furthermore, most engineering degrees do not require any practicum hours for graduation. Note, however, that some do require you to complete a capstone project to graduate. The capstone project could require some in-person work. You can acquire such experience at a local university or engineering firm if you don’t live near your school.

In-person programs are also advantageous if you learn better in personal academic environments. In either case, you can get a good education in engineering, whether you can attend online or in person.

Step 2: Get Experience

All telecommunications specialists will go through some on-the-job training. Certified professional engineers usually administer the training to help engineers succeed in their roles. Generally, telecommunications engineers need to gain 4 to 5 years of experience before they qualify for significant pay bumps or managerial positions.

Step 3: Acquire Certification

Most telecommunications specialist positions do not explicitly require certificates. However, this field is very competitive. Successful job candidates often have a lot of feathers in their proverbial caps. Therefore, you may wish to acquire certificates and an engineering degree.

Certificates focus on wireline networks, fiber-optic networks, or telecommunications electronics. In any case, they certify you as an expert in a specific field or focus. They can help you stand out from others for a particular telecommunications engineering position.

You may wish to look at available certificates or certification programs at your universities. Then you can take the certificate programs that best fit your interests or skills. Most certificate programs take a few weeks to a few months to complete.

You can complete such certifications after graduation or while working on the job. Getting credentials after graduation can help you secure better employment at other companies or acquire a higher salary or promotion.

  • Professional Engineer Designation

Some telecommunications engineering employers require candidates to have Professional Engineer (PE) designations. These special credentials help you enjoy advantages in the job market. They mark you as being exceptionally qualified for engineering. Think of them as additional accolades to help you stand out from the competition.

To acquire PE designation, you must:

  • Have a four-year degree in engineering from an accredited engineering program.
  • Pass a specialized Fundamentals of Engineering exam. This written and multiple-choice exam can be taken at any time and has an entry fee.
  • Complete four years of experience under a licensed PE. Such experience must be “progressive,” meaning your responsibilities and tasks gradually increase in difficulty.
  • Pass a Principles and Practice of Engineering exam. This is written with multiple-choice questions like the other exam and can be quite difficult.

At the beginning of your career, most telecommunications specialists will not have enough experience to acquire PE designation. Only after four or more years of work can you pursue it. Note, however, that PE designation is not required to get a good telecommunications engineering job. It is usually only needed for advanced positions or jobs where you will oversee other engineers. Some government jobs may also require PE designation, given their increased responsibilities.

Step 4: Complete Continuing Education (CE) Credits

Telecommunications engineers often need to take continuing education credits, as with many important professions. According to the Society for Cable Telecommunications Engineers, CE credits are essential for maintaining market competitiveness.

The telecommunications industry is constantly evolving and changing. Professionals who want to remain competitive in the job field need to take regular classes to stay current. CE courses can help telecommunications specialists advance their careers and ensure their skills keep pace with industry trends.

This is doubly true if a given telecommunications engineer is in product design or development. New products or advances in technology are always around the corner. CE credits can ensure that a product designer or developer always makes cutting-edge tech for their clients.

Depending on your employer, CE credits might be required for continued employment.

Telecommunications Specialist Job Duties

Telecommunications specialists carry out a variety of job duties. As a telecommunications engineer, you might:

  • Carry out surveys to determine the suitability for setting up communications equipment
  • Offer technical guidance to customers, colleagues, or clients
  • Create new solutions to communication problems identified in current network designs
  • Check for latency issues for businesses, especially those that rely on a lot of remote work
  • Interpret and analyze data from communications networks
  • Travel extensively to meet suppliers or customers
  • Test communication network designs

For those specialists who work more with the hardware side of telecommunications, they might:

  • Create new communications networks and check them for efficiency and effectiveness
  • Install components for transmitting or receiving signals and telecommunications data
  • Establish telecom systems on a small scale, such as for business offices or office parks
  • Plan and oversee the installation of wired or wireless internet access systems
  • Install or troubleshoot phone line systems
  • Work with on-site or remote networking systems

Overall, the exact job duties of telecommunications specialists vary from place to place. Regardless, all telecommunications professionals work with telecom equipment and network software.

Potential Job Specializations

Specialization may occur in a few different areas. These include:

  • Network engineering. Such telecommunications specialists might create and install networking systems and conduct maintenance at data centers.
  • Telecommunications equipment engineering. Professionals in this field design the hardware used in telecommunications, including but not limited to modems, receivers, routers, multiplexers, etc.
  • Outside plant engineering or OSP. Outside plant engineers connect telecommunication distribution points with centralized distribution points. For example, an OSP installs cable lines between service area points and a telecom distribution center.

Over time, telecommunications specialists may study specific skills to further specialize in their areas of expertise. This allows them to acquire higher-paying positions or secure better profits for their company.

Sectors for Telecommunications Specialists

These engineers work in a wide variety of sectors. They’re needed in practically every industry, given the reliance on modern telecommunications technology. Some companies or industries in which you can find employment include:

  • Specific telecom providers, including Sony Ericsson, Motorola, Telstra, Vodafone, AAPT, etc.
  • The IT industry and computer companies ranging from Google to Microsoft IBM and more
  • Network management companies
  • Telecom security companies
  • Telecom research and application companies
  • Information technology or multimedia companies
  • Equipment and telecom device design companies
  • Telecom device manufacturing companies
  • Federal government for military and defense applications of telecom technology

In short, those with the skills and expertise to become telecommunications engineers have a wide range of available job opportunities. These opportunities should only increase with time as the world’s reliance on telecom technology increases.

Should You Become a Telecommunications Electronic Engineer?

Young professionals may not know whether the telecommunications electronic engineer path is right for them. Telecommunications specialists may acquire a wide range of perks, including:

  • Reasonably high to very high salaries depending on the exact position and location
  • A high level of job responsibilities and a sense of importance
  • Ability to work in a broad range of sectors
  • Ease of finding a job

Naturally, those who are proficient or interested in mathematics and technology will appreciate this career more than those who are not.

Essential Skills for Telecommunications Engineers

Any aspiring telecommunication engineer needs to know what skills they should cultivate in high school, college, and beyond. The best telecommunications engineers have the following strengths:

  • Math skills — algebra, calculus, and geometry
  • Analytical skills
  • Communication skills
  • Solid understanding of electromagnetism and physics

Fortunately, you will learn many of these skills in your degree program or on the job.

Average Salaries for Telecommunications Specialists

The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not recognize telecommunications specialists as distinct professions. However, it does bundle telecommunications engineers with other electrical and electronics engineers.

In general, professionals in this field earn an average annual salary of $103,390 per year. However, telecommunications engineers can make significantly more or less than this average. For instance, the lowest-paid 10% of telecommunications engineers earn about $65,000 per year. The highest-paid 10% of engineers make more than $160,000 per year.

Generally, salary increases with increasing responsibilities and experience. More experienced telecommunications specialists may be required to design networks and products rather than just check or implement them. They may also be required to oversee other engineers.

For instance, some telecommunications specialists may become network architects after several years of work. These professionals earn average salaries of over $116,000 per year. They may also make well over $175,000 per year, depending on their place of employment.

Job Growth Potential and Outlook

The BLS also indicates that telecommunications and similar engineers operate in a growing field. Specifically, the electrical and electronics engineering field should grow by 7% by 2030. This is roughly similar to the growth rate for all other occupations. So while telecommunications specialist positions aren’t increasing higher than average, they aren’t decreasing in quantity, either.

From 2020 to 2030, there should be 22,700 openings every year for electrical and electronics engineers. Many of these will focus on telecommunications tech or network architecture. Such positions could be perfect for those following this professional path.

Career Changes/Progression

Telecommunications specialists don’t need to stay in the same positions forever. Their broad backgrounds and academic accomplishments may qualify you for a wide range of engineering positions. They can eventually work in ancillary fields, such as IT design, computer networking, etc.

On top of that, engineering positions, in general, are in high demand throughout the country and around the world. Many telecommunications engineers with excellent records and recommendations could secure jobs in foreign countries. Thus, the role of the telecommunications specialist could be significant for young professionals who want to see the world.

As you gain experience, you can manage small teams of engineers. You may also become a network architect, executive, or company leader. Many of the best CEOs of telecommunications engineering companies were engineers themselves. These professional executives understand telecommunications tech solutions’ day-to-day workflow and on-the-ground limitations.

Overall, telecommunications specialists have a lot of career potential to pursue after acquiring their degrees and a few years of experience.

Summary

Students with minds for math and an interest in telecommunications tech might be an excellent fit for telecommunications specialist positions. These professionals enjoy high average salaries and fulfilling workplace duties. Furthermore, telecommunications engineers often have many more career options open up for them after several years of experience.

There are many great online degree programs for electrical engineering and related focuses. GetEducated’s list of online schools is the perfect resource for students looking to become telecommunications specialists and electrical engineers. Check out the list today and find the best online engineering program for your needs!

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