When I first started writing about RF and microwave technology back in the 1980s, one of the first things I heard was that the industry suffered from a shortage of RF and microwave engineers and that the situation was becoming increasingly dire. As the story went, engineering students avoided the discipline because it was perceived as more difficult than others, that universities were not encouraging students to pursue it (and few even offered it), and that the “real money-making engineering opportunities” lay elsewhere. I still hear this story today from company presidents and engineering managers, so a quarter-century later I would assume that the situation would have risen from dire to catastrophic.
While that obviously has not occurred, it’s hard to find data on the number of RF and microwave engineers worldwide, trends in industry employment, the number of BSEE and MSEE degrees in this area conferred over time, and how many jobs are available. Monster.com lists more than 1,000 such jobs, which upon inspection are in some cases actually not relevant. Jobs in this industry aren’t in U.S. News & World Report’s “100 Best Jobs” list either, for what that’s worth. So is becoming an RF and microwave engineer a good career path? I believe it is, but perhaps mostly for people willing to pursue a path that is very technically challenging, who are fluent in mathematics, and willing to do the deep dive into this complex technology.
For those who emerge from their education with a wide breadth of knowledge, it’s difficult to believe that good entry-level jobs would be hard to find. Wireless technology is everywhere and, though more and more of it is being implemented using digital devices, there’ll always be a need for engineers and scientists who know how to make equipment work at high frequencies. In coming years, these more seasoned engineers would be in even greater demand and possibly have good job security, assuming they continue to learn and advance through the ranks.
And contrary to the belief that the defense industry is headed downhill, the electronics portion of it is growing rapidly. The Department of Defense has recently made “ownership” of the electromagnetic spectrum, electronic warfare, radar, and terrestrial and satellite communications key areas of focus in the future. That requires RF and microwave engineers with either broad knowledge or a deep understanding of specific types of complements, subsystems, and systems.
Barry Manz is president of Manz Communications, Inc., a technical media relations agency he founded in 1987. He has since worked with more than 100 companies in the RF and microwave, defense, test and measurement, semiconductor, embedded systems, lightwave, and other markets. Barry writes articles for print and online trade publications, as well as white papers, application notes, symposium papers, technical references guides, and Web content. He is also a contributing editor for the Journal of Electronic Defense, editor of Military Microwave Digest, co-founder of MilCOTS Digest magazine, and was editor in chief of Microwaves & RF magazine.
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