Optoelectronics engineering is a growing domain in India. Currently, it lacks mass opportunities, but is increasingly becoming lucrative for aspirants. The talent from optoelectronics stream is demanded across many sectors in the world of electronics—be it telecom, where optical fibre plays a major role, or VLSI.
Explaining the growth in demand for optoelectronics engineers, Alok Sinha, an industry professional with 22 years of experience, says, “The broadband revolution and the telecom boom in the country are surely the opportunities for optoelectronics engineers. The only reason why telecom service providers do not hire them is because the engineering level they require is not at the level of optoelectronics engineers. The companies that actually need them are those which are responsible for ensuring fibre-optics networks and are last-mile providers, like a telecom company that has a large backhaul or a large telecom vendor like Huawei and ZTE that provides solutions in this space. Apart from them, companies like Tulip Network and even service providers like Sify and Hathway employ optoelectronics engineers.”
Unlike IT and telecom engineering, optoelectronics engineering is a pretty niche field. Optoelectronics engineers will find more opportunities in companies engaged in R&D than the field business. VLSI manufacturers would definitely need optoelectronics engineers on board to be able to find out new solutions and new environment infrastructure.
Unfortunately, in India, there are only a few manufacturers in fibre optics—a field where optoelectronics engineers are needed the most.
Raghu Panicker, country sales director, Mentor Graphics, say, “VLSI industry needs some of the finest opto-electronics engineering talent for making their products perfectly. We need people with background in optics and electronics. We need people with expertise in optoelectronics because when we talk of electronics design, we talk about semiconductors and circuit designs, where basically we create a layout and finally manufacture it. An electronics designer creates a layout and sends it for fabrication. His job is done when the data is taken to the magnetic tape and finally transferred to the foundry. What foundries do is create a mask for protection. They create mask for every layer. While creating a mask, engineers need a lot of knowledge about electronics in terms of how the masks are created. At the same time, they should also have an understanding of optics.”
Typically, it is the electronics and telecom engineers who have been filling in the gaps for optoelectronics engineers. But times are changing and so are the demands from various industries. Companies are now not ready to compromise. They prefer expert optoelectronics engineers only.
Sinha throws light on the availability of optoelectronics engineers in India: “The scenario has been gradually changing for the last five to six years. The fibre electronics, or the fibre-optic communication stream, has undergone a huge change in the country. In places where copper was used earlier, it is mostly fibre network today. Most of the houses have fibre coming to their PCs. From the perspective of technology pervasiveness, times have changed majorly and there is a huge opportunity.
“With broadband roll-out, I think there is a major opportunity in Tier II and Tier III cities because new cables are being laid there. The new large deployments are happening in these areas. But hiring in this regard will be majorly happening in metro cities. Typically, 50 per cent of the business happens in Delhi and Mumbai in terms of ownership and engineering. Bengaluru is a strong place for the engineering options, especially in product development space. But as I said earlier, optoelectronics engineers will have the primary focus in R&D and lesser in the field jobs.”
Optoelectronics engineers can work in two kinds of setups: a new business and an ongoing operations and management business. New businesses involving large project deployments are running in Tier III cities and beyond, while management and operations is taking place in Tier I cities.
Specifically, in telecom space, there are three areas where an optoelectronics engineers can fit in—product development, deployment and project management.
Sinha adds, “If you wish to be known as a pioneer, product R&D is the segment for you. That is where you can grow in terms of sustained business growth, but there are not many opportunities in India in this segment. Opportunities are more in network management, where you can grow and sustain for a longer period of time. The large project deployment space will be ideal to start with if you harbour an aspirational value. However, opportunities are limited here as these companies will want not just fresh graduates but people with experience to do the deployments.”
Education needs to gear up
It’s high time that educational institutions recognised the need of producing specialised talent.
Panicker adds, “A lot of scope exists for improvement in terms of what is being provided and what is the need of the market. In colleges, these technologies are taught as part of general engineering. If you talk in terms of management, operations, project management and deployment, that’s where the talent needs to be groomed, as this is the need of the market today. There is certainly a limitation there and curriculum makers need to address that need. Educational institutes are certainly not able to meet the requirements in the market place. Topics like operations and project management cover much wider spectrum than just a few technology terms.”
Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi, University of Kerala and University of Calcutta are the premier institutes/universities that offer courses in optoelectronics engineering.
Hands-on experience is important to succeed in this field. Sinha says, “If I was a recruiter who had to choose between an electronics engineer with three years of experience in link fibre and a core optoelectronics engineer, I would go for the experienced re-source.”
Typically, for a fresher, the pay package depends on the company policy. For R&D kind of jobs, candidates with masters or doctorate degrees are preferred. Their annual pay package may begin from around Rs 500,000 and go up depending on the job profile offered and, of course, technical knowledge of the candidate. For operations and project management roles, the pay package may vary from Rs 400,000 to 500,000. But if you compare the professionals in these two streams over a period of time, you will find R&D professionals making better progress than professionals in operations and project management.
The author is an assistant editor at EFY