fiber opticsFiber optics is a buzzword that’s been thrown around a lot in the last 40 years. In fact, many neighborhood streets have been systematically torn up over the last few decades to replace old fashioned wire lines with fiber optics on the promise that we’ll all have better phone and Internet service.

But besides being able to talk to faraway loved ones on Skype like they were in the next room, what else does fiber optic communication buy us? If you’re considering a career in telecommunications, you have to ask yourself is fiber optic communication really something that we can depend on to help boost the future job market and launch new careers?

The Data Challenge (and Solution)

To answer that question we first need to understand the need for fiber optic communication and how it affects everyone on a daily basis. Simply put, fiber optic communication is a form in which we transmit data. Traditionally we used copper wires to send and receive data, and out of that we developed such handy gadgets as phones, fax machines, scanners, printers, and computers. But as the data got bigger (pictures and videos, not just documents and sound) and quicker (now everyone expects super FAST response time) we needed more efficient ways to move data. Copper wires could no longer accommodate the size, speed, and frequency of the data we humans were generating.

In the 1970s scientists figured out how to send data signals via little pulses of light over a fiber as thin as a hair. These signals travel much faster and maintain the integrity of the data for longer distances than those sent over traditional wires. Add fiber optic transmitters and receivers and now you’ve got a more efficient way to send and receive data.

New Opportunities for Education and Careers

But as you can imagine, the people required to support this new form of technology were few and far between. Almost overnight demand grew for telecommunication fiber optic jobs, such as installers, maintenance workers, business-to-business customer service reps, and consumer help offices, as well as the engineering personnel needed to help further develop the technology. Many fiber optics companies supplied their own in-house training, however, it soon became apparent that colleges and universities needed to help pick up the slack.

By the mid 1980s college degrees in telecommunications fiber optics (such as Information Systems, Information Technology, Networking, Mobile Computing, and Systems Engineering) starting popping up everywhere from community colleges to major universities. And the people getting these degrees were (and still are) securing jobs after graduation. Why is that? Because telecommunications companies are continuously coming up with new ways to improve the performance of fiber optic communication, and of course that means bigger profits, company expansion and more jobs. Just last fall, for example, Alcatel-Lucent announced their technology to increase fiber optic communication by twofold. According to Karen Bergman, professor of electrical engineering at Columbia, “we are stuffing more information in the same space.” And what’s the mean to the consumer? Faster video streaming on YouTube; watching real time TV on your iPad, and non-jittery “FaceTime” on your iPhone 4.

Because our appetite for flawless data streaming is insatiable a career in fiber optics, now and in the future, appears to be a safe bet. And with the availability of online education (which wouldn’t exist, by the way, without the data speed provided by fiber optics) you can get a degree in telecommunication fiber optics without leaving the comfort of your own home. Corporations ranging from AT&T to Apple to Microsoft to Google are all looking for people who can support the different aspects fiber optic communication has to offer. It’s a career choice that didn’t exist 50 years ago, so in the big scheme of things it’s still growing. And the best part? If you do decide to pursue a career in telecommunication fiber optics, you might finally be able to figure how to program your DVR without asking a 14-year-old for help.

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