School Subjects: Math, Physics
Personal Skills: Mechanical/manipulative; Technical/scientific
Work Environment: indoors & outdoors; multiple locations
Minimum Education Level: High school diploma
Wage or Salary Range: $21,230 to $39,200 to $56,570+
Certification or Licensing: Voluntary
Future growth: faster then average
Fiber Optics Technicians is one of the fastest growing, as telecommunications companies recognize the importance of fiber optics in the future of high-speed, high- definition service. Most phone connections made today are over fiber optic cables. The Internet is also transmitted by fiber optics.
Fiber optics technicians prepare, install, & test fiber optics transmission systems. These systems are composed of fiber optic cables & allow for data communication between computers, phones, & faxes. When working for a telecommunications company, fiber optics technicians are often required to install lines for local area networks— these data networks serve small areas of linked computers, such as in an office.
The telecommunications company for which a technician works will contract with a company to create a communications system. A salesman will evaluate the customer’s need, then order the materials for the installation. Fiber optics technicians take these materials to the job site. Each job site may be very different—technicians may work in a variety of different locales. First, fiber optics technicians need to get a sense of the area. They walk through with the client, evaluating the areas where they’ll be installing fiber optic cable. Newer buildings will be readily equipped for installation; in some older buildings, it may be more difficult to get behind ceiling tiles & in the walls.
After they’ve readied the area for cable, fiber optics technicians run the cable from the computer’s mainframe to individual workstations. They then test the cable, using power meters & other devices, by running a laser through it. Fiber optics technicians use equipment that measures the amount of time it takes for the laser to go through, determining any signal loss or faults in the fiber link.
Technicians may also fuse fibers together. This involves cleaning the fiber & cutting it with a special diamond-headed cleaver. After they’ve prepared both ends, they place them into a fusion splicer. At the press of a button, the splicer fuses the two fibers together.
There aren’t really any specific high school courses that will prepare you for work as a fiber optics technician, but shop classes will give you experience working with tools to complete a variety of projects.
Speech & writing classes will help you improve your communication skills, & mathematics classes will prepare you to work with computations & installation plans.
A college degree isn’t required but can give you an edge when looking for work as a fiber optics technician. A number of community colleges across the country offer programs in fiber optics technology or broadband networks technology. These programs offer such courses as cable construction, fiber optic installation techniques, singlemode & multimode systems, & wavelength & bandwidth. They also may include lab & certification components. Short-term training opportunities, lasting only a few days, may also be available at some schools.
Certification or Licensing
The Fiber Optic Association (FOA) offers the following voluntary certifications: Certified Fiber Optic Technician (CFOT) & Certified Fiber Optic Specialist. There are currently over 10,000 CFOTs certified by the FOA. The Electronics Technicians Association International also offers certification in fiber optics.
Because of the fine nature of the fibers, you should have a steady hand & good eyesight in assembling fiber optic cables. You’ll also need good math skills for working with detailed plans & designs. Some companies may require you to have your own special fiber optic tools.
Visit the websites of the associations listed at the end of this article to learn more about the industry. Ask a teacher to set up an interview with an experienced fiber optics technician. Talking with someone in the field is the best way to learn the pros & cons of any career.
Fiber optics technicians work for telephone companies, cable companies, & computer networking businesses. They may also work as freelancers, hiring on with companies on special installation projects.
Books on Fiber-optics:
Chomycz, Bob. Fiber Optic Installer Field Manual. New York: McGraw-Hill Professional, 2000.
Crisp, John. Introduction to Fiber Optics. St. Louis: Elsevier Science & Technology Books, 2001.
Goff, David. Fiber Optic Reference Guide: A Practical Guide to the Technology. Burlington, Mass.: Focal Press, 1999.
Hayes, Jim. Fiber Optics Technician Manual. Clifton Park, N.Y.: Delmar Learning, 2000.
Hecht, Jeff. Understanding Fiber Optics. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson Education, 2001.
Sterling, Donald. Technician’s Guide to Fiber Optics. Clifton Park, N.Y.: Delmar Learning, 1999.
Telecommunications line installers & repairers (which include those who work with fiber optics) had median hourly earnings of $18.84 in 2001, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Ten per cent earned less than $10.21, & 10 percent earned $27.20 or more per hour.
Companies offer a variety of benefit packages, which can include any of the following: paid holidays, vacations, & sick days; personal days; medical, dental, & life insurance; profit-sharing plans; 401- K plans; retirement & pension plans; & educational assistance programs.
Fiber optics technicians who work as assemblers spend most of their time sitting at a bench. Technicians who work as installers usually work out in the field, installing fiber beneath the ground. There is little physical exertion required because machinery is used to dig the trenches. Fiber optics technicians spend part of their time outside repairing fiber & part of their time in a van preparing the fibers for installation. They may also install fiber cables in buildings; this will require some climbing of ladders & working beneath floorboards.
Digital transmissions will soon be the norm for telecommunications— not only do modern offices require data communications systems, but cable companies are investing in fiber optics to offer digital TV & cable, as well as quality phone service. Also, the cost of fiber is drop ping, which means more companies will invest in fiber optics. As a result, experienced fiber optics assemblers & installers will find plenty of job opportunities.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
For information on certification, contact:
5 Depot Street
Greencastle, IN 46135
To learn about certification & approved training programs, contact
1119 South Mission Road, #355
Fallbrook, CA 92028
To learn about telecommunications technology & uses for fiber optics, visit the OSA website.
2010 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20036
To learn about opportunities for women in the fiber optics industry, contact
14555 Avion Parkway, Suite 250
Chantilly, VA 20151