Where have all the [technical] people gone?

June 1, 2000
As this year's Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics (CLEO) comes to a close here in San Francisco, opinions are mixed as to whether or not the conference has been a success (a term, of course, with a meaning that differs widely, depending on your perspective).

As this year's Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics (CLEO) comes to a close here in San Francisco, opinions are mixed as to whether or not the conference has been a success (a term, of course, with a meaning that differs widely, depending on your perspective). But out of the hustle and hype, one message has emerged quite clearly this week: the current dearth of high-quality technical talent is becoming a very serious issue for the optoelectronics industryas anyone who recently has tried to hire a person with a technical background has experienced firsthand. Telecom companies in particular, desperate for technical talent, are pushing salaries up to levels that are actually persuading graduate students to leave school before completing their courses. At CLEO, plenary speaker Steve Joiner of Agilent Technologies, digressing from his primary topic of vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers, highlighted the need for graduate students to stay in school through graduation.

At first glance this may appear to be a relatively short-term issue, but readers will recall from last month's Comment (see Laser Focus World, May 2000, p. 127) that the long-term outlook also is of major concern, given that there are currently 22% fewer engineering graduates from US schools than there were a few years back and that the trend is continuing downwards. In fact, the problem is such that even the federal government has gotten involved (see p. 58). Also, in an unusual display of cooperation, seven of the industry's leading societies and trade associations have come together to provide a forum to examine the problem and discuss solutions. The Executive Seminar on optoelectronics educational programs will be held in Washington, DC, on June 19-20. To find out more, visit www.leoma.com.

Meanwhile the exponential growth of optical communications applications is driving a host of new activities in many related areas of optoelectronics. For the uninitiated who might be wondering what all the fuss is about, the attraction of wavelength-division-multiplexing (WDM) systems is explained in this month's "Back to Basics" on p. 89. These systems have brought fiber Bragg gratings (FBGs) to new prominence, and special fibers have been developed to suppress cladding modes in FBGs (see p. 63). Improvements to test-and-measurement equipment also have occurred, with the result that automated optical time-domain reflectometers are now a key tool in the commissioning of new multiple-fiber communications cables (see p. 123).

P.S. For more coverage of optical communications, take a look at WDM Solutions, a supplement to Laser Focus World included with this month's issue. If you have misplaced your copy, please contact [email protected].

About the Author

Stephen G. Anderson | Director, Industry Development - SPIE

 Stephen Anderson is a photonics industry expert with an international background and has been actively involved with lasers and photonics for more than 30 years. As Director, Industry Development at SPIE – The international society for optics and photonics – he is responsible for tracking the photonics industry markets and technology to help define long-term strategy, while also facilitating development of SPIE’s industry activities. Before joining SPIE, Anderson was Associate Publisher and Editor in Chief of Laser Focus World and chaired the Lasers & Photonics Marketplace Seminar. Anderson also co-founded the BioOptics World brand. Anderson holds a chemistry degree from the University of York and an Executive MBA from Golden Gate University.    

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