Optical Imaging EngineerJob Description, Salary, Career Path, and Trends

Optical engineers are responsible for the research, design, and testing of devices that use cameras, lasers, microscopes, and refractometers. The devices they design and test are found in many of our modern technologies, including smartphones and computers. They control and manipulate light to use in high-tech devices. Optical imaging engineers work in agriculture, aerospace, lighting, textiles, and design. They design devices used in scientific instruments or optomechanical equipment. Some work with observatories, maintaining telescopes and other astronomical instruments. Optical imaging engineers must have excellent written and verbal communication skills as they write and communicate detailed procedures for operations and equipment use. 

Optical imaging engineers should have in-depth knowledge of the properties of light and optics, and a strong background in mathematics and physics as pertains to light and refraction. Exceptional problem-solving abilities and excellent working knowledge of relevant software programs, such as MATLAB, CAD, GIS, DFMA, R Language, and C are crucial for this position. Optical imaging engineers need to stay current on new trends, technologies, and innovations regarding the principles of light.

Sample job description #1

The successful candidate must keep multiple records, be self-motivated, maintain a professional presence, and have the desire to take ownership of projects. If you are a technically strong, organized, confident, experienced, energetic multitasker with conceptual thinking skills, then you will find a rewarding and satisfying home with company ABC.


  • Create physical optic models of component/system designs and derive tolerances
  • Produce optical breadboards and present technical data to customers.
  • Support the production of prototypes and initial volume production work instructions
  • Assist in optical component sourcing
  • Prepare and present technical status reviews


  • M.S. (Ph.D. preferred) in Optical Science/Engineering, Chemistry, or Physics
  • Capable of basic optical physics hand-calculations and experience with ASAP, GLAD, Zemax, FRED, or other optical modeling software
  • Fluent in the production of optical breadboards using standard components
  • Understanding of optical component assembly/packaging processes desired
  • Strong verbal and written English communication skills

Sample job description #2

Duties and responsibilities

  • Assumes optical engineering responsibilities for optical component, module, or subsystem design from concept through final qualification
  • Coordinates with lead optical and opto-mechanical engineers and scientists in transfer to engineering prototypes
  • Performs component (active and passive) specification, design development, and qualification in the lab and on-system
  • Delivers qualification reports and makes recommendations for improvements and further work
  • Processes purchase requisitions, purchase change orders, and requests for quotes to suppliers
  • Interacts closely with development engineers, supply chain engineers, suppliers, and QA to resolve quality issues
  • Participates in preliminary and critical design reviews
  • Performs other duties as required

Education and experience

  • Master’s degree in applicable field (or bachelor’s with 2+ years work experience in relevant field)
  • Experience with sequential and non-sequential optical design and analysis software (such as: Zemax, FRED)
  • Experience with mathematical analysis tools such as MatLab and/or LabView
  • Experience with working in an optical laboratory and familiarity with optical metrology tools an advantage
  • Experience with the design and alignment of high-power laser systems and reflective focusing systems an advantage
  • Familiar with working in gated project development cycle (PDP) an advantage
  • Requirement to report on project progress with strong written and verbal communication skills
  • Skilled in using a variety of computer applications (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, e-mail) required

Solid theoretical and experimental background in some or all of

  • Optical system and component specification
  • Optical system design, analysis, and tolerancing
  • Stray light analysis
  • High-power NIR solid-state lasers and modulators (EOM, AOM, etc.)
  • Polarization management
  • Optical sensors and imaging components

Sample job description #3

Duties and responsibilites

  • Co-design, assembly, and test of optical systems. Examples of systems include flow cytometers, PCR systems, custom microscopes, and optical sensors requiring unique imaging and illumination systems
  • Ability to work within an interdisciplinary team
  • Work with the mechanical engineering team to define tolerances, and alignment methods and implement Optomechanical designs
  • Perform hands-on tests, with data collection, analysis, and presentation of data to project teams and customers
  • Provide guidance to manufacturing engineers
  • Ability to be onsite at our Sunnyvale location for optics testing and support troubleshooting efforts
  • A proven track record for troubleshooting problems
  • You need to be confident, capable of collaborating on multiple projects with interdisciplinary teams, and comfortable developing new and existing optics, both independently and in small teams
  • Your innovation is welcome and encouraged, but you must also be capable of working within project constraints and retaining compatibility with legacy designs

Required education

  • Minimum BSc in applied physics or chemistry with emphasis on optics
  • At least 2-5 years of experience in a relevant field


  • Work with senior staff to design optical systems
  • Assembly and test of imaging and illumination systems
  • Knowledge of ZEMAX or similar optical simulation packages
  • Experience with Solidworks preferred
  • Experience with optical solutions such as lens design, fiber optics, and non-imaging optics preferred
  • Development of optical systems from concept through prototypes to the introduction of manufacturing is preferred
  • Demonstrated ability to communicate clearly with interdisciplinary teams, both verbally and in writing

Average salary and compensation

The average salary for an optical imaging engineer is $92,800 in the United States. Position salary will vary based on experience, education, company size, industry, and market.

LocationSalary LowSalary High
Phoenix, Arizona$92,300 $124,850 
Los Angeles, California$104,100 $140,850 
Denver, Colorado$86,750 $117,400
Washington, DC$105,700 $143,000 
Miami, Florida$86,350$116,850 
Orlando, Florida$79,650$107,800 
Tampa, Florida$80,450 $108,850
Atlanta, Georgia$84,400 $114,200
Chicago, Illinois$97,000 $131,250 
Boston, Massachusetts$104,900 $141,950
Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota$83,600$113,100 
New York City, New York$110,450$149,400 
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania$89,900 $121,650 
Dallas, Texas$87,550 $118,450 
Houston, Texas$86,750 $117,400 
Seattle, Washington$100,950$136,600
National Average$78,900$106,700 

Sample interview questions

  • What is your experience with optical imaging engineering?
  • What are the pros and cons of using microscopes for imaging samples?
  • What are some of the qualifications necessary to be an optical imaging engineer?
  • How does the resolution of a microscope compare to that of a telescope?
  • What types of microscopes do you see in use more often, and why?
  • How would you go about determining whether or not an individual’s microscope is compatible with the software that someone uses?
  • How would you go about optimizing an optical imaging device for its intended use?
  • Who are some career figures in this field that people should be aware of?
  • How does optical imaging differ from electron microscopy?
  • What are the limitations of optical imaging devices when dealing with certain samples?
  • How can I ensure that my microscope is properly calibrated?
  • What is one field in which optical imaging is used more than any other?
  • Have you done any work with optical microscopes or other imaging devices before? If so, what kind and what was it used for?
  • What type of samples have you imaged before?

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