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

[Your Company Name] is hiring an experienced optical imaging engineer in [Your City}. The selected candidate will be tasked with working on a team developing optical instrumentation and software for imaging. Our optical imaging engineer will be responsible for researching and designing new systems used in the development of consumer products, electronic components, and hospital equipment. They will work under the supervision of scientists or engineers in order to create these devices that are used to produce results with imaging.

Typical duties and responsibilities

  • Creating new imaging solutions for end-users
  • Determine equipment needs
  • Sourcing available technology
  • Testing the equipment prior to deployment
  • Ensure that all their tests remain confidential while working in a lab setting.
  • Knowledge of optomechanical design and electro-optics; optical design; system engineering
  • Troubleshooting new equipment that has been purchased by a client
  • Report progress to a manager or higher-ranking professional during regular meetings

Education and experience

  • A Bachelor’s degree in optics, engineering, or physics
  • Familiarity with design software for optics and lasers such as MathCAD, LabVIEW, MATLAB
  • Understanding of various imaging techniques such as confocal microscopy, fluorescence spectroscopy, laser scanning confocal microscopy
  • Having 3 years of experience in their field is also beneficial

Required skills and qualifications

  • A strong background in physics and math
  • The ability to communicate effectively with others, especially those who are higher up in the company
  • A strong eye for detail
  • Being a relatively organized person, as required by most larger companies
  • Knowledge of how to design imaging systems using lenses and mirrors is not necessarily required, but knowledge of why they work that way definitely makes you stick out from the crowd

Preferred qualifications

  • Experience working in a field that requires attention to detail
  • The ability to work well under pressure and meet tight deadlines
  • Some knowledge of lasers, especially if you already have experience with beam shaping or optical fibers
  • Having some knowledge of how imaging systems work and knowing the difference between them would be helpful when designing new equipment for clients

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 

Typical work environment

As a general rule, optical imaging engineers work in clean and comfortable laboratories where they have access to modern equipment. This is especially important as these professionals often deal with delicate instruments that must be kept from the dust and dirt that can damage them.

Typical hours

In order to keep up with their work, you may find that many of these specialists work long hours in which they have to put in a great deal of effort. Higher-level positions may only require around 40 hours per week, but those with less experience will likely be expected to put in long hours during their early stages of employment. They work the typical 9 AM to 5 PM hours.

Available certifications

There are no certification exams or designations required to become an optical imaging engineer. However, those who wish to advance their careers will find themselves able to take part in many courses and seminars offered by universities and the like. These professionals may also be able to gain special certification for certain equipment such as microscopes and other instruments.

Career path

Due to the relatively small number of optical imaging engineers, there are few traditional paths for this career. However, those who find themselves working in this field can expect to start out at a junior or entry-level position and work their way up as they gain experience.

One path that some opt to take is finding a position with one company and then moving into a different department within that same company. For example, a young optical imaging engineer might start out working with microscopy equipment and eventually work his/her way up to be in charge of designing new instruments for one of their clients.

US, Bureau of Labor Statistics’ job outlook

SOC Code: 17-2031

2020 Employment19,300
Projected Employment in 203020,400
Projected 2020-2030 Percentage Shift 6% increase
Projected 2020-2030 Numeric Shift1,100 increase

As technology continues to advance, optical imaging solutions specialists will find that there is always work available for them. More and more people are experimenting with lasers and optical equipment every day, which means that this profession should never become obsolete.

The job outlook for optical imaging engineers is very positive. You can expect to see many new types of imaging being developed in the coming years, so optical imaging solutions specialists will always find themselves in demand. Those with experience and education may be able to progress into higher levels, such as a manager or executive of a company.

With their increased use of modern equipment, we can expect to see this field expand and develop into new areas and techniques at a rapid rate over the coming years. As more and more imaging devices are needed, it is expected that there will be a high demand for optical imaging engineers during all stages of employment. However, those with a college degree should have the best prospects.

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 he/she 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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