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5 skills you need to become a photonics engineer

25 Oct 2023

Photonics engineers can work in sectors like manufacturing, energy, telecoms and medicine. It is a deep-tech job with a lot of applications.

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Photonics is a branch of science that involves the generation, detection and manipulation of light for practical applications. Engineers in this field are employed in a variety of industries and are involved in the creation and refinement of products that use lasers, optics, fibre optics and imaging tech – collectively known as photonics.

A traditional engineering degree can get you into a photonics engineering position, but the job’s technicality and level of specialisation mean photonics engineers require their own unique skills. Let’s shed some light – pun intended – on what attributes and expertise you should work on if you want to work in photonics.


It’s really important to know the potential applications of photonics tech. That way you can always create a niche for yourself in whatever sector you want to break into. Seeing as photonics is considered ‘deep tech’ – or a niche area of sci-tech research – you can safely assume that not a lot of people know what kinds of things photonics engineers can help them with.

You have to be willing to experiment and create prototypes in order to show fellow sci-tech people how your skills can benefit their work. For example, photonics engineers can create lasers that cut through raw materials for manufacturing or lasers that can be used to perform delicate surgeries like eye surgery.

Fibre optics

Optical fibres are plastic or glass fibres that can transmit light and data from one point to another. The tech is used by the telecoms industry as it is useful for relaying messages – particularly over very long distances.

While there is a branch of engineering dedicated solely to fibre optics, photonics engineers should be well-versed in how to leverage these materials too. They are often involved in the design of components and lasers used in fibre-optic systems. As well as this, they research the best types of materials to use in fibre-optic systems.

Mechanical and physics skills

You have to be pretty adept at physics and mechanics if you want to work as a photonics engineer. As part of your work, you’ll be using equipment like optical modulators, which are devices used to modify and manipulate laser beams.

You’ll also need to be able to use very specialised software tools to carry out your duties. A lot of a photonics engineer’s prototyping work is done using software.

Programming languages

C and C++ and Python are fairly commonly used programming languages, and they are particularly useful for photonics engineers. C and C++ are the programming languages behind LabVIEW, an engineering software platform that photonics engineers can use to test and develop programmes. It’s a cross-platform tool available to download here.

If you want to find out more about C and C++, we have written about learning paths for them here and compiled a list of ways to brush up on Python here.


Good problem-solving skills are essential for anyone working in deep tech and photonics is no different. It can be equal parts frustrating and rewarding working so hard to try and create something useful for a particular industry. Just like any highly technical job, some days you will have breakthroughs and other days will be punctuated by software failings and headaches.

Keeping a cool head, learning how to communicate and collaborating well with others are essential skills to thrive in this field.

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Blathnaid O’Dea
By Blathnaid O’Dea

Blathnaid O’Dea worked as a Careers reporter until 2024, coming from a background in the Humanities. She likes people, pranking, pictures of puffins – and apparently alliteration.

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