Why Learn About Communication Systems
One of the hardest choices I had in my engineering career was the path within electrical engineering to specialize in. There are many areas RF, circuit design, optoelectronics, control systems, power electronics, DSP, communications, and more. While contemplating the areas of electrical engineering I decided to see which had the highest potential for economic return, and what area was at the heart of most technology. I chose to specialize in DSP and communications for a few very specific reasons, (1) it is the heart of why we use technology, (2) communications engineers are among the highest paid, and can work in multiple industries, and (3) extensive use of mathematical models.
It’s the Heart of Technology
I found that I value the ability to communicate with others very highly. After a week or so of taking inventory of what I used the most, communications was the clear winner. If you think about your daily life at work and home, communications is likely at the core of your use of technology. To understand this lets look at what a communications system does.
What is a Communication System
We can model a communications system with five parts where each are essential to the successful transfer of information from one entity to another. These five subsystems are shown below in the diagram.
What Role Do You Play?
The first communication system ever is build directly into our bodies and our environment. Our brain (information source) processes information and passes it to our vocal system (transmitter) the message is then sent through the air (channel) to the other persons ears (receiver). The message is then processed by their brain (information destination). This example is one that everyone can relate to.
The internet is another communication system, although it is much more complex it is comprised of the five subsystems shown above. Humans are the information source and destination most of the time. Computers (smart phones, desktops, laptops, servers, etc) serve as the transmitter and receivers. When a device operates as both a transmitter and receiver it is also referred to as a transceiver. The connection to the internet serves as the channel. This general overview is skipping a lot of complexity, but if you want more details just let me know in the comments.
The complexity of each of the five subsystems can vary greatly, but the above examples shows the core of what every communication system is trying to accomplish.
Economic Value and Flexibility
According to paysa.com the average salary of a communications engineer is $100,463. In my own conversations with mentors and other engineers, I’ve found that the opportunities as a communications engineer are the best. The base salary is among the highest and you have the ability to work an a large variety of projects. Satellites, rockets, computers, radios, airplanes, and other systems all need communication systems in order to function. There are plenty of opportunities in telecom, defense, even consumer product design. Pick a product and there is likely a communications engineer somewhere along the way to making that product work. The internet of things (IOT) is becoming more popular and with that will be even more opportunities.
Another advantage to communications is the amount of programming you have the opportunity to do. Some people I have known avoid the programming, which you can do, but programming is among one of the best skills you can use for creating, testing, and maintaining communication systems. Programming and communications can open up opportunities in even more industries. The possibilities are only limited by your creativity and ability to sale.
Lets be honest, if you don’t like math this is NOT a field for you. I have studied math with a passion for the past 6 years. I even co-authored a calculus textbook. So to say I like math is an understatement. Communications engineering has a ton of math. Probabilities, statistics, calculus, and linear algebra were used everyday (sometimes all in the same problem) while studying communication engineering.
Here is a photo of a problem I needed to solve. This is finding the basis functions using the Gram-Schmidt procedure. This is a fairly simple and straightforward problem.
In the end there is so much more to cover here, but I tried to keep it as simple and high level as possible. I’ll have the details within separate posts or videos so that you can get more details if you want. I hope you enjoyed my article and found it helpful. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.