How to Break Into Some of the Fastest-Growing Tech Fields

IEEE resources to help members launch successful careers in big data, software-defined networking, and biomedical engineering

7 September 2016

Are you a recent grad wondering how to establish yourself in a burgeoning field, or are you a working engineer looking to take your career in a different direction? IEEE can help. The Institute has compiled tips from experts on how to break into some of the fastest-growing technology sectors. IEEE also offers many educational resources.


Because more devices are being connected to the Internet every day, there’s a large demand for those with big-data skills. Forbes magazine reported that in 2015 alone, Cisco, IBM, and Oracle together advertised nearly 27,000 job openings that required expertise in this area.

Three important skills are needed, according to Dennis Shasha, associate director of NYU Wireless, a research institute at New York University. The first is an understanding of databases and how they manage large amounts of data. Next is knowledge about machine learning and data mining, which allow inferences to be made from data. Last is a grasp of statistics, so you can estimate the reliability of your conclusions.

It also helps to have an inquisitive personality—a cross between that of a detective and a journalist. “The more questions you ask,” Shasha says, “the more you’ll learn from the data.”

Big data has applications in every field and every industry, says IEEE Fellow Manish Parashar, founding director of the Rutgers Discovery Informatics Institute, in Piscataway, N.J. He notes that people already working in electrical engineering, computer science, or another high-tech field could move their career in that direction by adding data-science skills to their knowledge base.

The IEEE Big Data initiative offers several resources, which are listed on its Web portal.

A free online course, Introduction to Data Storage and Management Technologies, covers different types of systems and networking techniques as well as concepts related to business continuity, data security, and data management. The course is available on demand at, the IEEE portal of edX, a provider of massive open online courses (MOOCs).


Software-defined networks decouple hardware (such as for forwarding IP packets) from software (the control plane that carries signaling traffic for routing through the network devices). SDNs execute such software not necessarily in the equipment but either in the cloud or in clusters of distributed IT servers. These networks are bound to become increasingly popular as more open-source software becomes available and traffic on telecommunications networks skyrockets.

With the softwarization of telecommunications infrastructures, IEEE Member Antonio Manzalini, cochair of the IEEE Software Defined Networks initiative, says engineers will need several skills to develop SDN tools, products, infrastructure, and applications. Included is an understanding of industrial mathematics, a mastery of software architecture and open-source software, a background in big-data analytics and, last but not least, cybersecurity expertise—“because security must be everywhere within SDNs,” Manzalini says.

The SDN initiative offers educational resources on its Web portal, including introductory tutorials that focus on the concepts behind SDNs and their roles in the networking market. There’s also a two-part course, Introduction to Software-Defined Networking, taught by IEEE Fellow Raj Jain, a professor of computer science and engineering at Washington University in St. Louis.


The field of medicine needs people who understand technologies like automation, computing, diagnostics, imaging, and product safety, says IEEE Fellow Donna Hudson, chair of the IEEE Life Sciences Technical Community. In other words, it needs biomedical engineers.

Just about anyone already working in technology could switch over to the life sciences, Hudson says, although it’s helpful to have a working knowledge of biology. That can be gained through a few introductory courses on such topics as anatomy, cell biology, and epidemiology.

For some areas—such as medical informatics, which combines medicine and computing—getting a doctorate or master’s degree in biology or a related field might be necessary. For those unsure of which area of the life sciences to pursue, it is helpful to talk with those working in different aspects of medicine.

There are also MOOCs available on On-demand courses include So You Want to Become a Biomedical Engineer, a free four-week class that provides an overview of the key areas of biomedical engineering, as well as its recent advances. The course also provides tips on how to navigate a successful career in the field.

Those ready to take the plunge into biomedical engineering can sign up for the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society’s annual summer schools. Each summer program typically lasts for 7 to 10 days, bringing together students and professionals in industry and academia. Scholarships are available for students with need who wish to attend. 

This article is part of our September 2016 special issue on The State of Engineering Education.

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