The Lighting Industry Needs Engineers With Diverse Backgrounds

Companies are looking for computer and software engineers as well as those with Internet of Things experience

23 February 2017

Director of smart lighting, lead Internet of Things engineer, and vice president of privacy are just some of the new titles popping up in lighting-industry job listings. The position of chief technology officer was unheard of in the field just two years ago, but now it’s a key role to help companies deal with the fast pace of technological advances, according to an article on the Illuminating Engineering Society website.

Different types of engineers are needed because today’s lighting systems don’t rely on plain vanilla incandescent bulbs anymore. Rather, lighting systems are likely to be comprised of networked, sensor-laden LED bulbs. Traditional lighting companies, like Lutron and Philips, are facing stiff competition from the likes of Apple, Cisco, Google, and IBM, which are looking for engineers to help them develop the next generation of lighting systems.

Companies striving to create intelligent lighting require engineers who can design a system that involves applying LED bulbs equipped with sensors and chips, writing software to collect and analyze the data the bulbs are sending to the cloud, and protecting the data from hackers.

“The technical sophistication required of engineers in the lighting industry has increased significantly in recent years because light is now a digital product,” says Mary Lindenmuth, recruiting director of the Pompeo Group, a recruitment firm for the lighting industry, in Carlsbad, Calif.

IN-DEMAND SKILLS

Computer, firmware, and software engineers are the most sought-after in the lighting industry, Lindenmuth says. Firmware engineers write software for embedded systems. A background working on cloud technology, building mobile apps, or designing software for IoT applications is especially attractive to employers, she says.

Also valuable is experience with wireless protocols used to connect devices, including Bluetooth, RFID, and ZigBee—the IEEE 802.15.4 standard for high-level communication protocols used in personal area networks, including ones for home automation. Prior work with smart devices, whether with appliances, connected cars, or phone applications, shows employers that you have the technical skills they’re looking for, Lindenmuth adds.

High-level managers with a decade of experience supervising controls and automation projects leading to today’s smart lighting projects are in demand, too, she says, adding that “engineers with a creative nature who bring their ideas to the table are highly valued as well.”

Those who do take on leadership positions must be able to adapt in a fast-changing environment, says Eric Graettinger, vice president of Peter Basso Associates, an engineering firm in Ann Arbor, Michigan, specializing in sustainable design, including lighting systems.

“The speed at which these lighting systems are advancing is a challenge,” Graettinger says. “New versions of the same product could emerge in six-month cycles, yet the design and construction of a building that the system is going into can take two or three years.”

“Fifteen years ago, the majority of the lighting industry didn’t take LEDs seriously, used as they were primarily for Christmas lights and décor but not to illuminate a space,” says Paul Pompeo, founder and principal of the Pompeo Group. “Today it’s difficult to find a lighting company that doesn’t use LEDs as its primary lighting source. The industry has evolved and continues to evolve.”

Moreover, there are fewer companies that manufacture only bulbs or fixtures, Pompeo says. “Leaders in the lighting industry are repositioning themselves as full-service companies that can design, install, monitor, and protect lighting systems,” he says.

BREAKING IN

Pompeo acknowledges that it can be difficult for engineers without lighting experience to break into the field, and it’s rare for companies to train technical professionals new to lighting. That’s why it’s key for engineers to educate themselves.

“Engineering professionals who can demonstrate they’ve taken the initiative to learn about the lighting industry increase their chances of their résumé being considered for open job opportunities,” Pompeo says.

Attending trade shows and conferences is a great way to learn about advances in lighting as well as to network and meet with recruiters. These events often offer courses, including beginner-level tutorials, on such topics as designing LED bulbs and connecting lighting systems to the Internet of Things. During the past two years, representatives from Cisco and other large companies have begun participating in the trade shows and conferences, Lindenmuth notes.

Another way to get involved is by joining a technical association such as the Illuminating Engineering Society, which offers events throughout North America, Pompeo says. Members get access to training opportunities and job openings, and can help develop standards and participate in other activities. The IEEE Photonics Society also offers resources and ways to get involved in the field.

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