Over the past few weeks, I’ve come across questions in forums of people asking about getting into signal processing related fields. I’ve responded to a few, as this is also an interest of mine. One response turned out to be a blog post in a sense. I decided to repost on share it here:


Do you need a PHD to be a research scientist or algorithm engineer in signal processing?


No, you don’t need a PhD to be a research scientist or algorithm engineer in signal processing. Julius O. Smith III is a professor/researcher at Stanford who has contributed greatly to the field and is considered an authority. He wrote a post detailing how he got to where he is today. It is an interesting read worth checking out. Although, he did end up getting his PhD, he was working as a digital signal processing engineer right out of undergrad. One of the lessons I feel he was trying to share with his story is to just take small steps towards your goals and put yourself in the best situation you can. Attend a related conference, pick a project to implement and share it with this community and get feedback, take a job that is a step in the right direction (but might not be exactly the end destination), etc.

In his words:

“… opportunities are unpredictable! I did not foresee any of the career opportunities I ultimately pursued.”

It’s counter-intuitive, but getting a position through cold applying to a job posting is not easy. It’s possible and people do it, but the odds aren’t in your favor; especially with the processes and organizations that are put in place even before you are able to get access to the individuals you will actually work with.

At the end of the day, an organization wants to hire someone who they believe will ultimately bring business value and positively affect their bottom line. When I say this, I am also speaking to myself, but an effective way to demonstrate this is through building relationships and strengthening your “brand”. Marketing often has a negative connotation with engineers and sometimes it indeed can be executed distastefully; but at its core, you are simply “connecting people who want what you have to offer with you”. Even Smith (mentioned above) said:

“As the Internet grows, it becomes more and more important to have name/brand recognition, simply because there is too much out there to look at.”

Trust me, if the best signal processing engineer in the world did not have a PhD, they’d still be highly coveted. How does someone become the best signal processing engineer in the world? In part by marketing. If you are the best, and no one knows who you are, you can have some successes; but when people know you and your value, opportunities will present themselves.

I researched and wrote a post on audio signal processing jobs postings because I was curious about the available opportunities and also the field felt like a black box.

Let’s look at two postings listed in the post:

Oculus Research Audio Software Engineer (Bachelors required)
iZotope DSP Research Engineer (PhD preferred).

Both positions are research related but have different education requirements (one being a bachelors degree while the other is a graduate degree). Both desire someone who can produce solutions for “novel” problems. Both want someone who is competent in a programming language … it seems to me that it’s possible that educational achievements might just be one of the many marketing techniques that provide a cue to an employer of the value you bring to solve their problems at hand.