Amateur radio is a popular hobby and service that brings people, electronics and communication together. Given that “radio” is at the heart of the matter, it seems fair to assume that it’s practiced by those with a working knowledge of electronics, though that’s not necessarily true.
These days, most radio enthusiasts are operators, not technicians.
License testing in the United States is mostly a matter of memorization of rules and operating procedures with a handful of questions about the theory of radio and electronics thrown in for good measure.
That wasn’t the case back in our long ago when radio was home-brewed in garages and basement workshops by those who didn’t have an option to be merely “users” of the technology. Living elbow deep in the electronics honed the skills of these pioneers to the point where many exploited their new-found talent and earned a living working with vacuum tubes and solder.
In the “real” world, radio amateurs became electronics engineers, broadcast engineers, electronics technicians, radio and television repairmen. A few years later when War became global for a second time, governments took notice of the special skills possessed by these radio artisans thanks to their electronics comeuppance via hobby radio.
The point being that there once was a time when a smart radio amateur could depend on finding success in a related vocation due to the experiences gained by playing with radio.
In a previous century, I was a young engineer looking for new challenges but with an underwhelming amount of experience. I had read somewhere that an effective resume, especially one that was light on experience, should include things like membership in organizations and affiliations as a method to show potential employers commitment to the craft. For me, that included the Instrument Society of America (ISA) and the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE).
For good measure, I also included the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) in that list, figuring it couldn’t hurt to profess membership in yet another technical society.
And as it turned out, I was hired by an engineering manager who also happened to be a radio amateur. He told me later that the decision had come down to me and one other candidate and both of us were equally qualified, but he chose me because I was also a radio amateur.
Score one for the good guys, but make no mistake, this was purely serendipity. Right place, right time, right words, right guy reading my resume. The fellow who hired me had no clue if my participation in the hobby was helping to advance the art and skill of radio, or if I was just another ham.
He didn’t care and I got lucky.
The fact that most radio amateurs these days are operators and not technicians has propagated the notion that ham radio no longer prepares its practitioners for work in a technical field, and this has made the hobby seem less relevant when it comes to relatable employment opportunities.
Simply claiming ARRL membership won’t garner much gravitas in this present century. And to be certain, most of the fraternity are perfectly content to chase DX, compete in radio contests, restore antique equipment, chatter endlessly using Morse code, or any of hundreds of other ways to casually enjoy this hobby, and there is nothing wrong with that.
But don’t let that fool you into believing that ham radio is any less relevant than it used to be.
Because even in this 21st century, amateur radio continues to provide endless opportunity for the exploration of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. There’s no shortage of things to do in this hobby that can sharpen and highlight the kind of critical thinking skills that still impress would-be employers.
One of the (few) benefits of living long enough to sport gray hair is that I’m now often asked to interview and recommend new engineers for hire. And trust me, if a young engineer showed up in my office with, say, a resume detailing experiences gained by launching a high-altitude balloon with a custom payload that sent back interesting telemetry, I’d sit up and take notice.
Suppose that young engineer had been instrumental in designing and implementing a digital communications network used across their home state or perhaps they worked closely with AMSAT to develop a new CubeSat module. Maybe they developed an entirely new mode of operation or a useful smart phone app that distributes real-time HF band conditions.
If that engineer showed up in my office, with a decent GPA and those credentials, that engineer would receive an employment offer post-haste.
Work hard, study and explore all this hobby has to offer. Then don’t forget to put ham radio on your resume. It can pay off in ways you might never imagine.