Have you heard the news? Robots are invading the workplace and no, it’s not a late night rerun on Syfy. Across the globe programmable machines are maintaining inventory, manufacturing products, zapping tumors, building prosthetic limbs and even conducting dangerous military missions. But primed IT professionals do not fear a robotic incursion – they see it as an opportunity.
Robotics ranked third in a list of indispensable IT skills of the future compiled by Stacy Collett for Computerworld.
“Robots will have taken over more jobs by 2020,” according to Joseph Coates, a consulting futurist in Washington. IT workers specializing in robotics will see job opportunities in all markets, and, he adds “you can think of [robots] as humanlike devices, but you have to widen that to talk about anything that is automated.”
Robotics jobs will involve research, maintenance and repair. Specialists will explore uses for the technology in vertical markets. For example, some roboticists might specialize in health care, developing equipment for use in rehabilitation facilities, while others might create devices for the handicapped or learning tools for children.
Candidates with a background in software, mechanical, electrical or industrial engineering and a keen interest in robotics are in high demand in early stage companies. Not enamored by a career in R&D? No problem – engineers and computer science majors are also needed to work as product managers, workflow solutions analysts and trainers.
“Due to the precise nature of this disruptive technology, we expect to train new hires for the first six months,” says Greg Seago, senior recruiter with Accuray based in Sunnyvale, CA. The company designs and builds the CyberKnife, which eradicates tumors using a particle beam.
“We also look for computer science majors to install, maintain and upgrade the equipment and you don’t need a degree to work in manufacturing,” he says.
In addition to the allure of working with cutting edge technology, recruiters point out the altruistic nature and environmental benefits of robotic systems to woo candidates.
“This technology is quiet and clean; it’s like riding in a spaceship instead of a horse and buggy,” says Thomas Casparis, recruiting manager for Kiva Systems, a manufacturer of robotic supply chain systems based in Woburn, MA. The company also hires candidates with strong math aptitudes to conduct simulations and vocational school graduates to service robotic systems.
“Candidates need software knowledge but not necessarily programming skills,” says Casparis. “They can prepare for a successful transition by becoming familiar with SQL querying, scripting and database architecture.”
Although each firm employs a unique software configuration, many “bots” run on Linux, UNIX, C++ and Java. And because each portion of the robot has its own operating system, firms often hire software integrators and algorithm experts to make the parts work in unison.
Robot manufacturers aren’t the only companies hiring IT professionals. As private sector companies install more systems, they’re adding robotic experts to their own payroll and third party servicing firms are coming online to handle the burgeoning demand for maintenance and upgrades.
If you’ve always wanted to work in defense, now’s your chance. An estimated 10,000 people are working in the Southern California drone industry according to an article in the Los Angeles Times, which also notes that Boeing and Lockheed Martin are currently vying for new contracts. And there are opportunities in small firms across the U.S. which design and build a variety of “bots” for the DOD including the bomb disposal robot seen in the academy award winning film, “The Hurt Locker.”
More universities are integrating robotics into their computer science and engineering curriculums and some offer dedicated bachelor’s or advanced degrees. For instance, Carnegie Mellon has a Robotics Institute and Oregon State University has a club for robot fanatics.
Many community colleges and trade schools now offer certification programs covering the installation, repair and programming of robots, especially in regions replete with manufacturing and distribution companies.
And while you’re on campus, be sure to enroll in soft skills training.
“The only way to design and build robots is with cross-functional teams,” says Seago. “So if IT professionals want to transition into the industry, they definitely need top notch collaboration and communication skills.”