Automakers’ Need for Engineers, Developers Greater Than Ever

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As automobiles’ on-board systems become more advanced, the need for software developers and engineers with a variety of skills continues to rise. A scan of car-related job postings on Dice reveals a need for tech pros adept in data warehousing, analytics, Java/J2EE, testing, scripting and building apps, among other skills.

Nor is that need restricted to one or two manufacturers: Honda, GM, Ford, BMW, Volvo, Volkswagen and Mercedes are just a handful of the brands on the lookout for those adept in the latest tech.

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What’s driving (so to speak) this desire for developers, programmers and engineers? Some of it stems from automakers wanting to store, analyze and act upon the mountains of data flowing from the next generation of car sensors and on-board software. Another factor is increasingly sophisticated dashboard systems, which demand developers and programmers to create an ever-expanding collection of apps and features. The third—one that could become much more prevalent in coming years—is the rise of self-driving vehicles.

Car manufacturers have spent the past several years exploring the possibilities of self-driving technology. Late last year, Volvo announced that, as part of a pilot program, it would place 100 autonomous vehicles on the roads near the Swedish town of Goteborg by 2017. Nissan, Audi, Mercedes and others have also toyed with the technology, at least based on recent job postings for driving engineers and software developers.

The biggest challenge confronting anyone who wants to design a self-driving car is, simply put, the computational complexity facing any vehicle on the open road. Even in an ostensibly easy-to-manage driving situation, such as a two-lane residential road with virtually no traffic, a robot-guided vehicle will need to cruise past any errant drivers, bicyclists, scampering children, unexpected obstacles and road construction with nary a scratch; in a crowded city, or on the open highway, the potential for an accident increases along with the elements in play.

Google claims that its self-driving cars have gotten smart enough to handle “easy” streets, such as the sleepy residential ones found in its headquarters’ town of Mountain View, Calif. “We’ve improved our software so it can detect hundreds of distinct objects simultaneously—pedestrians, buses, a stop sign held up by a crossing guard, or a cyclist making gestures that indicate a possible turn,” read an April 28 posting on Google’s official blog.

But that’s only after a combined 700,000 driving miles’ worth of data; Google cars’ onboard computers would probably still have significant issues with navigating through, say, midtown Manhattan. So there’s a lot of room for innovation, provided a manufacturer is willing to devote the time and funds.

Meanwhile, Tesla’s recent decision to “open source” its patents could have a seismic effect on the hardware and mechanics aspect of building electric vehicles, which in turn could influence how Google and other manufacturers build smaller, more efficient self-driving cars. (Speaking of Google, Tesla CEO Elon Musk and his executives once considered Android as an in-car software platform, but ultimately felt it wasn’t ready to serve in an automotive capacity.)

If all these tech and automotive companies fulfill all or part of their current strategies, the roads of a decade from now will look very different from today. Tech pros with the right skills could play the most important role in that evolution.

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