Main image of article Steering a Career In Self-Driving Cars
The burgeoning self-driving car industry is expected to create $87 billion worth of opportunities for automakers and technology developers by 2030, with software emerging as the biggest winner, according to a recent report by Boston-based Lux Research. Google, Tesla, Uber, and (reportedly) Apple are all interested in the field. As companies race to produce technology and vehicles, the industry has become increasingly fertile ground for enterprising software engineers, developers, user interface specialists and other tech pros who want to put down new roots. “You don’t necessarily need a background in robotics, artificial intelligence or embedded systems,” said Mark Cunningham, owner and primary account manager for The Bidding Network, a small IT recruiting firm that fills openings in Austin, Houston, New York City and San Francisco. “Anyone with a degree in computer or electrical engineering or computer science who is smart, technically sound and a real doer should have no trouble getting an employer’s attention.” Feeling stalled? Use this roadmap to steer your career into this high-growth industry.

Find Your Niche

Technology platforms and programs don’t vary all that much from one industry to another, Cunningham said. Find your niche in the self-driving car industry by looking for connections and transferrable skills in job postings and descriptions. If you don’t know a language or program, you can probably learn it on the job, he added. Jinesh Jain is a prime example of someone who made a successful transition. He worked with machine learning in the retail industry before landing a job as a research scientist at Ford’s Research & Innovation Center in Silicon Valley. “It’s helpful to know C++ or to have experience with human-machine interaction,” Jain said. “But being adaptable and a quick learner is more important since companies that design and build robotic cars may be using a different mix of technologies or applying them in different ways.” For instance, Ford hires experts in gaming algorithms to create virtual simulations for testing purposes. They also hire cyber security engineers to develop security-related features and architecture for autonomous driving and vehicle-to-vehicle communication. You’ll need a specific background in robotics, mathematics and possibly image processing or artificial intelligence to work on the “sensor side of things,” noted Glen DeVos, vice president of global advanced and product engineering for Delphi. But the software side of the industry is wide open for software engineers and developers looking to make a transition.

Brand Yourself as a “Doer”

Career-changers should always highlight their transferrable technical skills and experience at the top of their resume. Providing a detailed account of projects, the ways you’ve applied your skills, and the problems you’ve solved is key to grabbing the attention of hiring managers in any automobile-related industry or tech segment. “Forget big titles,” said Cunningham. “The robotic car industry is looking for risk-takers and hands-on contributors. Use modest titles and focus on achievements and previous B2C experience to portray yourself as a doer in your resume.” If you’ve completed a Coursera course in robotics or built your own robot, highlighting that information can help push your resume to the top of the stack. Employers are looking for curious problem-solvers. “Successful candidates bring a fresh set of eyes and new ideas,” Jain said. “The auto industry is on the cusp of a great transition so, we’re looking for people who can drive innovation.”

Demonstrate Passion

Rubbing elbows with prospective colleagues at meetups for autonomous vehicle enthusiasts or deep learning events is a great way to build your network, acquire new skills and demonstrate passion for the industry’s goals that includes the development of cutting edge technology. Employees in the field and hiring managers also hang out at Autotech Council meetings; some employers are sponsoring hackathons, developer conferences and open houses to educate and attract prospective employees, so look out for those. “We always look for passion when we consider a candidate,” DeVos said. “Being interested in the automotive industry or working on cars in your spare time is definitely a plus.”