When I started as an undergraduate at Carnegie Mellon University, I had no idea exactly where the field of robotics would take me. I first made robotic snakes for pipe inspection and search-and-rescue applications. From there, I found myself incorporating robotic technology into products that helped infants and children. And, following these twists and turns, now I’m working on one of the moonshots at X that has robotics at its core.
Last week, X hosted a Women in Robotics event at our Mountain View home to discuss not only the kinds of open roles for which we’re hiring, but also what to expect when pursuing a career in robotics. Whether you’re just getting started or already an expert, you’ll find yourself best served if you expect — and remain open to — the unexpected paths that will open for you in this inspiring and constantly evolving field.
Robotics team members speaking at a Women in Robotics event at X
In robotics, we’re building extremely complex systems. Think for a moment about how critical it is for a robot to be able to sense its surrounding environment in order to operate in the real world. Sure, we can install sensors, but where should the sensors be mounted? How will we power them? How will we process the data the sensors gather? Answering these questions requires a range of different skills and expertise.
Enabling a robot to sense its environment is just one small example of the cross-disciplinary input you need everyday in robotics. Robotics teams require the contributions of machine learning specialists, hardware engineers, software engineers, mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, program managers, technical managers, support staff, testing and reliability leads, designers, and other colleagues. Regardless of the role, the people who I’ve seen succeed in a nascent industry like robotics are driven to solve real-world problems, communicate effectively, and feel comfortable with experimenting, failing, and pivoting.
If you have experience with developing and launching products, whether hardware or software, you might love exploring a comparable role in robotics. And if you’re not a Ph.D.-level roboticist, that doesn’t mean you can’t find an ideal opportunity that matches your background within the broader field of robotics.
As you’re considering where to work, remember that your environment will have a major impact on the skills you build and how you spend your time. Take the time to ask yourself some key questions: Where are you in your career? How do you envision spending your days? What do you find most fulfilling? Do you like to work on really big, audacious engineering challenges? Enjoy managing and scaling early-stage products? Love spending your days with a group of people trying to solve really hard problems? Want to see your work have a large impact on the world?
If you choose to work at a smaller or early-stage company, you’ll likely find yourself wearing a lot of hats. I’m a mechanical engineer by training, but while working at a startup I also had to jump in to help with software and electrical engineering — and marketing and sales — simply because there was no one else there to do it.
Now that I head a mechanical engineering team, I’m grateful to apply these multidisciplinary experiences to help my team collaborate across functions. Understanding the importance of different skills can be critical for solving the hard problems we work through every day. And as you navigate your own career path, think ahead and work toward what you want, but be open to embracing unanticipated responsibilities as opportunities.
Sometimes the job description isn’t the job, and sometimes the job doesn’t have a job description. In such a competitive and ever-evolving field as robotics, confidentiality is incredibly important, so you might be excited, relieved, or even confused to learn that sometimes companies are hiring for openings they don’t post publicly or that the roles they do publish can be intentionally quite vague.
For example, at X we have multiple projects going on at any given time and their needs frequently change. Are you looking for roles in HRI, locomotion, perception, or another precise focus? Is your interest or expertise arm-based, mobile-based, or in soft robotics? Making these details clear will help your resume reach the most relevant team. Even if one opportunity doesn’t work out or the timing isn’t right, many companies regularly revisit candidates.
Reflecting on my own career, I believe it’s such an exciting time to be involved and engaged with the kinds of problems robotics has the potential to help solve. One of the qualities I value tremendously here, is that a typical project-timeline runway is somewhere between 5 and 10 years, which means we have the time to pursue radical new approaches to really big problems in the world. That said, we’re not a research organization. We make contact with the real world early and often, so while we think and plan long term, we’re focused on validating that our work has meaningful applications. If you find this exciting too, we hope you’ll have a look at at our open roles at X.