Pittsburgh’s top tech sectors are robotics and autonomy, but landing a job at one of the many companies here requires a certain type of skillset and mindset.
To find out what coding languages, past technical experiences, problem-solving skills and even people skills are needed for a career in these fields, Technical.ly reached out to hiring managers eight local companies focused on developing robotics and autonomous technology.
In asking each of them two questions — what skills does an applicant need and where can they get them — we gathered insights on what some of the most forward-thinking companies in the area look for in job candidates.
Across companies big and small, with innovation in all sorts of robotics and autonomy applications, hiring managers shared that they look for a mix of technical and people skills, and that a creative approach is an asset.
Read the email responses from all of the hiring managers Technical.ly spoke to below, and unlearn the myth that you need a master’s degree in engineering to excel at these companies.
The more technical skills, the better
Near Earth Autonomy: “We look for robotics engineering candidates with skills and experience in perception, motion planning, localization, mapping, SLAM, calibration, algorithm development, C++ software development skills, and ROS experience,” said Technical Recruiter Megan Zimmerman. “While general software skills in various languages are common within the tech industry, we particularly look for those who have specific experience within the robotics or autonomous vehicle industry.”
Locomation: “For tech and engineering positions, skills that set candidates apart are industry knowledge and experience, cultural fit (collaborative, hardworking, passionate, determined, curious, etc.), experience working with a subset of camera, LIDAR, and radar data, and C++ and Python coding skills,” said Technical Recruiter Lindsey Mercer.
Aurora: “When it comes to hiring for our engineering roles, we are a multi-language company,” said VP of People Tara Green. “We use several languages, including C++ and Python, which provides value as each language has properties that are appropriate for specific applications.”
RE2 Robotics: “For our software engineers, we are looking for candidates who have coded in C++, have a demonstrated ability to be resourceful, and have a constant quest for increasing their knowledge,” said Manager of Recruitment and Human Resources Marsha Simek. “We are also looking for folks who specialize in computer vision and autonomy—those who have desired skillsets in manipulation, path planning, visualization, and vision processing. We’re also seeking talented electrical engineers who have experience with multi-layer PCB design, FEA, and cable design.” Robotics experience, she added, is appreciated, though not required.
Mindset is what matters
Seegrid: “Our company has a team-oriented mindset where everyone works and wins together, creating a culture of trust through transparency. A key component of building a diverse team who shares a unified bond for what we do is recruiting kind, curious, and driven individuals,” said Senior Director of People Operations Bud Leeper. “Together, these traits create authenticity, where our employees are passionate about their work, openly communicate with one another, and do what’s best for our customers and company. Collaboration and curiosity propel innovation, which is something we greatly value as a company within the technology sector.”
Gecko Robotics: “Outside of these primary [technical] skills, we look for someone who is adaptable, an innovative thinker, and willing to take risks,” said Director of HR and Talent Acquisition Falon Fox. “Someone who wants to build cutting-edge technology, make an impact in their day-to-day work, and come to work excited to solve hard problems for our customers – whether internal or end users.”
IAM Robotics: “Some top items we particularly look for are personability and culture fit,” representatives from the company’s People Operations team said. “We have found that recruiting for professional skills is just as important as personal skills, so while we do look at technical skillsets, we also evaluate the soft skills of candidates to be sure they are a good cultural fit for our team.”
Do you need to have a master’s in engineering?
Argo AI: “While many of the research type problems are worked on by folks out of [top robotics] schools, it is also important for the industry to address the gap in robotics education and create a pipeline for all up-and-coming tech talent,” said Director of Talent Zack Katic, adding that Argo worked with SAE to develop a curriculum to do just that. “The course is an Autonomous Vehicles Systems Bootcamp that will strengthen the individual’s knowledge of the industry, helping their interviewing chances and ultimately allowing folks to ramp up much quicker once they start.”
Near Earth Autonomy: “Experience is the best way to gain the skills that we look for. For experienced professionals, that means prior work experience in other autonomous or robotics companies,” said Zimmerman. “Relevant coursework and a master’s degree helps students to achieve that; however, we also really value hands-on experience. This can come from related internships or co-ops with robotics or autonomy companies and participation in associated clubs.”
IAM Robotics: “Having a master’s from a prestigious university isn’t a guarantee for any candidate! It might help get you in the door, but not always,” said a message from the people operations team, adding that well-rounded candidates are the best ones.”We like to have a technical interview at the end of our recruiting process where the candidate will interview with a handful of engineers to see how you collaborate as you walk through your work. We want to see how your brain works and how you adjust to problems that may arise and this allows for more open dialogue to hone in on the needed skills needed for the position.”
Sophie Burkholder is a 2021-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments.