How to Become a Robotics Engineer From Scratch in 2023

Thanks to media portrayals, it’s easy to think of robots as foreign creatures made to take over our world. In reality, robots are incredibly smart machines that aid individuals and organizations in problem-solving every day. Those solutions might be as impactful as the Packbots used to inspect damage at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station in 2011 — or as mundane as a Roomba cleaning up the cat hair on your rug so you don’t have to. For these inventions and many more, we have robotics engineers to thank.

Robotics engineering is a growing field that entails a combination of data analysis, engineering, and computer science. People working in these fields use software and mechanical hardware to design, build, and test robots and their related machine-based processes.

That said, each robotics engineering job is unique, and the practicalities of a job in this field often depend on the person’s background. While robotics engineers with coding backgrounds tend to focus more on the software side of things, those with mechanical engineering backgrounds lean toward the physical components of a robot.

Regardless of their position, all robotics engineers should be well-versed in math, electronics, and computer science; should have at least a basic understanding of coding languages; and should be able to work well within a team. While the skills required often take time and effort to acquire, there are clear steps you can take to start your career in robotics engineering.

As with any career path, it’s important to get a clear understanding of what robotics engineering jobs look like before you begin pursuing them so you can determine a) whether this field connects with your goals and interests, and b) whether you are prepared to take steps to pursue such a job. While becoming a mechanical engineer will look different for everyone, the path into the field generally encompasses four key steps:

  1. Obtaining an education
  2. Gaining experience
  3. Joining relevant organizations
  4. Applying for jobs

The upskilling process requires time and commitment, but can result in a lucrative and fulfilling career with plenty of growth opportunities.

Step 1: Pursue a robotics engineer education

Robotics engineering is a relatively new area of study, so there are only a handful of formal programs designed to prepare learners for a career in this field. However, there are many alternative pathways into the field — so you can choose the route that’s right for you.

Robotics engineering is a complex field built on advanced mathematics, engineering, and computer science concepts, so it’s important to have a solid foundation in these subjects. For many, the first step toward a robotics career is an undergraduate degree focused on mathematics, engineering, or computer science. Studying computer science will prepare you for the coding aspects of the job, while mechanical engineering will prepare you for building a robot’s hardware. You should also take stock of where your interests lie and consider which aspects of this career are most appealing to you before deciding on a major.

Pursuing a graduate degree in a related field can also help prepare you for a career in robotics, however, there are other paths available to you if you prefer a shorter educational timeline.

Boot camps, for instance, are an excellent way to jump-start or transition your career, as they are focused on developing specific skills and preparing you for this line of work. A boot camp focused on coding or data analytics, for example, will teach many hard skills that can be applied to robotics engineering, as well as offer career services and networking opportunities. Coding boot camps, in particular, can offer relevant skills for robotics engineers, as engineers must be well-versed in a variety of coding languages to succeed — or even do their job competently. Boot camps also boast the benefit of a flexible schedule and remote learning; allowing you to keep a full- or part-time job while studying.

If you’d rather get started with free, self-learning options, there are also online resources that can help you understand the basics of robotics, such as those at edX and LinkedIn. While these don’t always offer the same level of feedback and advice that bootcamps or other degrees do, they’re a good option for anyone looking to understand what a career in robotics requires.

Step 2: Gain the required skills

Once you’ve studied the area or subject of your choice, it’s important to develop your personal skill set. This might mean additional self-study, taking on personal projects in your spare time, or getting an internship at a robotics company.

After completing your boot camp or degree program, take inventory of the skills you’ve acquired and compare them to the skills required of a robotics engineer. Keep in mind that you’ll need to be well-versed in coding and programming, statistics, process control, mathematics, engineering, automation, and material science.

There are a number of ways to develop these additional skills. If your background is in mathematics and engineering, you may want to consider a coding boot camp to develop your coding and programming knowledge. If you’ve only studied physics, you might want to understand how to become a software engineer.

If you prefer to learn through on-the-job, practical experience that will set you up for success in your career, consider applying to internships at robotics companies, which offer the opportunity to build your network of contacts and receive mentorship from experienced professionals in your field.

Another excellent way to build your experience is to pursue personal robotics projects. After all, nothing will teach you to design and build a robot like designing and building a robot. As a bonus, you’ll have something impressive to discuss when you apply for jobs in the field.

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Step 3: Join a professional association

Networking is an important step in any job search or career overhaul. Gaining professional contacts in the world of robotics engineering won’t just help you find a job, but can also help you become a better, more skilled, more well-rounded engineer.

The Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI), founded in 1979, is an AI-focused nonprofit society committed to “advancing the scientific understanding of the mechanisms underlying thought and intelligent behavior and their embodiment in machines.” They also host an annual conference. The IEEE Robotics and Automation Society has a similar aim, and also hosts regular conferences and workshops. Joining one of these societies will allow you to attend valuable workshops and conferences while giving you access to thousands of robotics engineers to learn from and add to your professional network.

Step 4: Apply for jobs

Robotics is a competitive field, which means that when applying for jobs, you should be thoughtful and strategic. The first step is to what types of jobs you’re interested in, and which of those positions you are realistically qualified for. Spend some time looking at job listing sites to understand what’s out there, and consider where you want to focus within the field. As you build your resume, be sure to highlight all relevant experience and education that pertains to robotics, whether that’s a math major in college or a robot you built to sort your mail at home.

Once you’ve found a handful of jobs you’re interested in applying to, do as much research as you can on the companies posting them. What are their values? What is their history? What are their latest initiatives? This will not only help you better understand what a job with them might look like, but it will also help you prepare for your job interview — and help you ask the interviewers better questions.

You should also consider doing some practice interviews. Review some of LinkedIn’s top questions for robotics interviews; these will help you practice talking about some of the most important topics your interviewer might cover. Even if they don’t ask these exact questions, you’ll still have a firm grip on why you want this job, and what makes you well qualified for it.

An image highlighting 4 steps to become a robotics engineer.

What do robotics engineers do?

What does designing and building robots actually entail? Robotics is unique within engineering for its vast scope, meaning that robotics engineers must be proficient in the worlds of mechanics, electronics, computer science, and even cognitive psychology. They’re not just building the hardware of a robot; they’re teaching that robot to act, think, and solve problems. When the robot malfunctions or requires new functionality, they’re often on the line to fix it.

Robotics engineers work on a variety of tasks that span the life cycle of a robotics project. At the beginning of a project, they may work with stakeholders such as clients, project managers, and other engineers to determine the project scope, and then draft potential designs for the robot in question. They may then design prototypes, test those prototypes, and adapt them to any bugs that appear or feedback from the client. The design process often entails computer programming, mechanical engineering, and even AI. Once the engineer’s team has built these robots or robotics systems, they are responsible for providing technical support and troubleshooting any problems that may arise once the robot begins its “job”.

As with any technical career, robotics engineers do not work in a vacuum; they should therefore also have well-developed soft skills to work successfully in groups, receive and process feedback, and work well with all relevant stakeholders. Some engineers may also be in charge of documenting the development process or performing project management-related tasks like developing cost estimates and project calculations.

Let’s take a look at a robotics engineer job listing at Apple. This is a relatively high-level job, as it requires 3+ years of experience and a Ph.D. or masters degree (or comparable professional experience). Here’s the job description:

“You will develop, deploy and scale sophisticated autonomous algorithms, and lead the integration and test of software releases on a large robotics system. You will also review system performance, triage and fix issues, and identify improvements to the current system. We search people that have the relevant experience, a good attention to detail, an aptitude for learning new skills, and enjoy working in teams to achieve common goals.”

This is clearly a software-focused job, as it requires an understanding of algorithms and the ability to lead a team on software releases. The listing also shows the engineer’s involvement throughout the project life cycle, from development to triage, as well as the importance of soft skills (e.g., working in teams).

Why pursue a robotics career?

Robotics is a growing and lucrative field that allows for a great level of growth and skill expansion. As robotics becomes a larger part of the national and global economy, the demand for robotics engineers will continue to increase, and a wider variety of companies will be hiring for this position.

Robotics engineer job outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs for mechanical engineers — the category that the BLS assigns to robotics engineers — are projected to grow at 7 percent from 2020 to 2030, which is roughly the national average. This means that there will be a little over 20,000 new jobs in the field each year. Keep in mind that this growth varies by industry, and as robotics becomes more prevalent, the growth for robotics engineers may exceed this prediction. According to Robotics Tomorrow, some analysts predict a skill shortage in robotics within the next decade, which could put well-trained robotics engineers in high demand — and high-paying jobs.

A bar graph that displays the projected job growth of mechanical engineers through 2030.

Robotics engineer salary

According to the BLS, the median salary for a mechanical engineer was $90,160 in 2020. Within the computer and electronic product manufacturing industry, that number increased to $97,180.

How to become a robotics engineer FAQs

If you’re interested in getting into robotics and wonder how to become a robotics engineer, start by pursuing formal training, whether that’s a coding boot camp or a formal degree. Once you’ve built up your resume with hands-on experience, personal projects, and internships, it will be time to apply for jobs.

While there are robotics-focused degrees at some colleges, these are not required to become a robotics engineer. There are many ways to gain the skills you need for this profession, such as enrolling in a coding boot camp. This is relevant to other related careers as well; for example, no degree is required to become a software engineer.

While each role will differ slightly, robotics engineers typically collaborate with relevant stakeholders to develop the scope of a robotics project. They draft blueprints and sketches to develop the proposed idea for the project and then work on developing prototypes, which they modify based on feedback and simulation results. They then build, configure, and test these robots — and implement fixes whenever issues arrive.

Robotics engineers spend most of their time developing plans for robots and understanding the processes required for a robot to function successfully. Robotics engineers need to be flexible and ready to take on a wide variety of tasks.

It can take up to 10 years to become a robotics engineer, especially if you pursue a graduate degree in a relevant subject. That said, you can do it in far less time if you jump-start your path through a coding boot camp or data analytics boot camp.

Robots solve problems so we don’t have to. They often perform dangerous tasks that minimize risk to human workers, such as lifting heavy loads or handling toxic substances. Robotics has the potential to improve a wide variety of industries — and make individual lives easier.

Become a robotics engineer today

As robotics gains importance and prevalence in our modern industries, robotics engineers — and the skills they bring to their organizations — are only becoming more valuable. This is a career that is not just lucrative, but is also fulfilling. Robotics engineers create solutions to problems that can help people all over the world, and they perform a wide variety of tasks, meaning that their job is hardly boring.

If you’re interested in jump-starting your career in robotics, consider enrolling in a Columbia Engineering Coding Boot Camp and Columbia Engineering Data Analytics Boot Camp can help you learn the skills you need through hands-on practice in an engaging virtual classroom. Get started on your path toward robotics engineering today!

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