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The Association for Advancing Automation’s Get Started With Automation web page, https://www.automate.org/a3-content/getting-started-with-automation, is an excellent place to begin learning about automation, including robotics, vision and imaging, and motion controls and motors.
Talk with automation engineers about their careers. Ask your school counselor to arrange an information interview or even a job shadowing experience with an engineer.
Participating in student competitions will help you to build your skills and meet people with shared interests. SkillsUSA is a national membership organization for middle school, high school, and college students who are interested in pursuing careers in technical, trade, and skilled service occupations. It offers the following STEM-related competitions: Additive Manufacturing; Automated Manufacturing Technology; CNC Milling Specialist; CNC Technician; CNC Turning Specialist; Electronics Technology; Engineering Technology/Design; Mechatronics; and Robotics and Automation Technology. Visit http://www.skillsusa.org to learn more. Skills Competences Canada (https://www.skillscompetencescanada.com) offers similar competitions to those who reside in Canada.
Read IEEE Robotics and Automation Magazine (https://www.ieee-ras.org/publications), InTech (https://www.isa.org/intech-home), and The Automation Engineer (https://www.theautomationengineer.com) to learn more about the field. Some of the terms in these publications might be over your head, but reading them will help you to better understand the industry and the types of projects that automation engineers work on. Visit https://www.thinkautomation.com/eli5/an-automation-glossary for a glossary of automation-related terms.
Automation engineers perform a wide range of duties based on their employment sector. For example, automation engineers in the manufacturing industry design and implement automation systems to improve efficiency, increase quality and precision levels, lower operating and production costs, and meet other goals. They work with technicians and process control engineers to develop the system, choose and program a controller (the brains of an automation system), create the connections from the controller to the sensors (equipment that collects information regarding the performance of the system and current operating conditions) and actuators (pumps, flow valves, robotic arms, pistons, heaters, rotors, etc.), and then install, test, troubleshoot, and otherwise tweak the system to ensure it is meeting the intended automation goals. Additional tasks include identifying other manufacturing or work processes that have the potential to be automated, managing team members (for those in supervisory roles), writing reports that detail testing outcomes and ongoing efficiency initiatives, and training staff regarding the use of new equipment or processes.
A growing number of automation engineers work in the software or hardware industries (to improve efficiency and reduce errors during the development process) and for companies that want to automate business or customer service/support processes. An engineer who works for a software company will be tasked with identifying software processes that can be automated, or he or she may begin working on a previously scheduled automation project. For example, engineers who are assigned to develop a new automated chatbot in order to speed up customer service will create a software program that serves this purpose. They talk to current customer service specialists to assess the existing system and solicit feedback from customers. Then they design and develop the software. As they write the code (or incorporate existing code) into the program, they design and execute quality assurance tests using scripts that automatically assess the functionality of their work. Engineers identify and fix issues during the development, testing and re-testing until the software is finished. Once the chatbot is launched, they monitor its performance and address any issues that arise. They also document their work and train stakeholders regarding the new software.