Start-up companies and established car manufacturing companies are developing autonomous vehicle systems and technology. Driverless car engineers may work for companies such as BMW, Ford, General Motors, Mercedes-Benz, or Toyota. They may also be employed by companies that are becoming well known in the autonomous vehicle market, such as Cruise, Tesla, and Waymo. Driverless car engineers have many of the same job tasks as those of software developers. The Department of Labor reports that there are nearly 1.5 million software developers employed in the U.S., of which 11 percent work for manufacturing companies such as automotive manufacturers.
Driverless car engineers get started in their careers in various ways. Some may have prior experience as software developers or systems engineers in software companies. They may have gotten a foot in the door in an automotive company through an internship or part-time job. Ask your school's career services office for help with finding internship and employment opportunities at automated vehicle companies. Search for job listings at the companies directly through their Web sites, such as Cruise, https://www.getcruise.com/careers; Tesla, https://www.tesla.com/careers; Waymo, https://waymo.com/careers; and others. You can also search for driverless car engineering opportunities through employment sites such as LinkedIn and SimplyHired.
Driverless car engineers with years of experience may advance to become senior engineers, overseeing the work of other engineers and engineering teams. They advance by leaving jobs in smaller companies to assume roles with greater responsibility in larger companies. They may pursue advanced degrees in specialized fields. Other ways to advance include teaching in colleges and schools, speaking at professional association conferences, and writing about the autonomous vehicle field.
Driverless car engineers have an understanding of machines and how they work. Join your schools' robotics club or related club to gain experience working with robots and learning from others.
In addition to having strong computer and software systems knowledge, a solid understanding of how cars work is also essential. Learn more about the physical systems of cars by working on your own car or your family's car.
Participate in professional associations to keep your industry knowledge up to date and to meet others in the field. SAE International, for example, offers meetups and education for engineers interested in automated vehicles, https://www.sae.org/automated-unmanned-vehicles.
An informational interview with a driverless car engineer will give you insights into how to get started in this profession and what the day-to-day work is like. Ask your school's career services office for help with setting up interviews with engineers who are interested in sharing their knowledge.