There are still robotics jobs to be found (if you know where to look)

A lot to happened in the six months since our meeting with Ayanna Howard, dean of the College of Engineering at Ohio State University – not at all good. The broader economic downturn has been deeply felt by the robotics industry, in everything from the smallest startups to the biggest tech giants like Alphabet and Amazon.

Naturally, much of the coverage has focused on the impact and the companies and those who lost their jobs in the process. One key thing that we don’t discuss as often is people currently looking for a job – both those who have recently lost one and people who are new to the market.

Meeting Dean Howard is a perfect opportunity to discuss the latter, both in terms of what the market looks like for recent and future graduates and what companies can do to recruit and hire people who are new to the work. market. This week, we’re kicking things off with this Q&A session, then dive into the first batch of job listings we promised last week, and move on to your regular robotics roundup.

Actuator, activate!

Q&A with Dean Ayanna Howard

Ayanna Howard, Dean of The Ohio State University College of Engineering Picture credits: Logan Wallace/Ohio State University

TC: What do your students think of the labor market, in particular of robotics?

AH: I think there is a bit of apprehension, but the fact is that there are still jobs that are open, especially for new recruits. When you’re a new talent, you’re at a lower rate, obviously. Sometimes you are more creative and ready to do a little more than what work is, because you don’t know what work is.

Before the recession, were students more excited about entering the world of Big Tech or startups?

It was mixed. I was really depending on whether they [had a] bachelor’s or master’s degree. I found that a lot of students, if they went into the startup world, it would be with a mature startup. It wasn’t one that was just a year or two old. He was the one who had at least a series A. […] Now, I think the focus is more on “Let’s go with a bigger, more established company, just because it will last.”

Now, robotics is something that cuts across all other categories, so there are plenty of robotics jobs to be had outside of strictly robotic businesses.

Correct. I think of self-driving cars as robotics. That’s all. You have control systems, you have autonomy, you have interaction with people. It’s a classic robotic system that happens to have a car form factor. Even in that area, you’ve seen a lot of startups shut down, but big companies have invested a lot more in that and in electric vehicles.

What can schools do to train students for the job market?

At Ohio State, we have implemented programs over the past year around entrepreneurship in startups, around very specific areas. For example, manufacturing, healthcare. The things in which we know we will always need innovation. Great companies need this entrepreneurial thinking and mindset because it allows them to innovate within the corporate structure. When companies don’t innovate, they tend to be archaic, and when startup culture returns, they’ll eat their corn.

In terms of your own experience running a startup, how did you decide when to hire a student versus someone more experienced?

For technical talent, they were really new recruits. It was because I needed new ideas. We needed to know the latest and greatest, and they would have the education. For marketing and sales, it was much more established. We have hired much more experienced people.

What advice would you give to startups hiring young graduates?

Don’t put them on a critical path from the start, because you might be disappointed if they don’t rise to the challenge. But give them things that force them to push the boundary conditions. If you hire them for front-end development or graphics, think of things that are tangential that I can push them into so they can learn. […] As a manager you have to be much more strategic and you have to define it.

You still have to do a bit of getting started. I don’t want to call it “micromanaging”, but you have to define deliverables, set milestones, and if they’re not meeting them, go back and ask them why they’re not meeting them. Do not scold, but ask why. Sometimes what you’ll find is that they’ll get stuck in certain areas that you didn’t expect, and then you can push them.

I tend to think generational warfare is silly, but what would you say to those who suggest that millennials and Gen Zers are too sensitive or have no work ethic?

I think their motivation is different. Work ethic versus overly sensitive – this generation is passionate about certain things. They are passionate about others. When you find what they’re passionate about, whatever it is – social impact or designing software for underserved communities – you get them there and they’ll work all night. When we think of work ethic, it’s “You have to show up for work every day”. But if they are not interested, they may be a little slower or unresponsive. It’s a different kind of work ethic.


Image of a person talking to two colleagues via videoconference.

Image of a person talking to two colleagues via videoconference.

Picture credits: Getty Images/Olga Strelnikova

There is a sense of helplessness associated with economic downturns. It’s knowing that in the long run, no one’s job is really safe. The way we’ve structured society means that the lower you are on the ladder in terms of money and seniority, the more useless you are considered.

For those who have been spared, there is little consolation in a company’s promise to be more scrappy and return to its long-dormant startup roots when you’ve seen so many colleagues suddenly out of work. For those of us who have been through this experience, it is clear that corporate layoffs are blind when it comes to the individual. When things get bumpy, we all become rounding errors.

I’ve seen a lot of positive comments on social media reiterating that layoffs aren’t personal. This is certainly true for the company that lays off, but it is quite the opposite for the people who benefit from it. Layoffs are deeply personal. They disrupt our lives, our livelihoods, our motivations, our relationships. They contribute to depression and a long list of different conditions.

As someone who has worked in the publishing world for a long time, I have been victimized many times. I get that you can tell someone something isn’t their fault a million times over, but that might sound like a platitude. Moral support is hugely important during the process, but so are actionable items. Help good people find good jobs. We talk a lot about how work shouldn’t define you, but it takes more waking hours than anything else. People should be able to find fulfilling and rewarding work.

If there’s one thing I’d like you to take away from this, it’s the fact that people are hurting. If you can help, help. Simple, I know, but if you need a less altruistic motivator, understand that the people you help now may well be able to help you later.

Hopefully we can use Actuator as a platform to do just that. As I mentioned before, each week I’ll be featuring a handful of robotics companies that are hiring. I don’t have a timeline for how long we’ll handle this – it largely depends on the level of interest from job seekers. The plan for now, however, is to maintain that during the current downturn.

I learned a long time ago that hiring is one of the main reasons companies seek coverage in a place like TechCrunch, and I understand that Actuator readers are precisely the kind of people these organizations are looking for. We are not becoming a job site and will not post individual positions, but we hope that maintaining a listing will prove useful for job seekers.

If you’d like to be included, send me a line with your company name and the number of positions you’re hiring for (if you don’t include the number, I’ll try to count). And, hey, if you end up landing a new gig based on something you found here, let me know on Twitter. Everyone loves a happy ending.

Robotics Companies Hiring

GrayMatter Robotics (11 openings)
False Robotics (6 openings)
Viam Robotics (10 openings)


Amazon Robotics Boston Manufacturing Plant - BOS27

Amazon Robotics Boston Manufacturing Plant – BOS27

Picture credits: Amazon

Andy Jassy and a few other C-level people aside, it seems no one was entirely immune to Amazon’s sweeping job cuts. Although it has been one of the retail giant’s main future goals for the past decade, Amazon Robotics would be among the divisions affected by this latest cycle. CNBC notes that a wide range of roles were targeted in the division, including engineers and product managers. The Prime Air drone delivery service has also been disproportionately affected here.

Picture credits: Boston Dynamics

This week, Boston Dynamics offered some of the first images of its Stretch robot put to work at DHL. Stretch, as you’ll recall, is the Hyundai-owned company’s second trading robot, after Spot. It is based on the old Handle robot and is designed to exclusively unload trucks/trailers, conveyor belts and pallets. Companies like DHL are apparently the perfect target for the product, and fittingly, the logistics giant became one of Boston Dynamics’ first customers, with a $15 million product purchase a year ago. last week.

Picture credits: Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST)

Raibo takes us this week, a robot dog recently featured in the pages of Science Robotics that can run across sand at high speeds. According to the paper:

Our model can be set to represent various types of terrain, from very soft beach sand to hard asphalt. Additionally, we introduce an adaptive control architecture that can implicitly identify terrain properties when the robot senses the terrain. The identified parameters are then used to improve the locomotion performance of the legged robot.

Picture credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

And that’s a wrap for this week. To get Actuator in your inbox, sign up here.

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