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All That Is Gold Does Not Glitter

Remember back in the day when talent was so hard to find that your favorite fast food chain offered sign-up bonuses to people who would come and flip burgers at the grill?  (And not so long ago in our industry when those flipping burgers were recruited out and trained to be deployed as drone operators?)

Those were the days when some began to wonder if it was worth getting an education at all. After all, everybody with a pulse could land a job!

(Quick detour for us robotic aficionados: check out this little video on the automation of flipping burgers. Times they are a changing.)

Anyhow, my point is this: don’t fall into the trap of basing your career decisions on the mode du jour.

Many of those who quit dream of a career in unmanned.  I know…they call me!  Some are hoping to turn their hobby as a drone pilot into a moneymaking pursuit, while others are ready to get paid the big bucks for building robots (like they have been doing since getting their first Lego set).

And don´t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong per se with following dreams. However, if you’ve got bills to pay, or a family to feed, be aware that there is a close link between boom, bust, and employment.

Just look at the employment rate in the US between 1990 and 2017:


Not all those who wander are lost

What goes up must come down. Guess what happened to the legions of programmers who got hired during the Internet craze? When the bubble burst, the worst coders were let go first. Those who were real experts at writing code usually survived the massacre.

Because guess what: good programmers are now needed more than ever. And the same will go for robotic engineers, drone operators and others in the unmanned industry. If you’re good, you have a future.

Deep roots are not reached by the frost

So here is my recommendation No. 1: before jumping ship and leaving your job, consider getting a solid education or training first.

There are several top UAS programs available at universities across the country and many established engineering and aviation programs are increasing the focus on unmanned and robotic systems.  Having a recognized degree, certification, or skill set on your resume will be to your advantage whether in unmanned or another industry.

The old that is strong does not wither

After laying the foundation, consider Recommendation No. 2: choose your future employer in the unmanned and robotic industry wisely.

Just like the Internet during the dot-com era in the 1990s, unmanned and robotics still is an infant industry. Many startup type outfits are competing against each other and the bigger fish in the tank. It’s only natural that many will not survive.

When choosing a new employer try to remember that not all that glitters is gold. Understand the risks and the rewards.  Or better yet, talk to me if you’re looking for a workplace that will still be in the race two years down the line.

The crownless again shall be king.

Recommendation No. 3 and somewhat connected to No. 1 above: With a good education under your belt and even when already working for a great employer, stay curious and flexible.

Maybe piloting drones or developing software is an excellent way to break into the unmanned industry and to gain valuable experience. But it may not be the only occupation that’s right for you in this field.  As the industry matures, the demand for new skill sets increases.

Just like many programmers after the dot-com Armageddon were happy to move over to the accounting department, the ability to adapt and overcome may pay off when hard times hit.

PS: And just in case you are wondering where I got my poetic streak today: this poem is a shout out to all our Lord of the Ring fans!  It is also known as The Riddle of Strider 😉