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What is an Automation Engineer and How to Become One

By Lace Brunsden

Published:

Embark on the thrilling journey into the world of automation engineering, where innovation and technology converge to redefine the future. In this article, we unravel the mystery behind what it takes to become an automation engineer, exploring the dynamic realm where humans and machines collaborate seamlessly.

Buckle up as we navigate the path to mastering automation and shaping tomorrow’s technological landscape!

Career Summary

Automation Engineer Salary

Automation Engineer Salary

The average automation engineer salary can vary a lot depending on the responsibilities that you might have and the nature of the company that you work for.

According to Glassdoor, the average automation engineer salary across the USA in 2024 can be summarized as follows:

  • Entry Level:  USD 88,000
  • Median: USD 105,000
  • Senior: USD 128,000

Forbes estimates the average salary across the United States to be around USD 59,428. In comparison to this, even entry-level positions in the automation engineer career pathway have relatively high salaries. 

What is an Automation Engineer

An automation engineer is a skilled professional who designs, develops, and manages automated systems to streamline and optimize industrial processes. By combining expertise in engineering, programming, and problem-solving, automation engineers leverage cutting-edge technologies like robotics and control systems to enhance efficiency, reduce human intervention, and propel industries into the era of smart and autonomous operations.

Automation Engineer Job Description

Automation engineers play a crucial role in creating and maintaining systems that operate autonomously. Their tasks include designing plans for automated systems, coding to integrate hardware and software, conducting tests, troubleshooting, integrating various technologies, performing maintenance and upgrades, collaborating with cross-functional teams, documenting processes, and staying updated on technological advancements to incorporate innovative solutions into their projects.

Automation Engineer Career Progression

  • Automation Technician/Intern: You’ll gain hands-on experience assisting in the installation and maintenance of automated systems, learning the foundational automation engineer skills of the trade.
  • Junior Automation Engineer: You’ll start taking on more responsibilities, participating in system design, programming, and testing under the guidance of experienced engineers.
  • Automation Engineer: You’ll independently design and implement automated solutions, contributing significantly to projects and gaining expertise in troubleshooting and system optimization.
  • Senior Automation Engineer: You’ll lead projects, mentor junior team members, and delve into more complex and innovative automation technologies.
  • Automation Team Lead/Supervisor: You’ll guide a team of automation engineers, oversee project timelines, and coordinate with other departments to ensure successful project delivery.
  • Automation Manager: You’ll be responsible for the overall strategy, planning, and execution of automation projects, overseeing multiple teams and aligning automation initiatives with organizational goals.
  • Director of Automation: You’ll take on a strategic role, shaping the organization’s automation vision, leading cross-functional teams, and aligning automation efforts with broader business objectives.
  • VP of Automation/Chief Automation Officer: You’ll provide strategic direction, drive innovation, and influence organizational decision-making on a broader scale.
Automation Engineer Career Progression

Best Aspects of Working as an Automation Engineer

  • Continuous Innovation
  • Problem-Solving Challenges
  • High Demand and Job Security
  • Cross-Industry Versatility
  • Contribution to Efficiency and Progress

Worst Aspects of Working as an Automation Engineer

  • Intensive Workload
  • High Responsibility and Pressure
  • Continuous Learning Curve
  • Potential for Job Redundancy
  • Occasional Resistance to Automation

Essential Automation Engineer Skills

  • Programming and Coding Skills
  • System Integration Knowledge
  • Problem-Solving and Analytical Abilities
  • Communication and Collaboration Skills
  • Continuous Learning and Adaptability

Popular Automation Engineer Specialties

  • Robotics Automation Engineer
  • Process Automation Engineer
  • Control Systems Automation Engineer
  • Test Automation Engineer
  • Industrial Automation Engineer

How to Become an Automation Engineer

Automation Engineer 5 Steps to Career

Education

Do I Need a Degree to Become an Automation Engineer?

While a degree in a relevant field, such as electrical or mechanical engineering, computer science, or automation engineering, can provide a strong foundation, it’s not always mandatory. 

Many professionals enter the field through a combination of formal education and hands-on experience.

Why Is It Important To Get a Degree in Automation Engineering?

Getting a degree in automation engineering is important for several reasons:

  • Foundational Knowledge: A degree program provides a structured curriculum that imparts essential theoretical knowledge, principles, and concepts in automation engineering, laying a strong foundation for practical application.
  • Hands-On Experience: Many degree programs include hands-on laboratory work, projects, and internships, allowing you to gain practical experience with real-world automation systems.
  • Specialized Courses: Degree programs offer specialized courses in automation, robotics, control systems, and related subjects, providing in-depth knowledge that may be challenging to acquire solely through self-study or on-the-job training.
  • Networking Opportunities: Being part of a degree program allows you to network with professors, industry professionals, and fellow students, creating valuable connections for future career opportunities.
  • Industry Recognition: In many cases, employers value a degree as evidence of your commitment, dedication, and competence in the field. Some roles may have specific educational requirements, and a degree can help meet those criteria.
  • Global Recognition: Degrees from accredited institutions carry international recognition, which can be beneficial if you plan to work in different regions or countries.
  • Problem-Solving Skills: A formal education equips you with critical thinking and problem-solving skills, which are essential in the dynamic and complex field of automation engineering.

How Long Does it Take to Get a Degree in Automation Engineering?

The duration to obtain a degree in automation engineering can vary based on the level of the degree and the educational system in the respective country.

Here are typical time frames for different levels of degrees:

  • Associate Degree: Usually takes around 2 years of full-time study.
  • Bachelor’s Degree: Typically takes around 4 years of full-time study.
  • Master’s Degree: Generally requires an additional 1 to 2 years beyond the bachelor’s degree.
  • Doctoral Degree (Ph.D.): Typically takes around 3 to 5 years beyond the master’s degree.

How Much Does it Cost to Study Automation Engineering at University?

If you decide to study automation engineering at a university in the United States you can expect to pay anywhere from USD 10,000 to USD 30,000 per annum. Studying in-state will be considerably cheaper than out-of-state options. 

What Are the Other Requirements to Become an Automation Engineer?

To become an automation engineer without relying solely on a degree, consider these requirements:

  • Develop Technical Skills: Cultivate proficiency in programming languages, control systems, and automation tools. Mastering languages like Python, Java, or C++ is essential, along with hands-on experience in automation software.
  • Hands-On Experience: Gain practical experience through internships, projects, or entry-level positions. Practical knowledge is highly valued in the field, and hands-on projects can demonstrate your automation engineer skills to potential employers.
  • Build a Strong Portfolio: Showcase your projects, coding examples, and any automation-related work in a portfolio. A well-documented portfolio is a powerful tool to demonstrate your capabilities to employers, even without a formal degree.
  • Networking and Professional Development: Attend industry events and webinars, and join professional associations related to automation. Networking can open doors to opportunities and provide insights into industry trends and best practices.
  • Certifications: Obtain relevant certifications in automation technologies or programming languages. Certifications can validate your automation engineer skills and make you stand out in the competitive job market.
  • Continuous Learning: Stay updated with the latest advancements in automation. The field evolves rapidly, and a commitment to continuous learning demonstrates your adaptability and passion for staying at the forefront of technology.
  • Online Courses and MOOCs: Take advantage of online courses to supplement your knowledge. Many platforms offer courses in automation, programming, and related fields.

Can I Become an Automation Engineer Through Online Education?

Absolutely! You can certainly become an automation engineer through online education. Embrace the flexibility and accessibility of online courses that cover programming languages, control systems, and automation tools. Engage in hands-on projects, participate in virtual labs, and build a strong portfolio to showcase your skills. 

Leverage online platforms for certifications, attend webinars, and join virtual communities to network with professionals in the field. Online education offers a dynamic pathway to acquire the knowledge and practical experience needed to embark on a rewarding career as an automation engineer.

What Are Some Web Resources to Learn Skills to Become an Automation Engineer?

Embark on your journey to become an automation engineer by exploring these web resources:

  • Codecademy: Delve into interactive coding lessons and projects to master programming languages crucial for automation, such as Python, Java, or JavaScript.
  • Kaggle: Dive into data science and machine learning, essential components of modern automation. Kaggle offers datasets and competitions to apply your skills in real-world scenarios.
  • GitHub: Explore open-source automation projects on GitHub to study code, contribute to collaborative efforts, and enhance your version control skills.
  • ISA: Visit the International Society of Automation for resources, webinars, and publications focusing on industrial automation and control systems.
  • Reddit: Join the PLC (Programmable Logic Controllers) subreddit for discussions, advice, and insights from professionals in the field.
  • Stack Overflow: Engage with the Stack Overflow community to seek help, share knowledge, and troubleshoot coding challenges.

Practical Experience

What Are Internship Opportunities for an Automation Engineer?

As you embark on your journey to become an automation engineer, explore various internship opportunities to gain valuable hands-on experience:

  • Manufacturing Companies: Seek internships with manufacturing firms where you can work on the implementation and maintenance of automation systems in real production environments.
  • Technology Companies: Explore internships with tech companies specializing in automation solutions, providing exposure to cutting-edge technologies and innovative projects.
  • Energy Sector: Consider internships with companies in the energy sector, focusing on the automation of processes in power plants or renewable energy facilities.
  • Automotive Industry: Look for opportunities with automotive companies where you can contribute to the automation of manufacturing processes in the assembly line or quality control.
  • Control Systems Integration Firms: Intern with firms specializing in control systems integration, gaining experience in designing and implementing automation solutions across different industries.
  • Robotics Companies: Explore internships with companies specializing in robotics, allowing you to work on the development and programming of robotic systems.
  • Process Automation: Consider internships in sectors such as chemical processing, oil and gas, or pharmaceuticals, focusing on process automation and control.
  • Building Automation: Look for opportunities with companies involved in building automation, where you can contribute to the development of smart building systems.
  • Research Institutions: Explore internships with research institutions or universities conducting research in automation technologies, providing exposure to the latest advancements.
  • IoT (Internet of Things) Companies: Consider internships with companies working on IoT solutions, allowing you to understand the integration of automation with connected devices.
  • Supply Chain and Logistics: Explore opportunities with companies in supply chain and logistics, where automation plays a crucial role in optimizing warehouse and distribution processes.
  • Telecommunications Industry: Look for internships with companies in the telecommunications sector, contributing to the automation of network management and infrastructure.

What Skills Will I Learn as an Automation Engineer?

As you progress in your journey as an automation engineer, you’ll acquire a diverse skill set that equips you for success in the field:

  • Programming Proficiency: Master programming languages like Python, Java, or C++ to create and optimize code for automation systems.
  • Control Systems Knowledge: Develop expertise in designing and implementing control systems that regulate the behavior of automation equipment.
  • PLC Programming: Learn Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) programming to control machinery and industrial processes.
  • HMI (Human-Machine Interface) Design: Acquire skills in designing intuitive HMIs to facilitate interaction between humans and machines.
  • Robotics Programming: Gain proficiency in programming robotic systems, enabling them to perform tasks autonomously.
  • Data Acquisition and Analysis: Learn to collect, process, and analyze data from automated systems, utilizing it for optimization and decision-making.
  • Instrumentation and Sensors: Understand the use of various sensors and instruments to monitor and control processes within automation.
  • Networking and Communication Protocols: Acquire knowledge of communication protocols such as Modbus, Profibus, or Ethernet/IP used in industrial automation.
  • Electrical and Electronic Systems: Develop a strong foundation in electrical and electronic systems, crucial for understanding and troubleshooting automation components.
  • Troubleshooting Skills: Hone your ability to identify and resolve issues in automation systems efficiently.
  • Project Management: Learn project management skills to oversee automation projects from conception to implementation.
  • Cybersecurity Awareness: Understand the importance of cybersecurity in automation, ensuring the integrity and security of automated systems.
  • Continuous Learning: Cultivate a mindset of continuous learning to stay updated with evolving automation technologies and industry trends.
  • Collaboration and Communication: Enhance your interpersonal and communication skills, enabling effective collaboration with cross-functional teams.
  • Adaptability: Develop adaptability to navigate through the dynamic and ever-changing landscape of automation technologies.

What is the Work-Life Balance of an Automation Engineer?

As an automation engineer, your work-life balance can vary based on factors such as industry, project timelines, and company culture. During project implementations, you might experience periods of intense focus and longer work hours to meet deadlines. Troubleshooting and debugging sessions could require extra time and attention.

However, it’s important to note that many companies recognize the demanding nature of automation engineering and strive to maintain a reasonable work-life balance. Routine tasks, maintenance, and monitoring may be part of your responsibilities, but they often adhere to standard working hours.

What’s the Career Outlook for Automation Engineers?

The career outlook for automation engineers in the USA is generally positive due to the increasing demand for automation and the integration of advanced technologies in various industries. 

Although the BLS does not separate automation engineering, the outlook for Electrical and Electronic Engineers is estimated at 5% from 2022 to 2032. This is considered faster than the average.

Automation Engineer Popular Career Specialties

What Are The Job Opportunities of an Automation Engineer?

As an automation engineer, you can explore a wide range of job opportunities and potential roles across various industries.

Some of the common roles and areas of specialization include:

  • Automation Engineer: Design, develop, and implement automation solutions to optimize industrial processes.
  • Control Systems Engineer: Focus on designing and maintaining control systems for automated machinery and processes.
  • Robotics Engineer: Specialize in the development, programming, and maintenance of robotic systems for various applications.
  • PLC Programmer: Work with Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) to control and automate machinery in manufacturing and industrial settings.
  • Instrumentation Engineer: Design and implement systems for measuring and controlling physical quantities, often used in automation processes.
  • Process Automation Engineer: Optimize and automate complex industrial processes, ensuring efficiency and reliability.
  • Building Automation Engineer: Focus on automating and integrating systems within buildings, such as HVAC, lighting, and security.
  • SCADA Engineer (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition): Design and implement SCADA systems for monitoring and controlling industrial processes.
  • Industrial IoT (Internet of Things) Engineer: Work on integrating automation with IoT technologies to enhance connectivity and data exchange in industrial settings.
  • Test Automation Engineer: Develop automated testing solutions for software and hardware in the field of automation.
  • Energy Automation Engineer: Specialize in automating processes related to energy production, distribution, and management.
  • Manufacturing Automation Engineer: Implement automation solutions to enhance efficiency and productivity in manufacturing environments.
  • Quality Control Automation Engineer: Design automated systems for quality assurance and control in manufacturing processes.
  • Process Control Engineer: Focus on optimizing and controlling various industrial processes to ensure consistency and quality.
  • Maintenance and Reliability Engineer: Work on maintaining and improving the reliability of automated systems within industrial facilities.

What Type of Companies Hire an Automation Engineer?

Automation engineers are in demand across various industries, as automation technologies are widely adopted to enhance efficiency and productivity.

Here are the types of companies that commonly hire automation engineers:

  • Manufacturing Companies: Automotive, electronics, food and beverage, and other manufacturing industries rely heavily on automation for production processes.
  • Technology and Software Companies: Companies developing automation software, control systems, and robotics technologies often hire automation engineers.
  • Energy and Utilities Companies: Power plants, renewable energy facilities, and utilities seek automation engineers to optimize and control energy production processes.
  • Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Companies: Automation is critical in pharmaceutical manufacturing, and healthcare facilities may use automation for processes like laboratory testing.
  • Aerospace and Defense Companies: Automation plays a crucial role in the production and testing of aerospace and defense technologies.
  • Oil and Gas Companies: Automation engineers are employed to enhance efficiency in exploration, drilling, refining, and distribution processes within the oil and gas industry.
  • Engineering and Consulting Firms: Firms specializing in control systems integration, engineering, and consulting often hire automation engineers for project-based work.
  • Telecommunications Companies: Automation engineers may be involved in managing and optimizing network infrastructure for telecommunications companies.
  • Building Management and Construction Companies: Firms focusing on building automation and smart infrastructure hire automation engineers to integrate systems like HVAC, lighting, and security.
  • Automotive Companies: Besides manufacturing, automotive companies may hire automation engineers to design and implement automated systems in vehicle testing and assembly.
  • Chemical and Process Industries: Chemical plants and other process industries use automation to control and monitor various stages of production.
  • Logistics and Supply Chain Companies: Automation engineers may be involved in optimizing warehouse operations, material handling systems, and supply chain processes.
  • Research and Development Institutions: Academic institutions, research labs, and innovation centers may employ automation engineers for cutting-edge research and development projects.
  • Food and Beverage Companies: Automation is used in food processing and packaging, making companies in the food and beverage industry potential employers for automation engineers.
  • Environmental Monitoring and Control Companies: Companies involved in environmental monitoring and control systems may seek automation engineers to develop and maintain automated solutions.

Should I Become an Automation Engineer?

In conclusion, the decision to become an automation engineer is a significant one that requires thoughtful consideration of several key factors. Throughout this exploration, you’ve gained insights into the dynamic nature of the field, the diverse range of opportunities it offers, and the skills required for success.

As you contemplate this career path, reflect on your personal interests, strengths, and long-term goals. Consider the exhilarating journey that automation engineering presents—the continuous innovation, problem-solving challenges, and the opportunity to shape the future of technology. Assess whether the automation engineer skills discussed align with your aspirations and if the prospect of contributing to the seamless integration of humans and machines resonates with your vision for a fulfilling career.

In making this decision, remember that becoming an automation engineer is not just about meeting industry demand but about aligning your career with your passions and goals. It’s about immersing yourself in a field that captivates you, challenges you, and allows you to contribute meaningfully to technological advancements.

Careers Related to Automation Engineer


Lace Brunsden

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