Automation engineers are a hot commodity right now. The rapid increase in production capacity and development of technology is allowing for more and more processes to be automated, which is significantly more efficient.
That’s why we’ll be taking an in-depth look at the job of an automation engineer in this article. This is part of our Career Insights series and will take you through the definition, skills needed, common fields and salary of automation engineers.
What does an Automation Engineer do?
Automation, coming from automatic, already offers quite a lot of insight on what these particular engineers do. They strive to create software and hardware solutions that allow processes to function without the need of human interference. Automation engineers often specialize in either the software or hardware side of things, but some of them have knowledge in both. This article will mostly be focusing on the software side of automation engineering, as it is essential for any career path you chose to take. From autonomous vehicles to automating software testing, this is a wide field with a variety of opportunities.
1. Coding and Scripting
Regardless of what kind of automation engineer you are, the first two bases you should cover will be coding and scripting. Focus on the most common languages: C and its varieties, Python, Pearl, Java, Ruby and Shell. You don’t need to be an expert in all of these, but mastering more than one can be very good for your career.
2. Testing tools
Having knowledge in how to troubleshoot and test various solutions is also going to be one of your main skills as an automation engineer, especially if you’re focusing more on software rather than hardware.
Unit testing is something you will probably need to do – that means testing whether individual parts of code are working properly. Depending on the language you’re using, you’ll have a couple of tools you want to focus on. Popular ones include JUnit for Java and PHPUnit for PHP. Automation technologies or software testing frameworks such as Selenium and Jmeter will also be essential for your ability to troubleshoot in different environments.
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Soft Skills needed to be an Automation engineer
There are a lot of soft skills that can help you be a great automation engineer, like clear communication and, in some cases, leadership. However, there is one extremely important skill you have to learn and that’s why it’s the only one mentioned here – mastering it will open the door towards becoming a successful automation engineer.
Setting the right priorities
If you’re a software automation engineer, there pretty much isn’t anything you can’t automate. But to be successful, you’ll have to learn what’s worth automating and what isn’t. It can be really tempting to automate everything, but it just isn’t efficient. Some things are easily done by hand and you setting up a framework to abolish that simple human task just won’t be worth it. Here are the most important arguments of when something shouldn’t be automated:
- Automation always means maintenance (especially if the product isn’t one you created, like Outlook for example).
- It doesn’t help you meet your end goal. That means you’re just wasting money automating unnecessarily.
Similar/related job titles
There are a lot of job titles that are related or derivative of the title automation engineer. Here are the most common ones:
- Controls engineer
- Software automation engineer
- QA analyst
- QA tester
- Test engineer
Common fields hiring automation engineers
As the world of work is changing and looking for more and more information, there are virtually endless possibilities for automation engineers. Today, classically there are several common fields:
- Energy industry
- Pharmaceutical and food sector
- Shipping and distribution
What’s the salary of an automation engineer?
According to Payscale, the median salary of an automation engineer is 74,000 USD per year, going up to 99,000 USD depending on the company and amount of experience you have. However, if you search for senior automation engineers, which is the step up the corporate ladder, that number increases significantly. If you’re asking Payscale, that number averages around 97,000 USD per year and can go up to 130,000. Glassdoor puts the average number for senior automation engineers even higher at 101,000 USD.
Keep in mind, however, that those numbers apply to the USA. To get a better idea of what the averages in your country or field look like, I can wholeheartedly recommend the two sites mentioned above – just input your country and job title and hit that search button!
If you’re looking to freelance as an automation engineer, it hugely depends on what kind of expertise you have. As a hardware automation engineer, you will be less likely to get a freelance job, as that often requires local presence and in-depth knowledge of the company and the product itself. While it’s not impossible to do it, you’ll have to be really convincing and likely have worked at the company first before becoming a freelancer.
As a software automation engineer however, the opportunities for freelancers are much better. Writing code, testing software and automating such processes can be done remotely. Still, as an automation engineer, you probably will need to go and meet your clients or take a look around their offices now and then.
As a whole, the freelancer suitability for automation engineers is good, but not great. Conversely, that means that the competition in that field is not as strong as in some other freelancer areas – if you really want to make it work, you can!