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

by Ana Lopez

Has a lot happened in the six months since we caught up with Ayanna Howard, dean of Ohio State University’s College of Engineering—not all good. The broader economic slowdown has been deeply felt by the robotics industry, across the board, from the smallest startups to the biggest tech giants like Alphabet and Amazon.

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

Catching up with Dean Howard is a perfect opportunity to discuss the latter, both in terms of what the market looks like for recent and upcoming graduates and what companies can do to recruit and engage people who are brand new to the job market. This week we’ll kick off with that Q&A, then we’ll dive into the first batch of job openings we promised last week and continue with your regularly scheduled robotics roundup.

Actuator, activate!

Q&A with Dean Ayanna Howard

Ayanna Howard, dean of Ohio State University’s College of Engineering Image Credits: Logan Wallace/Ohio State University

TC: How do your students feel about the job market, especially about robotics?

AH: I think there’s a bit of anxiety, but the fact is that there are still open positions, especially for new hires. If you are a new talent, you will of course have a lower rate. Sometimes you are more creative and willing to do a little more than what the job is because you don’t know what the job is.

Were students more eager to enter the world of Big Tech or startups before the recession?

It was mixed. I really depended on them [had a] bachelor’s or a master’s degree. I discovered that many students, if they were going into the startup world, would do it with a mature startup. It wasn’t one that had only been out a year or two. It was one that had at least a Serie A. […] Now I think there’s more focus on, ‘Let’s go for a big, more established company, just because they last.

Now robotics is something that touches every other category, so there are many robotics jobs to be found outside of strictly robotics companies.

Correct. I think of self-driving cars as robotics. It’s everything. You have operating systems, you have autonomy, you interact with people. It’s a classic robotic system that happens to have the form factor of a car. Even in that domain, you saw a lot of startups close, but the big companies have invested a lot more in that and in EVs.

What can schools do to prepare students for the labor market?

At Ohio State, we’ve created a number of programs over the past year around startup entrepreneurship, around very specific areas. For example manufacturing, health care. Things that we know we always need innovation in. Big companies need that entrepreneurial mindset and mindset because it allows them to innovate within the corporate structure. If companies don’t innovate, they tend to be archaic, and if the start-up culture resurfaces, they’ll get their share.

In terms of your own experience running a startup, how have you determined when to hire a college student versus someone older in age?

For the technical talent, these were really new hires. It was because I needed fresh ideas. We needed to know the latest and greatest, and they would have the training. This was much more common for marketing and sales. We have hired much more experienced people.

What tips would you give to startups hiring recent graduates?

Don’t put them on a critical path, for starters, because you could be disappointed if they don’t rise to the challenge. But do give them things for which they have to shift the preconditions. If you’re hiring them for front-end development or graphic design, think about things that are essential that I can push them into so they can learn. […] You, as a manager, have to be much more strategic, and you have to sort it out.

You still need a little hand holding. I don’t want to call it “micromanagement,” but you do have to set goals, set milestones, and if they don’t hit them, go back and ask why they didn’t. Don’t scold, but ask why. Sometimes you will find that they get stuck in certain areas that you didn’t expect, and then you can push them.

I tend to think generation wars are silly, but what would you say to those people who suggest that younger millennials and Gen Z are too sensitive or have no work ethic?

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


Image of a person talking to two colleagues via video conferencing.

Image Credits: Getty Images / Olga Strelnikova

There is a sense of helplessness associated with economic downturn. It’s the knowledge that – in the long run – nobody’s job is really safe. The way we have structured society means that the further up the ladder you are in terms of money and seniority, the more you are considered expendable.

For those spared, there’s little comfort 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 gone through that experience, it is clear that corporate layoffs are arbitrary when it comes to the individual. When push comes to shove, we all become rounding errors.

I’ve seen a lot of positive feedback on social media reiterating that layoffs aren’t personal. That’s certainly true for the company making the layoff, but it’s the exact opposite for the people on the receiving end. Layoffs are very personal. They disrupt our lives, our livelihoods, our motivations, our relationships. They contribute to depression and a laundry list of various ailments.

As someone who has worked in the world of publishing for a long time, I’ve been on the receiving end a few times. I understand that you can tell someone a million times that something isn’t their fault, but it can feel like a platitude. Moral support is extremely important during the process, but so are useful items. Help good people get good jobs. We talk a lot about how work shouldn’t define you, but it takes up more waking hours than anything. People should be able to find work that gives them satisfaction and that makes them feel valued.

If there’s one thing I want you to take away from, it’s the fact that people are in pain. If you can help, please help. Simple, I know, but if you need a less altruistic motivator, understand that the people you help now might just help you later.

I hope we can use Actuator as a platform to do just that. As I mentioned earlier, every week I’m going to show a handful of companies in the robotics space that are hiring. I don’t have a timeline for how long we’ll be doing this – a lot depends on the level of interest from job seekers. However, the plan for now is to maintain this through the current recession.

I learned a long time ago that recruitment is a big reason companies run for cover in a place like, and I understand that Actuator’s readers are exactly the kind of people these organizations are looking for. We are not going to be a job board and will not be posting individual job openings, but hopefully compiling a list will be helpful to job seekers.

If you’d like to join, please message me with your company name and how many positions you’re recruiting for (if you don’t provide the number, I’ll try to count). And hey, if you end up getting a new gig based on something you found here, let me know Twitter. Everyone likes a happy ending.

Robotics companies that hire people

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

To round up

Amazon Robotics Manufacturing Facility in Boston - BOS27

Image Credits: Amazon

Andy Jassy and a few other C-level folks aside, it seems no one was completely safe from Amazon’s sweeping job cuts. While it has been one of the retail giant’s main future-proofing focuses of the past decade, Amazon Robotics is reportedly among the divisions affected by this latest round. CNBC Notes that targeted a wide variety of positions in the division, including engineers and product managers. Drone delivery service Prime Air was also disproportionately affected here.

Image Credits: Boston dynamics

This week Boston Dynamics offered some of the first recordings of his Stretch robot being put to work at DHL. Stretch, as you will remember, is the Hyundai company’s second commercial robot, after Spot. It is based on the earlier Handle robot and is designed exclusively for unloading trucks/trailers, conveyors and pallets. Companies like DHL are the seemingly perfect target for the product, and appropriately, the logistics giant became one of Boston Dynamics’ first customers, with a $15 million product purchase last week a year ago.

Image Credits: Korean Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST)

Raibo takes us out this week, a robot dog who recently appeared in the pages of Science Robotics that can drive on sand at high speeds. According to the newspaper:

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

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/

And that’s a wrap for this week. Sign up here to receive Actuator in your inbox.

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