For college students looking for a lucrative career, it’s clear they should study engineering. Nine out of the 10 highest paid professions are various forms of engineers, with starting salaries reaching as high as $96,000. But the most sought-after of engineers have two additional words on their resumés.
As noted in the Wall Street Journal (paywall) in an article on US car giant Ford’s future plans, engineers with words “autonomous vehicles” on their LinkedIn page can expect to receive four to five emails a week from recruiters.
The demand reflects the frenzy among some of the world’s biggest companies to develop self-driving cars. Tech giants like Google’s owner, Alphabet, and Apple are jockeying with newer arrivals like Uber and Lyft, along with car makers from Tesla to Toyota, to be the first to roll out the technology.
If companies can’t lure talent, they’re acquiring rivals that have it. Last year, General Motors bought Cruise Automation for about $1 billion, absorbing its technology and 40 employees. Uber and Alphabet’s self-driving subsidiary Waymo are at odds in court about whether Uber stole its tech from a former Waymo engineer, which centers around the purchase of autonomous truck startup Otto for almost $700 million. Waymo has since said it will team up with Lyft.
In 2015, Uber raided Carnegie Mellon University’s robotics department, hiring away about 50 engineers, and installing them in the company’s Pittsburgh research center. As consolation, Uber donated $5.5 million to the school. Executives are also fought over. Ford successfully wooed back Sherif Marakby from Uber to become vice president overseeing its line of autonomous operations, a year after Uber had poached him from Ford.
The hunger for talent has already outstripped the ability of colleges and universities to produce it, so students eager for careers in autonomous systems are looking elsewhere. A free online course in machine learning from Stanford has had more than a million subscribers, making it among the most popular online courses ever. Salaries also reflect the interest—the average pay for an engineer with experience in self-driving cars is $233,000, including bonuses and stock equity, according to Paysa, a website that collects salary data.