What you need to know to become an automation engineer in Australia

Looking for jobs can be overwhelming but being confident in the skills you have can help guide the way to finding the role you're best-suited for.

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Looking for jobs has significantly changed in the last three decades from when people would knock on doors of companies to deliver their resumes in person, to doing so with one click on employment sites like SEEK, Indeed and even LinkedIn.

Although looking for work has become easier for job seekers, the same can't be said for employers, with companies and recruiters receiving way more applications than they once did. This often results in many of those applicants not even receiving the automatic "we thank you for your interest but…".

Peter Noblet of Hudson recruitment told Computerworld Australia that he still believes that a well-crafted resume is going to be the key for job seekers. "A good approach is to make a phone call, if possible, to the recruiter who's advertising these roles, and explaining why you're interested in the role."

Noblet believes that IT professionals should research who the recruiters are for the areas they are interested in, get in touch and build a network with them. That's because recruiters will often go to the people they have in their networks when looking for professionals with specific skills.

In Australia, IT hires have been a priority for many businesses throughout the novel coronavirus pandemic. With this trend likely to continue, Computerworld Australia spoke to automation engineers to provide tips to those interested in the field, as well as those who may be uncertain of what engineering path to follow. 

Top skills for success as an automation engineer

Regional director of recruiting at Hays Information Technology, Robert Beckley, said the top qualities Hays looks for when recruiting automation engineers are their ability to write scripts and code and their level of exposure to agile, devops and continuous deployment (CD).

Holly Halteh, an automation engineer at the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX), told Computerworld Australia that one of the keys to success in the role is willingness to learn and investigate new ways of doing things.

"Next perhaps a good understanding of the SDLC [system development life cycle] to properly interpret it in other ways, and familiarity in the tools and languages surrounding the space wouldn't hurt – automation servers [including] GoCD or Jenkins, automation tools [such as] Ansible and Tower, cloud platforms [such as] GCP and AWS."

A knowledge of programming is important but languages can vary from role to role. Automation engineer at Max Automation, Wade Hope, explained that his role has a strong emphasis on programming control systems using PLCs (programmable logic controllers), and suggested learning as much as you can about the IEC 61131-3 programming languages.

"In particular I've found structured text and function block diagram programming to be really useful in this role. If you're thinking of going into this field, knowing the common programming languages that are used with PLCs is a must," Hope said.

Hays' Beckley said they also look for candidates with stakeholder management skills. Proving that you possess soft skills can be challenging, since it is often something that you are only able to demonstrate once on the job. During an interview, though, you can show good communication abilities, which can be considered a subset of soft skills.

How to succeed after getting the job

Hope said the ability to learn quickly can help candidates succeed once in the role. He said he did not have the PLC skills necessary when he started in his job, but his ability to learn quickly was the difference between success and failure.

Both Halteh and Wade got jobs soon after finishing their studies. Halteh had already started as a devops intern with the ASX.

"I believe I did well managing the parts of the application stack given to me because they kept me on as a casual while I finished my studies, and then offered a full-time role," Halteh explained. "It was about consistent learning, applying oneself, and persistence. I think that helped me secure a position after my termed contracts."

For those who already have some industry experience, Hays' Beckley said recruiters will also look for proven previous experience working with top tech companies.

Lessons and tips for those seeking this career

For those new to the field, Hope suggested looking for a company where you can work under a senior engineer who's been in the industry for a while. "Working under someone who has a lot of experience can really accelerate how quickly you learn new skills. Also, it's a really fun job to get into – particularly if you're getting paid to learn, so have fun!"

Hope said to always keep track of big changes in a project you are working on, since it can be easy to forget when decisions were made and the project can quickly become overwhelming. It is also a good way to track progress.

Halteh suggested noticing things around you that can be automated, such as daily tasks that can be standardised. "The best things to automate are often the things people hate doing, so once you can identify these, keeping up-to-date with devops practices and just spending some time in the community would help a lot in getting the ball rolling; even if just making something small in your personal space as hands-on experience is really the best way to learn how all the components interact together to automate a process," she explained.

Halteh believes the most valuable resources are the people around you. "To ask is to be proactive. This then ties into always looking to diversify yourself and to keep out of your comfort zone."

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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