Roadmap to aerospace jobs: How to become an aerospace programmer

Jun 03, 2021 - 8 min read
Erin Schaffer
editor-page-cover

Working in the aerospace industry is a dream for many engineers. Aerospace is an exciting and innovative field that’s making important advances in the designing and building of machines of the future. The field expands beyond just space and rockets. As a programmer in the aerospace industry, you have the opportunity to work on challenging problems that are important to national defense, society, economics, and much more.

Today, we’ll introduce you to the role of aerospace programming and discuss how to get started in the industry.

We’ll cover:



Learn Python for aerospace

In this course, you’ll learn about what it takes to become a Python developer in the mechanical and aerospace engineering industries.

Python for Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

What is an aerospace programmer?

Aerospace is an interdisciplinary field. Individuals in this field focus on areas like:

  • Aerodynamics

  • Automation

  • Propulsion

  • Structures

  • Dynamics and controls

  • Information technology

  • Etc.

As a programmer in the aerospace industry, the duties in your job description will vary. There are many different types of projects to work on, such as:

  • Scripting to generate automation tasks or documentation

  • Performing data analysis with software

  • Developing software simulations

  • Working on algorithm design

  • Automated testing for verification purposes

  • Writing embedded flight software

  • Developing new features for aerospace electronics

  • And much more

The aerospace industry is constantly evolving and innovating, so it’s a very exciting and rewarding field to work in. Now more than ever, aerospace programmers spend their time in office settings, working on software design, modeling, simulations, training, and testing. It’s important to be skilled in a programming language to do these things effectively and efficiently. While MATLAB is the standard in the aerospace industry, Python is a versatile option.

Why use Python in aerospace?

Python is a general-purpose programming language used for small and large projects. It’s free, open-source, and has out-of-the-box functionality. Python can be used to do many things with your data, like record, gather, process, display, save, and publish it. Python may not be the standard language in aerospace, but it’s widely used.


What types of roles are available?

There are many different types of Python jobs you can do in the aerospace industry. Job postings and job titles may vary, but here are a few examples:

  • Data science/data engineering: The focus on data collection is becoming more important in the aerospace industry. The next generation of space travel will need data scientists and data engineers experienced in big data analysis to work on a development team, focusing on advanced discoveries in engineering and science.

  • Back end: A backend developer helps design scalable, data-intensive software architectures, and troubleshoots software and performance issues.

  • Machine learning: If you work with machine learning in the aerospace industry, expect to focus on optimizing classification and detection algorithms.

Why work in aerospace?

Let’s take a look at some of the perks of working in aerospace:

  • Help reach ambitious goals: Companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin, and NASA need talented individuals like you to help them reach their goals of commercialized space travel and missions to Mars.

  • Receive high pay: Aerospace programmers receive great compensation.

  • Be in demand: Aerospace is a growing industry, with a 3% projected growth in the next decade.

  • Be innovative: You have the opportunity to create and work with new space technologies. Many companies are working on virtual reality, sustainability, and AI.

Note: When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, many companies moved to work from home, allowing employees to do remote Python programming for their companies. This shift may offer more flexibility in your location. California, Washington, Texas, Massachusetts, and Alabama are some popular US states for jobs. Canada also has a big market for aerospace.



Keep the learning going.

In this course, you’ll start with Python basics and then move into more advanced concepts like orbital parameters, modeling 2D and 3D static orbits, and much more. By the end of the course, you’ll understand Python in the context of mechanical and aerospace engineering.

Python for Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering


Aerospace programmer salaries

We’ll take a look at the salaries for entry-level, full-time software engineers at top aerospace companies, along with senior software engineer salaries.

Boeing

Entry-level: $87,304

Senior: $137,850

Lockheed Martin

Entry-level: $78,778

Senior: $110,977

NASA

Entry-level: $87,953

Senior: $120,887

Northrop Grumman

Entry-level: $88,268

Senior: $138,096

United Technologies

Entry-level: $79,633

Senior: $121,872

Note: These amounts will vary depending on years of experience, location, etc. Don’t limit yourself to just top aerospace companies. There are plenty of exciting aerospace startups looking for software developers.


How to become an aerospace programmer

A common track for an Aerospace Programmer is to have a background in computer science or computer engineering, and then apply for jobs in the aerospace industry. Here are some general considerations if you want to program in the aerospace industry.

Gather the prerequisites

Here are some common skills you’ll see on job postings/in job descriptions:

  • Bachelor’s degree (or equivalent) in computer engineering or computer science

  • Security clearance depending on the work

  • Experience with programming version control software like Git

  • Development experience with Python, JavaScript, C++, and/or other programming languages

  • Strong writing and presentation skills

  • Experience in software development lifecycles, configuration management, and agile and scrum

  • Experience with Windows or Linux

  • Strong problem-solving and interpersonal skills

  • Etc.

Note: A more senior Python developer/software engineer in the aerospace industry will have different requirements.

Get familiar with Python

Python is one of the top programming languages used within aerospace engineering. MATLAB is the standard, but Python is more versatile and useful for any tasks that don’t require Simulink. If you’re breaking into the aerospace industry with a background in computer science or computer engineering, you’ll have great experience working with Python.

Strengthen your soft skills

Obviously, technical knowledge is important, but make sure you practice working on your soft skills. Now more than ever, companies are looking for engineers who have soft skills. An ideal candidate will have skills in the following:

  • Communication
  • Leadership
  • Ability to collaborate with team members
  • Empathy
  • Willingness to learn
  • Critical thinking and complex problem solving
  • Etc.

Work on relevant projects

It’s helpful to showcase relevant work and skills when applying for jobs in the aerospace industry. It’s a good idea to work on projects applicable to the field. Here are some ideas for aerospace projects:

  • Web scraping: Demonstrate your ability to go to a website, get information from it, and put the information into an Excel spreadsheet. Doing this in Python is great for readability.

  • Develop a graph for thrust required and thrust available at sea level: Demonstrate your ability to graphically show how the thrust available decreases with altitude, and how the thrust curve’s shape changes with the drag characteristic at altitude.

  • Open-source projects: Contribute to open source and take part in relevant work. You can check out GitHub for available projects.

Note: There is a growing interest in hiring engineers who are familiar with DevOps.


3 aerospace interview questions to practice

If you plan to interview for a position with an aerospace company, it’s important to learn the basics of aerospace engineering and flight mechanics. Many software engineers do not get much exposure to aerospace topics, so this knowledge will put you ahead of the curve. Here are some sample technical questions asked in aerospace interviews:

  • FizzBuzz

  • Develop the code for the dynamic pressure experienced by a rocket during launch

  • Develop an airfoil plotter

To work on these problems and learn more about Python programming in the aerospace industry, check out Educative’s course Python for Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. In this course, you’ll cover the basics on Python, and then move into more advanced aerospace topics, like orbital parameters and plotting airfoil coordinates. By the end, you’ll have a better understanding of Python and how it works in mechanical and aerospace engineering.

Happy learning!



WRITTEN BYErin Schaffer

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