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.
Aerospace is an interdisciplinary field. Individuals in this field focus on areas like:
Dynamics and controls
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
Note: A more senior Python developer/software engineer in the aerospace industry will have different requirements.
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.
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:
- Ability to collaborate with team members
- Willingness to learn
- Critical thinking and complex problem solving
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.
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:
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.