Young Engineers

Engineering Competitions Can Get You Hired

January 5, 2015

Featured in 2015 Guide to Getting an Engineering JobTop schools and employers scout engineering competitions for talent. Even if you don’t win, it’s worth your time to be there.

If you’re naturally competitive or have been competing since middle school, there’s no need to sell this idea to you (but we’ll try anyway). What about the rest of you?

“But I’m not competitive. Why enter an engineering competition?”

Watermelon-eating contests require a competitive nature. Engineering competitions do not. (Not that it hurts, but hear me out.)

Engineering Competitions Can Get You Hired Vex Robotics World Championship 2 Engineer Jobs Steve Rainwater

Credit: Steve Rainwater

Engineering competitions are inherently different, as no two teams should be working on the exact same design. Direct competition may happen when you pit your creation against another but, typically, you’re all there to solve a problem – the same problem. This breeds a kind of camaraderie within the competitive framework. The role of the other competitors is to make you and your team consider facets of the solution set that you wouldn’t have had to consider before. They’re there to make you cover all your bases. In the end, they can be your biggest help.

Engineering competitions foster collaboration as well as one-upmanship.  It’s a battle of technical chops in creative function, design, speed, commercial appeal, badassery, and more.

Besides the competitors themselves, who has the most to gain from all this? Right.  Top companies clamoring for young talent.

Engineering and Engineering-Related Competitions

CODE2040 Fellows Program

  • Who may apply: Black and Latino/a university students (undergraduate, graduate, doctoral)
  • Goal: To connect high-achieving coder students with Silicon Valley
  • Application Toolkit

There’s a worrying lack of racial diversity in vast swaths of Silicon Valley, especially considering that people of color will be the population majority by 2040 according to census projections. This is why CODE2040 is important.

Here’s why it’s awesome: the fellowship will award a summer internship with a top tech company in Silicon Valley, including:

  • Meetings with executives at companies like Google and Facebook
  • Opportunities to meet with partners at top venture firms
  • Mentoring by founders and senior engineers
  • A speaker series
  • Workshops
  • Coaching

Applications for the coming summer open in the previous Fall. Get more info here on how to apply for CODE2040 or recommend a student.

Annual International RoboSub Competition

  • Who may apply: Engineering and mechatronics student teams
  • Goal: To advance the development of Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs)

RoboSub 2015 (July 20 – 26) in San Diego marks the 19th annual competition. The participants are young engineers form around the world – mostly university students but some high school and private teams – who are charged with performing realistic underwater missions.

The competition page notes that it “has been tremendously successful in recruiting students into the high-tech field of maritime robotics.” Recruiters are on-site.

Teams are generally developed through universities. For private teams and schools which currently don’t have teams, here are resources on how to start a RoboSub competition team.

Collegiate Competitions such as Boilermake at Purdue

  • Who may apply: Any student in the world
  • Goal: To develop anything software-related
  • Online application

If employers are looking to pluck fresh talent from colleges (and they are), there’s nothing as ripe for picking as Purdue University’s Boilermake. Students from other schools are bussed in, other travelers are given vouchers, and anyone from around the world is invited.

Participants are chosen from among applications to create  “software and hardware projects that solve important, real-world problems.”

Collegiate hackathons tend to be super hives of energy and activity where future contacts and potential employers swarm. Other big ones include, MHacks in Ann Arbor, LAHacks at UCLA, HackMIT, PennApps, and HackTX in Austin.


NASA’s Applied Sciences DEVELOP is a national program that invites students and professionals – anyone 18 and over interested in Earth science and remote sensing – to use NASA Earth observations in innovative ways. Participants lead rapid feasibility research projects under the guidance of NASA and other partners. DEVELOP exists to foster “an adept corps of tomorrow’s scientists and leaders” who understand the role of science in technology to address community concerns and public policy issues.

Application guidelines, upcoming deadlines (Fall, Spring, and Summer terms available), and an online application can be found on the NASA DEVELOP site.

RESNA Student Design Competition

  • Who may apply: Students and professionals at least 18 years of age
  • Goal: To help develop projects that use NASA Earth science research and technology in socially conscious applications

RESNA, the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of America, holds conferences that showcase student designs for innovative assistive technologies. The competition is an opportunity to network with developers and assistive tech professionals.

In addition, a member of the team that wins “Technology Most Likely to Become Commercially Available” is invited to a chance “to further develop the winning design and move it towards commercialization.”

Hackdays and Code Jams

Silicon Valley loves their developers. More specifically, they want constant, apex-surpassing development. Coding talent is among the top characteristics that can connect you to these companies.

Engineering Competitions Can Get You Hired Nooku Code Jam Johan Janssens Engineer Jobs Nooku

Credit: Nooku

Google HR, for example, says, “For engineering candidates in particular, we’ll be looking to check out your coding skills and technical areas of expertise.” They started Google Code Jam as a way of rooting out (ha) the most talented engineers.

Top tech companies hold internal hackathons to propel innovation and product development. They also produce or sponsor hackdays (hack days, hackathons, hackfests, codefests… ) open to the public to help develop specific apps, products, business processes, or as part of civic duty and economic development for needy communities.

They are typically held in one day or over a weekend (though some go for weeks). Some are held for specific communities, such as women-only hackathons.

If you see one that fits, find a reason to jump in. Or do it for the greater good. You’ll meet people, sharpen your skills, and earn a good-looking addition to your resume whether you win or not.

Find the Competition For You

Mechanical engineers can start with ASME:

  • ASME student design competition – the 2015 student problem is building a Robot for Relief.
  • IAM3D – re-engineer or create designs that minimize energy consumption and/or improve energy efficiency
  • HPVC – Human-Powered Vehicle Challenge, conducted in Eastern and Western US, India, and Latin America
  • iShow – Innovation Showcase, for entrepreneurial engineers with an idea they want to take to the next level
  • IDSC – Innovative Design Simulation, to design simulations or simulation frameworks and environments

Civil engineers can build a concrete canoe. Student members of IEEE can access their electrical engineering competitions. There are plenty of places to find your niche.


Featured Image Credit: Steve Rainwater