Some lucky engineers have built a career in the design and deployment of technology for global development. The field is rewarding, so much so that professionals volunteer for the experience. That may be because a mosaic of experiences draws people to the work. In this field, engineers can make a tangible difference in people’s lives, travel to new places and solve unique problems with life-saving implications. To find employment, or to make your own, may be difficult, but it is possible.
If Engineering for Change is a microcosm of the field at large, job opportunities may be increasing in global development engineering. And so might the number of funding sources for entrepreneurial pursuits. E4C’s Opportunities Portal is an increasingly popular section of the website, attracting tens of thousands of eyes to hundreds of jobs listings, volunteer positions, fellowships, funding opportunities and competitions. In 2018, more than 100,000 unique visitors opened pages in our jobs board. Much of what they saw has dream job potential.
Take a look at some of these positions:
Project Engineer – Coral Restoration Technology: SECORE International sought a project engineer to design coral restoration technology.
Impact Specialist – Monitoring systems at Medic Mobile: The global health venture seeks an Impact Specialist to develop monitoring systems for teams in the United States, Africa and South Asia.
Senior Mechanical Engineer – BURN stove manufacturing in Kenya: The clean cookstove factory sought a mechanical engineer for its factory outside of Nairobi, Kenya.
A dip into our data reveals 49 jobs posted in 2018, 15 funding opportunities and competitions, six volunteer positions and eight fellowships. We spoke with managers at two companies that post prolifically on our jobs board to ask what they look for in successful candidates and how they hire.
BURN Manufacturing posts job openings and fellowship announcements at E4C every few weeks. Boston Nyer, BURN’s Chief Innovation Officer, says the willingness to take a risk defines the engineers that they hire.
“Opportunities definitely go to the brave and those who have stronger stomachs and take that risk,” Mr. Nyer says.
BURN turns away even strong candidates who are not willing to travel.
“They’ve got to be willing to go travel and spend time somewhere,” Mr. Nyer says.
Nearly every job opening on E4C’s Opportunities Portal is with an organization that has a presence in an emerging economy, working alongside the communities where the products or services are used. Some jobs are based in the global West, but they require travel, and nearly all have operations in two or more countries.
Take a fellowship or an internship
“The industry is underfunded,” Mr. Nyer says. “The people who end up getting opportunities are the people who are willing to take risks. They take an internship for six months or a year and make themselves so valuable that they get hired.”
Likewise, E4C offers a fellowship that has helped graduates of the program find employment in global development. And in some cases our graduates have taken jobs in their fields and applied skills they learned in the fellowship to volunteer in global development in their free time.
Read some of their stories here.
- E4C’s Research Fellow Mayari Pérez Creates Makerspaces in Guatemala
- Engineering for Change’s Research Fellow Ignatius Waikwa Wins a Prize and Advocates for Development Tech in a Kenyan Slum
- From Engineering for Change’s Research Fellowship to Leadership of Global Design Projects at the University of Michigan
Target a growing organization
“The most important thing is to pick organizations that you feel are growing and have positions that you can imagine yourself in. If you do an internship at a company that’s not growing and has 10 people and the CEO is only making $20,000 a year, you’ll never go anywhere,” Mr. Nyer says.
Cultivate end-to-end experience…
Dimagi builds Internet and communications technologies for social impact. The company hires for about 10 positions each year and posts them on E4C’s Opportunities Portal. Clayton Sims, Dimagi’s Chief Technology Officer, says successful candidates have end-to-end software development experience.
“We generally aren’t looking for exact matches for specific languages or build stacks. We focus on skills built by experiencing the end-to-end process of software development, including Continuous Integration Testing, and devops automation,” Mr. Sims says.
The takeaway for technically trained professionals, even those who are not in ICT, is that companies do not necessarily seek specific skillsets, rather they seek people with big-picture experience and a track record for finishing projects.
…and soft skills
“We are also generally looking for people who are good communicators (skill writing and processing documentation) and collaborators, since we work across time zones and with cross-disciplinary teams,” Mr. Sims says.
And Dimagi is not alone. Strong communication skills, organization, the courage to jump in and problem solve and general friendliness are crucial on teams that do not have a common native language and span cultures and geographies.
Make your own work
“Most people in this field make their own jobs as entrepreneurs and consultants,” says Peter Haas, Associate Director of the Humanity Centered Robotics Initiative at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island (USA), and co-founder of the now-shuttered Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group. The sentiment is echoed by Jose Gomez-Marquez, co-director of Little Devices Lab, a global health technology design lab at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge (USA). His advice for breaking into the field: “You just do it. Then you create your own job.”
Know what to expect
Make yourself into a better candidate or entrepreneur by listening to veterans in your field. Know what to expect. E4C offers insights from though leaders in global development technology who talk about their careers and the obstacles and achievements on their paths to where they are now. See E4C’s curated webinar series on careers in global development.
Part of knowing what to expect is knowing how much you can earn.
“There is, I think, a misconception that salaries in global development are not competitive with other fields, but this too is changing, especially at the mid and senior levels of NGO and consulting firms,” says Steve Forbes, President of Forbes Environmental Engineering. “And not to overlook the universities, there are many interesting grants, fellowships, internships and volunteer opportunities, as well as numerous opportunities for networking, not the least of which are through E4C and Engineers Without Borders.”
Where to start the search
Our own network of job creators and job seekers offers this list, with special thanks to Mr. Forbes for most of the items here.
- E4C’s Opportunities Portal
- Jobnet Africa
- Escape the City
- Fitzroy and Associates and other recruiters place engineers in social enterprises
- Cold calls. “Send your email to places and say, ‘hey, I’m not sure if you have a specific position available but I’m willing to talk about engagement, internships, whatever,'” Mr. Nyer says.
- PCD Network
- UN Job List
- Tetra Tech
- RTI International
- Winrock International
- Skoll Community Jobs Board
- And conferences may have something to offer job seekers. Mr. Forbes suggests the Society for International Development’s annual conference and Devex’s conference.
Do you know of a good place to find jobs in global development? Please post it in the comments.