Jamie Lyn Beatty once said, “[j]obs fill your pockets, adventures fill your soul.” As this quote suggests, travel and adventure are incredible, but they come at a cost.
What if it was possible to travel and make money at the same time? DMC’s newest role, the “Road Warrior,” does just that. A team of six bold and talented engineers, including myself, are piloting this program as of June 2022.
During business hours, we roll up our sleeves, travel to client sites, and get our hands dirty by working directly on a client’s automation hardware and software. Outside of working hours, and on the weekends, we are free to adventure!
This blog gives you a candid look into what it is like to be a Road Warrior. I will share the ins and outs of my six months of experience in the role, as well as some tidbits from my fellow Road Warriors.
Road Warriors and their clients enjoy clear advantages from the new role. We put in above average travel time and, therefore, receive above average compensation for our efforts. Benefits include higher pay and a faster vacation accrual rate. Additionally, Road Warriors can rollover unlimited vacation days in the calendar year or years served. DMC also provides site compensation bonuses for each day on the road — including extra on the weekends.
As an early career engineer, the duration of my role as a Road Warrior is 18 months. Those with more experience can sign up for shorter, 6-month Road Warrior rotations. At contract termination, Road Warriors are eligible to take up to 30 days off using vacation time, unpaid time off, or a combination of the two.
Road Warriors, as well as non-Road Warrior traveling engineers, are eligible for project recouperation, also known as “recoup time.” Depending on the duration and circumstances of the trip, travelers can take one or two paid days off after returning without expending any vacation time. Traveling is tiring, and having dedicated time to take care of chores or to do something enjoyable after a big onsite trip is a huge perk.
A wanderer at heart, I enjoy getting to experience different parts of our beautiful country. As Road Warriors, we get to see incredible sights, try new activities, and eat delicious food.
DMC sends us to projects that last at least a month, so we have the opportunity to really learn a place rather than rush through a visit.
Here are a few pictures of activities, food, and events that the Road Warrior team has been fortunate enough to experience.
Figure 1: Hiking in Pinnacles National Park with a fellow Road Warrior
Figure 2: A group of Road Warriors going out for hibachi
Figure 3: Rock climbing inside of an abandoned grain silo at Upper Limits climbing gym after work one day
Figure 4: Cooking a steak on a 700-degree volcanic rock at Rok Steakhouse
I am an avid cyclist, and longer stays allow me travel with my bike. My most recent project was in the Bay Area, and I enjoyed riding my gravel bike on various routes and connecting with a local gravel riding group.
Figure 5: Riding near the Golden Gate Bridge
Figure 6: Riding above the clouds amongst the Redwoods
Figure 7: Sunrise ride in South Bay near a salt pond
Another major benefit of being a Road Warrior is that there are next to no living costs while on the road. Travelers will either get a rental car with gas paid for, or we are compensated for our gas and miles driven if driving a personal car.
On top of that, we receive lodging, flights, and a daily allowance for food. As an added benefit, Road Warriors can book accommodations through their own accounts and inevitably rack up hotel, airline, credit card, and rental car points that can be used for personal travel.
Clients also benefit from the Road Warrior program. Normally, for an extended onsite trip, engineering teams are rotated on and offsite in intervals up to three or four weeks. It takes time to pass off work and get a new team of engineers up to speed on a project Since Road Warriors remain onsite for an extended period, transition and travel costs are limited, and clients see a smoother progression in their onsite projects.
Road Warriors have the opportunity to complete interesting and challenging work while directly interfacing with hardware. You get to work on the code for automation equipment and robots in some of the most advanced manufacturing and fulfillment facilities in the world. If that doesn't sound exciting to you as a systems or automation engineer, then you are in the wrong industry.
With this incredible work comes higher pressure to produce results for a client. Since Road Warriors often work on equipment that is running production, it is important for us to be on the ball each day to make high quality and professional changes to code. Also, clients pay a premium to have us onsite, so they rightfully expect progress each day.
Of course, clients are interested in the status of our work. Communicating effectively and consistently to a client is critical for successful projects and business relationships. Road Warriors are expected to provide daily updates to a client regarding current progress, next steps, and timelines.
With pressure to produce results comes a “One DMC” support network. I am never hung out to dry when stuck on a problem. In fact, I rarely solve a challenging problem alone at DMC, even on a solo project.
When I hit a roadblock, I reach out to a group of other automation engineers at my company. One of whom has likely overcome the same exact problem or, at a minimum, is willing to hop on a call and provide support. When consulting a DMC engineer, a client gains access to the knowledgebase of hundreds of experienced DMC engineers.
Road Warriors stay busy while onsite and will typically put at least 40 hours of their time per week towards the onsite project. Naturally, we receive higher than average performance metrics when onsite.
As a final note, the nature of a Road Warrior's role gives the individual the opportunity to connect and network with other engineers. I am thankful to have worked also closely with some incredibly smart engineers at other companies, and I have learned a lot technically and non-technically from these connections!
Road Warriors have great benefits. We get to see the sights and work on incredible projects with smart people… so what’s the catch? As with most things in life, there are some challenges.
One of the most challenging aspects for me is that it can be difficult to form community when on a solo project. Of course, Road Warriors are supported by the DMC community, but we will inevitably be apart from family or perhaps a significant other.
This is something that a prospective Road Warrior must weigh when deciding to sign up for the role; however, with intention, it is possible to form new community on the road. This article has some good tips for doing so! (I should note that Road Warrior assignments are generally not solo, especially for early-career engineers.)
Traveling can be frustrating at times as well. If you are traveling for 80% of the year, I can almost guarantee that you will miss a connecting flight or have something go wrong with one of your accommodations at some point. My advice: go with the flow and make the best of the situation.
For example, this Fall I missed a connecting flight in Denver while traveling to Indianapolis for a weekend visit from California. The next flight from Denver to Indianapolis left Sunday morning, and I needed to return to California for work by Monday morning. Instead of rebooking, I called up my family in Colorado and enjoyed an unexpected weekend trip with them; I got to see the Aspen trees changing colors!
Figure 8: Getting to see the leaves change color while visiting family on an unexpected trip to Denver
Most of the time, we aim to work just over 40 hours per week, 9 AM to 5 PM; however, Road Warriors will sometimes need to work more than 8-hour days or nights shifts. If a company is bringing down production for engineering work, or if engineering time is given at night, Road Warriors must be flexible with their schedules.
One of DMC’s core values it to have fun; therefore, DMC funds a lot of activities, events, and meals at each office. Unfortunately, when on the road, Road Warriors are unable to take part in these events.
Of course, if someone signs up to be a road warrior and it doesn't work out, they can always transition to a more traditional automation role within DMC. At the end of my 18 months, I will either do one more six-month stint as a Road Warrior, or I will transition into a more stationary role at DMC’s Denver office.
The Early Career Road Warrior Perspective
As part of DMC’s “One DMC” initiative, all DMC hires complete a few weeks of training at DMC’s Chicago office. This was one of my favorite parts of onboarding at DMC (just take a quick peek at all of the fun welcome parties and activity fund events that happen at the Chicago office).
In addition to meeting the incredible employees of the Chicago office and other new hires, I was invited to fun welcome parties and events; this included kayaking down the Chicago River and doing a Bubble 5k. I will always remember my time onboarding in Chicago!
Figure 9: Bubble 5k in Chicago during onboarding
Furthermore, the technical training for a Road Warrior has some differences compared to other DMC roles. After completing a few weeks of general company and automation training classes, Road Warriors will begin training up on technologies that will be used in their first onsite visit. In my case, I received focused trainings on programming Rockwell PLCs and developing SCADA systems in Ignition.
Generally, your first onsite trips will be at sites with DMC engineers. This allows you to provide technical support to the client while learning the ropes of being onsite from more senior engineers.
One of my concerns when taking a traveling job was that I might not develop relationships with mentors if I was frequently on the road and away from the office. Luckily, DMC has a mentor program, and I was assigned two mentors who both helped me get my feet on the ground in my career. I continue to meet with them every month or so. I was also fortunate to do an onsite visit with both of my mentors, so I got to work with them and build these relationships in-person as well.
When not traveling, I expand my knowledge and capabilities as a controls engineer. I spend my time training up on different technologies, ramping up for my next onsite project, and catching up on company matters. DMC has many “at your own pace” trainings set up for relevant technologies that can be completed during this time; so far at DMC, I have received training on Rockwell, Siemens, Beckhoff PLCs and HMIs, FANUC robots, and Ignition.
This role can be challenging for the long-term (unless you want to hit the 10 Million Mile Club like Ryan Bingham from Up in the Air) — especially for anyone who is tightly bound to their home by kids, family, pets, or anything else — but, for a year, or even a couple of years, it can be an incredible opportunity to see the world, gain experience in some of the most advanced and highly-automated facilities in the world, and to bank away some extra cash (or knock down student loans in my case).
With that being said, I recommend future DMCers to go for it! If you feel like you have been living in one place for too long and want to explore our beautiful country (or perhaps our beautiful world!) then absolutely take it on. Some days will be challenging and tiring. Other days you will make incredible contributions to automation equipment and robots, eat incredible food, and see incredible sights!
Learn more about careers at DMC.