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Ask Drone Girl: what to do in college to have a career in drones

Next up in our “Ask Drone Girl” series is about preparing in college and high school for a career in drones. If you have a question for Drone Girl, contact her here.

My daughter is 15 and is in a tech class at school where they are flying two drones. She wants to pursue drone technology in college. We’ve visited Embry-Riddle (we live in FL), but didn’t get much information out of the visit. The amount of information out there is mind-numbing and even the ratings are typically confusing (and I’m an airline pilot).

My thoughts are this:
1.) get the license after turning 16
2.) get a drone and work on flying
3.) internship, summer job or summer camp involving technology, drones

 I think her interests are more in the building and flying rather than coding aspects, but I want to help her “find herself” at this critical (and fun) time. Any help you can pass along would be greatly appreciated!


Hey Woody!

Thanks for reading, and hello to your daughter! It’s great to hear about more young women interested in STEAM and drones. This is a critical and fun time for her, so I’m glad you two are thinking about her future.

Yes, she should definitely get her license when she turns 16. Here’s a video I put together on the resources I used to study and what it was like actually taking the test. That will enable her to operate drones commercially – and that’s not out of the realm of possibility for someone her age! I recently profiled a fantastic young woman who started a drone business when she was in high school operating DJI Phantom drones.

She can already start flying her drone for hobby purposes now – so if she has some money saved up or a birthday coming soon, she should buy a drone now. I recommend making an initial investment on something relative low-cost. That way if she decides she doesn’t like flying (or it gets lost), it’s not a huge investment out the window. From there, progress to higher quality drones.

I know you mentioned a current interest in building and flying, but a big component of drones in the software (that’s where the money is at!), so I wouldn’t throw that out the window just yet. As far as summer camps, I highly recommend signing up for the free Summer Immersion Program through Girls Who Code. Participants get to visit companies near them, which in San Francisco, means working with Facebook and Pixar. If you’re in Seattle, that could mean Amazon – drone delivery, anyone?

As far as where to go to college, it’s still early, so not a lot of schools offer drone classes. Of course, the top aviation schools such as University of North Dakota and Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, do offer drone programs. Consider getting a UAS degree from one of those institutions!

But the brilliant thing about drones is that you don’t necessarily need an aviation background to succeed in the industry.

I’m a journalism major from the nation’s top journalism school (of course I’m biased) who took a drone journalism course there. If she wants to use drones for journalism or photography, apply to the best journalism/communication/art schools. If she wants to build them, then consider applying to the top engineering schools. If she wants to use drones for farming, apply to the top agriculture schools.

I’ve found a really important part of getting into a career is finding a community of like-minded people. Look for local flying clubs near you, whether it’s a racing league or a local AMA chapter.

Most importantly, have fun and happy flying!

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