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Pittsburgh's self-driving car boom means $200,000 pay packages for robotics grads

  • At least four self-driving car companies are battling for robotics talent in Pittsburgh
  • These types of salaries were "unheard of for any role until recently"
  • By year-end, Argo expects to have 200 employees, with Pittsburgh as one of its main centers
Pilot models of the Uber self-driving car are displayed at the Uber Advanced Technologies Center on September 13, 2016, in Pittsburgh.
Angelo Merendino | AFP | Getty Images
Pilot models of the Uber self-driving car are displayed at the Uber Advanced Technologies Center on September 13, 2016, in Pittsburgh.

There's a war for talent in Pittsburgh's booming autonomous car market.

It started with Uber and now includes Argo AI, which is majority owned by Ford, and a start-up called Aurora Innovation. With so much hiring, it's a good time to be at the city's prized academic institution, Carnegie Mellon University.

Andrew Moore, the dean of Carnegie Mellon's computer science school, said that computer vision graduates right out of college are commanding pay packages of $200,000, which he described as "unheard of for any role until recently."

In addition to Uber, Argo and Aurora, Moore said there's a fourth self-driving car company in Pittsburgh that's not yet talking publicly.

"One of the effects is this dramatic salary rise for anyone with robotics engineering skills," said Moore, whose background is in artificial intelligence and robotics. "It does feel very much like a gold rush town at the moment."

Moore, who previously spent eight years at Google and ran the company's Pittsburgh office, estimates that there are 1,000 to 2,000 people in the city working on autonomous driving. Pittsburgh has become the de facto capital for self-driving car development, thanks to Carnegie Mellon's top-ranked robotics program and the city's openness to partnering with tech companies on risky endeavors.

Despite all of Uber's legal, cultural and management troubles, the ride-hailing company is aggressively hiring in Pittsburgh. Uber currently has 60 job openings there in its advanced technologies group, which houses the self-driving engineering team.

Aurora has 12 listings for both Pittsburgh and Palo Alto, the two cities the company calls the "nerve centers of self-driving technology." It has another opening in Pittsburgh for a vehicle operator manager. The start-up's creators came from Google, Uber and Tesla, where they were all working on related projects.

According to an April story in Fortune, Aurora will work with auto manufacturers and suppliers to build a "mix of sensors, software, and data services needed to deploy fully autonomous vehicles."

Argo captured headlines in February, when Ford announced a $1 billion investment for a majority stake in the company. Argo was founded by Carnegie Mellon alumni, who also happen to be former Google and Uber employees. Ford said that by the end of the year, Argo expects to have more than 200 people in Pittsburgh, Michigan and the Bay Area.

The company has job openings in Pittsburgh for software engineers, hardware engineers, vehicle operators and other positions.

"There is a healthy amount of poaching between the self-driving car companies in Pittsburgh," Moore said. "Overall, it's really good for the city because there are constantly new people moving in."