Question – Next year I will be a senior in mechanical engineering at Penn State interested in a career focusing on amusement park ride design. I noticed that one of your questions suggested starting with Walt Disney Imagineering, which is where the author of your answer started. I was wondering if you had any suggestions about how to get my foot in the door with an engineering firm specializing in amusement rides?
Thanks for writing.
For whatever reason, we seem to get lots of how-do-I-get-into-the-mechanical-side-of-amusement-ride-design questions. BIRKET Engineering designs the computer and electrical side of amusement rides.
I’m not sure where to begin so I am going to just rattle off some bullet points.
- You’re doing the right thing by thinking about this now. Getting a job, making a friend, selecting a school, is all about familiarity. You have a least a year to get familiar with what is out there and to get a potential employer familiar with you.
- Start with the basics, which you are doing, talk to people, e-mail people, and sniff around to see what is out there.
- Look at some trade organizations to see what is out there. The Themed Entertainment Association (www.themeit.com) or maybe the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (www.iaapa.com). These will list dozens and dozens of companies so you can learn how the industry is set up.
- Consider going to the big IAAPA convention in November in Atlanta, I think. Anybody can go and pay an admission, I think, check their site. It is super sensory saturation at these things, but you can meet every possible vendor, supplier, engineer, designer, artist, manager, owner there ever was in the theme park biz. This thing is so big nobody will remember you, but you will definitely walk away with a grasp of what companies are out there and what they do.
- Decide what interests you. If you want to be the one who twists the coat hanger and designs the next super duper roller coaster ride, there are dozens of companies that just build traditional steel roller coasters (see IAAPA, but they are companies like B&M, Vekoma, Arrow, Premier, Intamin, etc.). If you like the mechanical intricacies of moving motion bases, dark rides, and complex show equipment, check out companies that specialize in that.
- Once you have identified half a dozen or so companies that interest you, also considering things like where they are, how big they are and whatever, start getting them familiar to you.
- Put yourself on a loose schedule of every month contacting the people in that company. Write the principal, staff engineer or whoever, tell them what you’re doing, tell them your interests. Just like you did in this e-mail. Write them, e-mail them, call them. Do it in a professional manner, be sincere. Apply the Little Engineer That Could philosophy. Ask questions, tell them you are trying to learn about the industry and the possibilities, put them in the position of mentor, helper, wise old sage, and they will trip over themselves to help you. Also allow that you might be blown off from time to time by a busy person trying to meet a deadline.
- Ask to meet with them if they are nearby, make it easy for them.
- If someone is familiar with you and opportunities come up, they will remember you.
- Its about skills and abilities, but its alot about who you know and who knows you.
- Talk to a mechanical guy.
Mostly have fun. There are lots of ideas and possibilities. Write again anytime. At the moment I have to jet.