The World of Robots

Follow the career journeys of CSU alumni working in the robotics field.

Scroll down button  

The current rise of the robots isn’t the stuff of nightmares or science fiction movies. Rather, the robotics industry is projected to reach $34.94 billion in revenue in 2023, with California proving itself an industry hotspot as a series of new robotics startups launched in the state in recent years. This industry has developed automated technology that can explore outer space and the depths of the ocean, perform life-saving medical procedures and deliver online shopping orders.

As one in 10 employees in California graduated from a CSU and 84 percent of alumni remain in the state, these individuals are using the knowledge and skills they gained from a CSU education to make their mark on the industry, ensuring the advancement and safety of robotic technology.

Meet a few of these alumni.

Grace Lim

Grace Lim
Cal Poly Pomona (2015)

As a high school student, Grace Lim didn’t see herself attending college. But with the help of her math teacher, she not only applied and was accepted to Cal Poly Pomona, she secured enough financial aid and scholarships to cover her tuition. And, while she left the university after two years​ to pursue music, Lim later returned to CPP, where an Applied Probability course redirected her career path.

“The professor I took that class with is probably the number one reason why I'm here today,” Lim says. “I remember struggling in the class initially and being so overwhelmed on his tests. But I went to his office hours, and those were pivotal moments. He treated me like a normal student, like I wasn't this dropout.”

That professor introduced her to the McNairs Scholars Program—which aims to increase first-generation, low-income and underrepresented students in Ph.D. programs and academia—and agreed to be her research advisor. The opportunity allowed her to find more financial aid, connect with like-minded peers and participate in research related to her math major. “That was where I started getting my motivation to push for what I'm doing and see visions of what I could do with what I'm learning,” Lim says.

The program empowered her to take on a research internship at MIT, using math modeling for the motion of microorganisms in a porous medium like cancer spread in tissues​, and earn a computer science minor to learn programming. Then, after graduation, she applied to a research internship at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory—where she has now been for six years, working her way up to the current role of robotics engineer in the multi-agent autonomy group. “It is really cool to see myself doing something that was so far beyond a dream,” Lim says.

During her time at JPL, Lim has worked in a variety of capacities—from conducting product tests to developing software to serving as project lead. Projects she’s worked on have included Department of Defense-funded autonomous vehicles for reconnaissance, the Europa Lander to look for life on Jupiter’s moon Europa, Cooperative Autonomous Distributed Robotic Exploration (CADRE) technology for small rovers exploring planets’ surfaces, and the RACER program to equip autonomous vehicles for high-speed off-roading.

Ken Ballinger

Ken Ballinger
Cal Poly Humboldt (1999), Sacramento State (2010)

Ken Ballinger’s CSU journey began with pursuing a music education degree at Cal Poly Humboldt—but continued about a decade later as he entered Sacramento State to earn a second bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering. For Ballinger, the two seem more connected than expected.

“My observation is that my brain handles mathematics and formulas similarly to musical patterns, permutations and compound thinking,” he says. “I think this helped me with my math and engineering classes. Engineers have to be creative, not just technical, to arrive at good solutions. And, teamwork, listening and humility, as with writing and performing music, is still very important.”

Following his 2010 graduation, Ballinger landed his first engineering position. During his time there, he longed to do more of what he enjoyed, leading him to launch his own business, KB CAD, which provides 3D modeling services to small businesses using computer aided-design software.

He later began working at the United States Mint as the facilities engineer, before being offered the role of robotics engineer. In this current role, Ballinger works with a team to maintain and reprogram the robotic assembly lines, serves as technical representative for the investments in robotic systems, and designs and builds the custom automated​ machines—including designing the controls and safety systems, conducting research, developing prototypes, assembling and testing the machines, and training the users.

“To me, robotics is the intersection of mechanical, electrical and computer/software engineering,” Ballinger says. “I am formally trained in mechanical engineering, so there is an incredible amount of other stuff for me to learn.”

“The experience of earning my degrees gave me a boost in confidence that I had achieved something tangible towards my goals,” he continues.​

Jaime Ciriaco

Jaime Ciriaco
Sonoma State (2017)

As a quality assurance engineer for Bear Robotics, Inc.—which develops service robots for the hospitality industry—Jaime Ciriaco is responsible for creating and running tests on the quality of the products’ software and firmware, which enables communication between software and hardware.

But Ciriaco’s journey to his current role began first with a childhood interest in how “televisions, pagers, cell phones, game consoles and remote-controlled cars were made.” This led him to major in electrical engineering and minor in mathematics at Sonoma State, where the support he received helped prepare him for the future.

“The professors in the engineering program at Sonoma State were always invested in the students’ development and pushed their students in order to bring the best out of them,” Ciriaco says. “The luxury of being able to walk into my professors’ office hours without a hassle allowed me to ask for help or seek advice on anything I needed. I strongly believe because of this I am able to excel in my current role.”

A​fter graduation, a friend working for Knightscope helped Ciriaco​ secure a role at the autonomous security robot company. There, he oversaw and maintained 100 robots as a network operating center specialist and later built and deployed robots as an operations specialist, before transitioning to his current position.

“I was seeking a new challenge and Bear Robotics, Inc., has been able to give me the opportunity to help and grow within the team,” he says.

Learn more abo​​ut the impact of the CSU’s four million-strong alumni network.