Next up in our “Ask Drone Girl” series is about finding a mentor in the drone industry. If you have a question for Drone Girl, contact her here.
I passed my FAA Aeronautical Exam! Now what? How can I get a mentor? How do I know where to begin or get experience? I’m overwhelmed. Can you help?
Congratulations on passing your FAA Aeronautical Exam! That’s a huge accomplishment, and it means you’re well on your way to having a career in drones. But it’s understandable to feel overwhelmed now.
The drone industry is incredibly broad, and there are so many directions you might go. There are so many unexpected drone career paths you could take. Cirque du Soleil artists used drones disguised as lampshades to set the stage for a creative show scene. Breweries are using drones to help brew beer. Marine biologists can actually mount DNA collection devices on drones to study whales.
For people who want to launch their own drone small business, I’ve seen tons of successful business ventures including launching exterior building cleaning businesses via spraying drones. You might support real estate agents by using drones to capture aerial photos of homes. You could launch a wedding photography business.
Specializing in higher–tech areas like drone mapping can also level up your ability to maximize profits.
All of those examples involve actualling using drones, but then there are tons of other career paths that revolve around drones, but don’t necessitate you actually flying them. One of the most in-demand jobs in the drone industry is software engineer, though companies are also hiring in fields like marketing and sales.
Alas, I’ve likely overwhelmed you with potential directions that you could go. That’s all despite you clearly stating that the options overwhelmed you. Alas! My bad.
So as you’ve said yourself, finding a mentor can be a great way to get on the right path. There are a few great ways to go about it:
Ways to find a drone mentor
Engage in online drone communities and forums
There are tons of drone forums, including from the major drone retailers like DJI. Many of these communities have dedicated sections for mentorship and finding flying buddies.
Some are more niche, dedicated to certain demographics or regions. For women, one of the best organizations is Women and Drones. Women and Drones is known for its annual Women in Emerging Aviation Technology Awards, as well as its Hall of Fame (of which I am gratefully a member). The organization’s weekly online Coffee Connections series hosted by Desi Ekstein features a different spotlight speaker each time.
“Their weekly Coffee Connection with Desiree Ekstein is a great way to learn the latest in drones from experts in their fields,” said Loretta Alkalay, who is a New York-based aviation attorney and professor.. “Once you have a feel for the jobs that are out there, you can connect with people in that field and maybe see what internships are available.”
Join professional societies
There’s no shortage of professional societies that have their own built-in mentoring platforms.
Elena Major, who works in operations and membership for UK trade operation ARPAS-UK, recommends The Royal Aeronautical Society, which claims to be the world’s only professional membership association dedicated exclusively to both the aerospace and aviation industries. The organization recently extended its scope to include the drone industry, and it’s also got a mentoring platform for women called Alta. Though membership entails an application (and application fee) plus hefty annual dues, there are free student and apprentice membership tiers for qualified applicants.
Use social media to reach out to experts you admire
If you’re interested in working with a specific person, simply reach out online. An aerial photographer might be best reachable via Instagram, while an industrial pilot might be best found on LinkedIn.
Sure, there’s no guarantee the potential mentor responds, but it can be worth a shot.
Isabelle Nyroth, who successfully founded Swedish drone consultancy group Yvarbrims, said she’s always been happy to help people who approach her on LinkedIn asking for advice on next steps in pursuing a career in drones
“It can be intimidating to approach someone online if you don’t know where to start or what to ask, but a good place to start is to connect with someone that you look up to and just ask for a 5-minute chat,” she said.
Emily Andreu, who runs a drone Instagram account called @thedroneprincess, found success connecting with other drone pilots on Instagram. For example, after another pilot she admired commented on one of her posts, she messaged him back.
Since then, he’s helped her with editing and setting up shots.
Network with other professionals nearby
The most successful drone businesses often get more requests for work than they can take on. Sometimes, networking with people who do the work you’re interested in doing can be a smart way to land gigs. For example, Andreu said she connected with another drone pilot who was teaching local drone flying courses.
“He passed some jobs off to me because I was certified,” she said.
Let it happen organically
Sometimes, spending enough time in the drone industry — including attending drone events in-person — makes it possible to find informal mentors. And often, the mentors found organically can be the best.
Don’t overlook mentors outside the drone industry
While it can seem logical to hook up with a mentor who is successful in the drone industry, sometimes the best mentors know nothing about drones.
Diana Casetti, who specializes in real estate, demolition and construction aerial videography, recommends (and has personally used) SCORE. SCORE is an organization specifically designed to support small businesses in the U.S. The 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization offers a range of small business services including free mentoring, webinars and workshops.
“They will meet with you at a frequency that works for you and guide you through running a small business,” she said. “Mine has connected me to other drone operators locally that I wouldn’t have met otherwise. We share ideas and support each other.”
I’ve got a drone mentor, now what?
Having a drone mentor on its own won’t guarantee you success in drones. It’s a good step, but it’ll require you to do the legwork. And yes, the leg work often means approaching the mentor-mentee relationship thoughtfully.
For starters, be transparent about what you can offer as a mentee. While you likely wouldn’t pay a mentor, be cognizant about how you can reciprocate and support their business, too.
“All healthy relationships must be mutually beneficial & respectful,” said Fiona Lake, an Australian professional photographer.
Carys Keiser, who works as a drone pilot and camera operator, recommends setting clear expectations from both parties.
“If someone approached me and asked me to mentor them, I’d ask them what they wanted and how I might be able to help,” she said.
Additionally, approach a mentor who can specifically address your challenges. For example, since Keiser specializes in using drones for TV film shoots, she says she typically can best support people in aspects of the industry like technology and law. She also said that as a mentee, you should be able to support the person mentoring you, too.
“Being a mentor or a mentee should be rewarding for both parties, and it should have clear set goals and boundaries,” she said. “The natural occurrence of a mentorship is that the mentor recognises the potential and enthusiasm in the person they’re mentoring. That reward for the mentor usually occurs when paths cross through work or training situations.”