It's official: I'm now a "roller coaster designer"

I know this was posted awhile ago but I just recently joined and saw this thread. I'm a junior in high school and I've wanted to design roller coasters my whole life! I'm a pretty good student and got a very high ACT score, so I am hoping to get some scholarships to pursue mechanical engineering at a relatively good college/university. I plan on working at Six Flags Great America this summer to get some experience working with rides and start building my résumé.

Any recommendations to land my dream job as a roller coaster engineer? How can I get my name out and stand out from others in this competitive field? How could I get an internship with you guys?

On somewhat of a side note, does the prestige/rank of the university I receive my bachelor's mechanical engineering degree really matter or is it really just whatever school works best for me?

Thank you for sharing your story, and I look forward to receiving your feedback!

Last edited by dmueller712,
Bakeman31092's avatar

Fraid I can't help you.

Jeff's avatar


Jeff - Editor - - My Blog - Phrazy

Bakeman31092's avatar

Just kidding. 😉

Hang tight and I'll respond later.

Bakeman31092's avatar

I have several bits of advice, but the underlying theme is to make connections and get your name out there.

Make a list of companies that you think you'd like to work for and start contacting them. Send them emails and even make cold calls. A good way to do this would be to come up with a list of questions you have about the field, such as what courses to take, what kind of software they use, what some of their methods are for designing coasters (at least what they are willing to share). I would say it's a little early for a resume since you're still in high school, but it certainly doesn't hurt to get to know people that work in the industry.

Start building a LinkedIn profile. This is basically like Facebook for professional networking. It's a good way to make connections and build a network, and there are companies that you can follow and groups that you can join to stay up-to-date on all the latest news and developments within the industry. Many companies use LinkedIn for job postings as well.

If you can, attend the IAAPA attractions expo that is held every November in Orlando. This is another great way to make connections, and you get to meet people face-to-face. Plus, it's just very cool to walk around and see what everyone has to offer!

As far as what school you go to, I don't think it matters too much. As long as it is an accredited university and it has a good engineering program you should be fine. Mechanical engineering is a good degree to have, since it covers most of everything you need to know.

Roller coaster design is very math intensive. Know your geometry, trig, calculus, free-body diagrams and how to apply Newton's Laws. If you're not already proficient with Excel, become proficient with Excel. Also, take advantage of any opportunities you can to learn drafting and 3-D modeling. If your high school offers a course in CAD, take it. Once you get into college, do the same. It doesn't matter so much what specific software package you learn, because even though there are many to choose from the skills will translate from one to the other. I would also try to familiarize yourself with the computer programming languages. This isn't real critical but it is helpful.

Don't limit yourself to strictly being a roller coaster designer. If you have a passion for roller coasters, I'd be willing to guess that you have a passion for amusement parks in general. If so, there are other opportunities out there to get into the field. You could work for a company that designs other types of amusement rides, or you could be a project engineer for a specific park. Also, understand what it means to be a roller coaster designer. You will be a part of a team, and you will more than likely have a focused, specific role. You're not going to be a one-man juggernaut that gets to design an entire ride from start to finish.

Be patient. This is a very competitive industry with not a whole lot of openings, so it may take some time (as it did me) for you to land your dream job. Be willing to work somewhere else for a few years to build up some experience, while always keeping your eye on the prize.

Lastly, just be a good person. This may sound obvious, but it's shocking how some people can be so oblivious to how their jerk-ish behavior affects their path in life. A good work ethic and positive attitude can take you far. Be someone that other professionals want to be around and work with. Be enthusiastic but humble at the same time.

Well, that's all I've got for now. If I think of anything else that I missed I'll let you know. Good luck to you!

Last edited by Bakeman31092,

Thank you for your insight and happy new year!

LostKause's avatar

You might get some jaded, snarky replies when asking a question like this, but if you don't let limiting beliefs rule you, and you know with all your heart that you will land a dream job like this, it can happen. Anything is possible as long as you believe that anything is possible.

Pick up a copy of Jack Canfield's The Success Principals." It's a great book for anyone who wants to achieve a dream.

Jeff's avatar

To be fair, some of that snark is based in reality. I don't know where this notion came from that adjusting your expectations or changing course is some how "failure" or "compromise." I wanted to be a radio DJ from the time I was 10, and was doing it before I graduated from college. Turned out to be a pretty terrible way to make a living, so I did something else. The idea that you have to suffer toward a goal to be happy, I find, results in the opposite of the intended result.

Jeff - Editor - - My Blog - Phrazy

ApolloAndy's avatar

LostKause said:

Anything is possible as long as you believe that anything is possible.

Commence snark:

I agree with your general sentiment (things worth doing are usually hard and require perseverance in the face of failure) but sayings like this are demonstrably untrue. No matter how much I believe I'm going to be an NFL offensive lineman, it's not going to happen. Additionally, belief in the goal is such a small fraction of what it takes to accomplish a goal that even when this statement is true it becomes misleading. Not only must you "believe" in your dream you also have to be fairly lucky and pour a ton of blood, sweat, and tears into it.

Hobbes: "What's the point of attaching a number to everything you do?"
Calvin: "If your numbers go up, it means you're having more fun."

LostKause's avatar

That's why I recommended the book. There is a lot more to it than just believing. There is also trying over and over when (or if) you fail.

There is a lot of advice that will talk someone out of even trying to be a roller coaster designer. If you ignore that kind of advice, you have a better chance of reaching that dream. If you fail the first time, you still have a chance, as long as you don't allow your failure to keep you from trying again.

I respectfully get what you two are saying. I believe that what you are saying is true, because that is what you believe, if that makes sense.

My story: I was going to be a rock star. My band was on our way up. One person injected a negative comment that grew so big that it destroyed our dreams. In hindsight, I can see that success was inevitable if we had just not paid attention to the negative crap.

I still fight every day to get rid of the negative thoughts. The trick is to not let them in in the first place. Then keep trying until you meet success.

ApolloAndy's avatar

LostKause said:

success was inevitable if we had just not paid attention to the negative crap.

Obviously, this is about as subjective as things get, but I can't disagree with this idea more.

Hobbes: "What's the point of attaching a number to everything you do?"
Calvin: "If your numbers go up, it means you're having more fun."

Raven-Phile's avatar

With all due respect, Travis - speaking as a musician who has approached the world of music with realistic expectations based on statistics - if one negative comment inserted itself into your dreams and it all fizzled out, sounds like the band wasn't strong enough to make any sort of rock-stardom.

If you have fans, then you will also have naysayers. You have to be able to take the good in with the bad and roll with it. The best example of this I can use is Nickleback. They have fans, but I have no idea where - yet they are easily the butt of every joke because they are awful, yet they ignore the hate and keep playing shows.

Being a rock star is not going to be puppies and rainbows and free guitars and gear like everyone thinks it is. It's still a job, and like any other job you do, not everyone is going to like you for it.

LostKause's avatar

I hear your respect. :) I tried to explain it as simply as I could without a really boring rant. Just trust me on that when I say it all came crashing down because of an injection of negativity. We had potential to make it. We worked extremely hard. The entire band lived in one big house for years. Every day was music, music, music. Record companies were watching us. Hundreds of people came to see our shows every week.

I suspect that one reason Nickleback made it is because they didn't listen to the negativity like we did. They suck just as bad as we did, but they are selling records.

I didn't really want to talk about me though. I wanted to compare my story to the situation of someone who wants to become a roller coaster designer. People will tell them that there are not enough jobs in the field and that the competition is fierce. People will say that it is very difficult to make the right connections. People will say that designing roller coasters is not as exciting as it sounds. Discouraging words like this may talk someone out of trying, or making them feel that they are not good enough to compete for a job like that.

My entire point is to advise Coaster Designer Boy to not believe the negativity. I'm pretty sure we are all on the same page there.

Raven-Phile's avatar

To me, it sounds less like listening to negativity, and more like a band that simply didn't work out. I get wanting to give it s reason, but you were doing what bands do, and it just didn't happen. It's all good.

The rockstar dream is best when it remains a dream :) I've seen it destroy a few friends' lives, at least temporarily, chasing that dream.

Missed this thread the first time around, but...I want to applaud Chris for chasing his dream. You can't get that opportunity back so good on you. Also want to applaud him for eventually coming around and making some good mentoring recommendations. Those who "make it" have a responsibility, in my opinion, to help those who want to make it.

And, I do want to reiterate what Jeff alluded to. Sometimes your "dream job" isn't this dream you thought it would be. And that is ok. Better to be disappointed by a dream that wasn't what you thought it would be than to never go for the dream at all. I always wanted to work for Disney and Cedar Point. Neither turned out to be what what I thought it would be...and that is ok. So glad I had those two experiences though as they helped me get to where I got.

Life is what happens while you are making other plans.

Bakeman31092's avatar

Travis, I really appreciate what you said and I agree with you. I would say it like this: there has to be a balance between having realistic expectations and not getting so discouraged that you give up trying.

I'd add that Chris's last comment is right on point. I think you have to understand and keep in mind that coaster design jobs are few and far between, but I'd use it as motivation to just work harder and harder. There IS an element of luck, of being in the right (or wrong) place at the right time, but SO much of one's supposed luck is really perseverance and dedication. Best wishes to you, and welcome to the 'Buzz.

"Look at us spinning out in the madness of a roller coaster" - Dave Matthews Band

Tommytheduck's avatar

Raven-Phile said:

Being a rock star is not going to be puppies and rainbows and free guitars and gear like everyone thinks it is.

Obviously Josh has never heard of Babymetal.

But to get back on topic, I agree with many of the sentiments here. Landing your dream job in a highly competitive field takes a lot of work. I can't say it better than Bakeman did, so I'll just leave another boring "life's story" out of it. One other piece of advice that hasn't been mentioned yet for Dmueller might be to seek the help of your teachers/professors in that subject area. You never know what help you might be able to receive if you do well in their classes and form some sort of mentor relationship.

Last edited by Tommytheduck,
Raven-Phile's avatar

That is entirely a false accusation. I find them entertaining, but their following is quite creepy.

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