Self-driving cars. Delivery drones. Programs that can write everything from cover letters to love songs. Artificial intelligence (AI) is poised to impact many aspects of modern life, and AI engineers drive this innovation.
If you’re wondering how to become an AI engineer, this guide will cover the education, experience, and skills needed for this in-demand, exciting career. It also includes a closer look at what AI engineers do, the best majors for aspiring AI engineers, and the job and salary outlook for this career path.
What Do AI Engineers Do?
Before deciding if being an AI engineer is the right career path for you, it’s helpful to understand what AI engineers do, especially since these professionals can go by a few different names.
Artificial intelligence (AI) refers to computer software that enables machines to mimic human cognitive functions, allowing them to perform complex tasks, such as decision-making, data analysis, and language translation. AI engineers are responsible for developing AI software and other learning methods, building AI-powered machines, and analyzing how AI-powered devices function and can be improved.
Several different job titles cover the same AI-related responsibilities, including:
- AI Engineer
- AI Scientist
- Computational Scientist
- Computer and Information Research Scientist
- Computer Systems Designer
- Software Developer
While the tech industry is the AI hub, AI engineers work across multiple industries, developing AI tools specific to those sectors. Industries that employ AI engineers include healthcare, finance, business, retail, and communications.
Because of the newness of the AI field, there are also many research opportunities. Some AI engineers may work in academic settings, like universities, which can be more conducive to conducting research and developing breakthroughs in AI technology.
Read more about the difference between artificial intelligence and machine learning.
Education Requirements for AI Engineers
AI engineers need proficiency in various technical skills, including computer programming, algorithms, big data technologies (Hadoop, Apache Spark), statistics, probability, calculus, and more. They must also have a solid understanding of AI concepts, including machine learning, natural language processing, deep learning, and more.
There are a few different ways to gain these proficiencies. The most common route is for students to earn a bachelor’s degree to obtain the foundational knowledge needed for entry-level AI positions or pursue a master’s degree, which offers more advanced study in a more focused area of AI. For individuals who want to advance the field of AI with their research, many schools offer AI doctorate programs.
An alternative educational path is attending a certificate or bootcamp program in AI. Typically taking less time than a traditional degree, these programs can be a convenient, fast way to learn the necessary skills for AI jobs. However, students should note that some employers specifically seek candidates with bachelor’s or master’s degrees, making these programs somewhat limiting.
To help you decide which educational path is right for you, speak to AI professionals about their academic and career trajectories and the training they need for their positions. You can also look up AI engineer job postings to understand what type of education credentials employers seek.
Best Majors for AI Engineers
At the undergraduate level, a computer science major is one of the best options for aspiring AI engineers. Many schools offer associate and bachelor’s degrees in computer science in traditional and online formats. These programs teach students the foundational programming, mathematics, data analysis, and software development skills to pursue entry-level AI jobs or prepare for graduate study. Students interested in AI can seek out computer science programs that offer classes or concentrations in the field.
Currently, most AI degrees are offered at the graduate level. However, a few educational institutions have started to provide bachelor’s degrees in AI. This degree requirement is a reflection of the advanced skills necessary to work in AI, as well as the research emphasis of this relatively new field. Master’s and doctorate programs in AI allow students with a computer science background to learn more about specific AI areas, such as machine learning, robotics, natural language processing, data science, and more.
AI relies heavily on math skills and concepts, making mathematics a practical major for potential AI engineers. Mathematics degrees are widely available online and in-person at the associate, bachelor’s, and master’s levels. Students should seek out programs that include AI-related courses in the curriculum. These subjects include computational methods, algorithms, statistics, linear algebra, calculus, and more. Students should also have computer science courses in their curriculum to cover the technical skills they’ll need as AI engineers.
A degree in computer engineering can provide a solid foundation for students who want to work with the hardware components of AI devices. Computer engineering programs include elements of both computer science and electronic engineering, covering topics including algorithms, discrete mathematics, and basic engineering mechanics, making this degree an option for students interested in robotics and autonomous systems. A computer engineering degree is an option for students at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.
Working with data, and often large amounts of it, is essential to the work of AI engineers. That’s why earning a data science degree can benefit future AI engineers. These programs combine concepts and skills in mathematics, statistics, and computer science to teach students how to analyze and understand data and use it for various applications, including AI. Data science degree programs are available at the undergraduate and graduate levels, providing both foundational and advanced training in this AI-related area.
Best Artificial Intelligence Degree Programs
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- Best Online Master’s Degree in Artificial Intelligence
Who Should Become an AI Engineer?
To become a successful AI engineer, individuals need some particular technical skills, aptitudes, and a range of transferable skills.
Necessary technical skills for AI engineers include:
- Mathematics, including linear algebra, probability, statistics, calculus
- Programming languages, including Python, Java, C++
- Big data technologies, including Hadoop, Apache Spark, Cassandra
- Machine learning algorithms, including linear regression, KNN, Support Vector Machine
- Deep learning algorithms, including generative adversarial networks, recurrent neural networks, and convolutional neural networks
If you’re interested in AI but have limited experience in these areas, a free or low-cost online course can be an accessible way to get valuable exposure to AI basics.
Meanwhile, the following are valuable transferable skills that employers look for in AI engineer candidates:
- Analytical and logical thinking
- Attention to detail
A benefit of attending a degree program in AI or a related field is that you’ll acquire hands-on experience in labs or internships, which will help hone technical and transferable skills.
Why Become an AI Engineer?
From a career outlook standpoint, becoming an AI engineer is a solid option because of the rapid growth projected in the field in the coming years.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) classifies AI engineers as computer and information research scientists. The agency anticipates a 21% increase in employment in these positions through 2031. Individuals in these roles are among the highest paid in AI, with a median annual salary of $131,490.
The projections for data scientists are even more robust. The BLS predicts that there will be roughly 17,000 new job openings for data scientists yearly through 2031, a 35% increase from current employment rates. The median annual salary for data scientists is $100,910, representing another lucrative option for AI professionals.
Because of AI’s versatility, the field allows students to combine their interests in AI with other areas such as automotive, healthcare, finance, or retail. AI also has the power to influence nearly every aspect of human life. AI engineers have extraordinary opportunities to develop innovative technologies, build new systems, and leave a lasting imprint on the world.
Interested in a degree instead?
Learn more about online degrees, their start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.