What Does an Algorithm Engineer Do?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Discover the role of an algorithm engineer and what you need to make a start in this career.

[Featured Image] An algorithm engineer sits outside the office and works on a laptop.

An algorithm engineer, also known as an algorithm developer, is a specialized, technical career requiring programming and coding skills, problem-solving abilities, and attention to detail.

In a highly technical world, algorithms play a role in almost every industry, and those companies need algorithm engineers to develop them. Internet and social media companies use algorithms to determine search rankings and to recommend content in line with the audience. Financial companies use algorithms to analyze financial data to make forecasts and predictions. If you choose to pursue a career as an algorithm engineer, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects this sector of the economy to grow 25 percent from 2022 to 2032, which is much faster than average [1].

Discover more about the role of an algorithm engineer, including the necessary skills, experience, and education, which can all help you start a career at the forefront of technology.

What is an algorithm engineer?

As an algorithm engineer, companies may consider you a specialist software developer who creates, installs, maintains, and analyzes algorithms. Your goal in doing this is to identify problems and patterns in data sets of AI applications. An algorithm is a set of instructions developed for working through a problem. Although something simple like a recipe or a basic math equation meets the requirements of an algorithm, you, as an algorithm engineer, would use a programming language to write your algorithms—maybe a set of instructions for a video game, a travel website, or an online dating app.

What does an algorithm engineer do?

An algorithm engineer writes new algorithms and maintains them to improve AI systems. Additionally, you would ensure that AI systems are running as effectively and efficiently as possible while determining whether they are solving the necessary problems and completing tasks properly. In essence, you would develop algorithms, code them, test and debug them, and then put them to work. Once completed, these algorithms could be used for many purposes, including:

  • Video games

  • Social media

  • GPS tracking

  • Voice and face recognition

  • E-commerce recommendations

  • Traffic signals

  • Dating app pairing

  • Financial transactions

Read more: What Are AI Algorithms?

Duties and responsibilities of an algorithm engineer

Your duties and responsibilities as an algorithm engineer will vary according to what you are building, how your employer uses the algorithms, and your company. However, in general, algorithm engineers have the following tasks and responsibilities:

  • Creating algorithms for whatever purpose the company needs

  • Designing algorithm-based software through coding and programming 

  • Testing algorithms for effectiveness in AI tools, software, and machine learning

  • Reporting the success of the algorithm to solve problems and spot patterns

  • Maintaining and improving algorithms to complete a specified task or solve a problem

  • Working with other tech teams to design algorithms to meet a need

  • Breaking big data into smaller groups to manage and use

Read more: What Is Artificial Intelligence? Definition, Uses, and Types


Algorithm engineering is highly technical, meaning you will most likely need software-developing skills, an understanding of AI, and a solid grasp of machine learning. However, it also requires workplace skills for collaboration with others. Essential skills include:

Technical skills

  • Algorithms

  • Machine learning

  • Coding

  • Data structures

  • AI

  • C++

  • Python

  • Java

  • SQL

  • Debugging

  • Signal processing

  • Reporting results

  • Version control

  • Frameworks

  • Mathematics

Workplace Skills

  • Analytical thinking

  • Project management

  • Communication

  • Collaboration and teamwork

  • Problem-solving


According to Glassdoor, the estimated total pay for an algorithm engineer in the US is $171,319 per year. This figure includes an average base salary of $135,360 and $35,960 in additional pay. Additional pay may represent profit-sharing, commissions, or bonuses. With technical advances and recent leaps in AI efficiency, algorithm engineers are in demand and very well paid. 

Education and training

Employers of algorithm engineers generally ask for a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in a relevant major such as computer science, mathematics, programming, or software engineering. A master’s degree, although not usually a requirement, can help you advance in your career and stand out against the competition. Additionally, while a bachelor’s degree is a common track, you can utilize boot camps and online courses to begin this career. Another avenue for increasing your experience could be an entry-level position as a software engineer. You could also find an internship within this industry.

In addition to studying for a degree, you probably need to increase your knowledge of the relevant technical skills necessary to work as an algorithm engineer. Therefore, you may also need certifications to put your skills into practice and demonstrate your credentials. 

Certifications to consider include:

  • CompTIA A+

  • CompTIA Project+

  • AWS Certified Developer 

  • CIW User Interface Designer

Career path specializations

Once you’ve earned your bachelor’s degree, you might consider pursuing a master’s in a specialized field. Many industries use algorithms, so finding an area to focus your effort can be helpful. Examples include:

  • AI: Developing algorithms for identifying patterns in the data AI programs receive

  • Machine learning: Creating algorithms to analyze large volumes of data in search of useful insights

  • Data analysis: Using algorithms for data modeling and predictive analysis

  • Backend development: Developing backend algorithms to communicate with the front end, which is where the end-user interacts with the technology 

Earning a master’s degree in an area of specialization can make you more marketable to potential employers.

Building a portfolio

With this level of technical work, where employers are looking for specific skills and how you put those into practice, it’s very beneficial to have a portfolio. You can use this to showcase work from your degree, bootcamps, and personal projects, which is especially useful if you don’t have much professional experience.

Career advancement 

Algorithm engineering is a highly technical role that arms you with valuable skills to move into other similar roles. As an algorithm engineer, you might transition into machine learning, where you would build on your current knowledge base to understand more about how algorithms contribute to machine learning and data analysis. You may also move into higher-level roles such as senior algorithm engineer or project management positions. 

Get started on Coursera. 

To get started as an algorithm engineer, consider enhancing your career options by studying for a master’s degree, such as the Master of Science in Computer Science, delivered by the University of Colorado Boulder. If you’re looking for something more specific, you’ll find several online courses, including Algorithms Part 1, delivered by Princeton University, and Algorithms Specialization, delivered by Stanford University, both listed on Coursera. 

Article sources


US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Occupational Outlook Handbook: Software Developers, Quality Assurance Analysts, and Testers, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/software-developers.htm.” Accessed March 20, 2024.

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