What Is a Machine Learning Engineer and How Can You Get Started?

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Machine learning engineers work with algorithms, data, and artificial intelligence. Learn about salary potential, job outlook, and steps to becoming a machine learning engineer.

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Are you interested in becoming a machine learning engineer but not sure how to begin the process? This tech job is not an entry-level position, but becoming a machine learning engineer is an exciting process you can start today. It is important to understand machine learning in general and the role of machine learning engineers in the field. 

What is machine learning?

Machine learning is a part of the computer science field specifically concerned with artificial intelligence. It uses algorithms to interpret data in a way that replicates how humans learn. The goal is for the machine to improve its learning accuracy and provide data based on that learning to the user [1].

Machine learning includes everything from video surveillance to facial recognition on your smartphone. However, customer-focusing businesses also use it to understand consumers' patterns and preferences and design direct marketing or ad campaigns. 

The best-known popular online space that uses machine learning is Facebook, which targets advertisements towards users based on their preferences, likes, and posts to the website. Similarly, shopping websites like Amazon will often use previous purchases and viewing history to suggest items that you should buy [2].

What machine learning engineers do

Machine learning engineers act as critical members of the data science team. Their tasks involve researching, building, and designing the artificial intelligence responsible for machine learning and maintaining and improving existing artificial intelligence systems. 

Often, a machine learning engineer will also serve as a critical communicator between other data science team members, working directly with the data scientists who develop the models for building AI systems and the people who construct and run them.

While the individual job descriptions of machine learning engineers will differ, popular attributes include:

  • Implementing machine learning algorithms

  • Running AI systems experiments and tests

  • Designing and developing machine learning systems

  • Performing statistical analyses 

Job opportunities for machine learning engineers

Over the past few decades, the computer science field has continued to grow. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, information and computer science research jobs continue to grow much faster than average [3].

The handbook estimates that the field should grow by 22 percent through 2030. The handbook records the median information and computer science research salary at $126,830 per year [3]. 

Job outlook

In 2019, Indeed listed machine learning engineer as its #1 job of the year, based on the growth in the number of postings for jobs related to the machine learning and artificial intelligence field over the previous three years [4]. Due to changes in society as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for enhanced automation of routine tasks is at an all-time high.

Salary potential

Like many high-level technology and computer science jobs, machine learning engineers earn salaries significantly above the national average, often over $100,000. In fact, as of December 2021, the average base salary for a machine learning engineer is $132,442, according to Indeed [5]. 

How to become a machine learning engineer

As previously stated, the role of a machine learning engineer is not entry-level and requires you to develop your skills and experience. There are three essential steps to becoming a machine learning engineer that anyone interested in this career path needs to take.

Earn a bachelor's degree in computer science or a related field

Because machine learning is part of the computer science field, a strong background in computer programming, data science, and mathematics is essential for success. Most machine learning engineering jobs will require a bachelor's degree at a minimum, so beginning a course of study in computer science or a closely related field such as statistics is a good first step.

Gain initial experience

Once you have earned a computer science degree, the next step is to start working in the data science field to gain experience working with machine learning or artificial intelligence. Great options for an entry-level position that will lead to a machine learning career include: 

  • Computer Engineer

  • Data Scientist

  • Software Developer

  • Software Engineer

  • Software Programmer

Earn an advanced degree

It is possible to work in data science and artificial intelligence with just a bachelor's degree. However, pursuing a master's degree or Ph.D. in computer science, data science, or software engineering can help you learn the more complex tasks required of machine learning engineers. 

Get started today

Artificial intelligence and machine learning are growing branches of computer and data science. While it takes time, education, and experience to become a machine learning engineer, the field is rapidly expanding and will likely continue to do so. 

Becoming a machine learning engineer involves years of experience and education. There are many great ways for you to get started in the machine learning engineering career right away through educational programs and courses.

Start by honing those skills through formal education. Build your knowledge of software development, learn various programming languages, and work towards an initial bachelor's degree. A variety of certificates and even computer science degree pathways on Coursera can help prepare you for an exciting career in the machine learning field.

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Article sources

1. IBM. "Machine Learning, https://www.ibm.com/cloud/learn/machine-learning." Accessed February 4, 2022.

2. Big Commerce. "Ecommerce Machine Learning: AI’s Role in the Future of Online Shopping, https://www.bigcommerce.com/blog/ecommerce-machine-learning/." Accessed February 4, 2022.

3. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Computer and Information Research Scientists, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/computer-and-information-research-scientists.htm." Accessed February 4, 2022.

4. Indeed. "The Best Jobs in the U.S. in 2019, https://www.indeed.com/lead/best-jobs-2019." Accessed February 4, 2022.

5. Indeed. "Machine Learning Engineer Salary in United States, https://www.indeed.com/career/machine-learning-engineer/salaries." Accessed February 4, 2022.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

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