What Is a Machine Learning Engineer? (+ How to Get Started)

Written by Coursera Staff • 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 need help figuring out where to begin? While this tech job isn't entry-level, the path to becoming a machine learning engineer can be exciting and rewarding.

Machine learning is a fascinating branch of artificial intelligence that predicts and adapts outcomes as it receives more data. It’s also a fast-growing field in the United Kingdom and worldwide. LinkedIn named it amongst its most in-demand jobs in the UK in 2022. Given the UK's ranking amongst the world's top artificial intelligence (AI) research and innovation hubs, the need for skilled professionals continues growing alongside the market as machine learning continues to be incorporated into all types of industries.

What is machine learning?

Machine learning is a part of the computer science field that is 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 the user with data based on that learning [1].

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

Social media platforms like Meta use machine learning to target advertisements at users based on their preferences, likes, and posts to the website. Similarly, Amazon and other shopping websites use algorithms to suggest buying items based on a customer's purchases and viewing history [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 artificial intelligence, which is responsible for machine learning and maintaining and improving existing artificial intelligence systems. 

Often, a machine learning engineer will also be a critical communicator with 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 job responsibilities for machine learning engineers will differ, they often 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. With the technology's power to transform industries and drive innovation in public and private sectors, machine learning engineers remain in demand. The UK is emerging as a global AI leader, and the future looks bright for the industry and those working within it.

Job outlook

LinkedIn ranked machine learning engineering as the second most in-demand role in the United Kingdom for 2022. Some top hiring locations include Edinburgh, London, and Cambridge, with remote job availability averaging 18.1 percent [3]. Due to societal changes in the wake 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 six figures. In fact, as of June 2024, the average base salary for a machine learning engineer in the UK is £54,482, with additional compensation in the form of bonuses, commissions, and profit sharing ranging up to £10,200, according to Glassdoor [4].

How to become a machine learning engineer

Working your way up to becoming a machine learning engineer takes time. The following three essential steps help make it possible. 

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

Because machine learning is part of the computer science field, a strong computer programming, data science, and mathematics background is essential for success. Machine learning engineering jobs typically 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 an excellent first step.

2. Gain entry-level work 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. Some entry-level positions that will lead to a machine learning career include: 

  • Computer engineer

  • Data scientist

  • Software developer

  • Software engineer

3. Earn an advanced qualification

Working in data science and artificial intelligence with a bachelor's degree is possible. However, pursuing level seven or eight qualifications in computer science, data science, or software engineering can help you learn the more complex tasks required of machine learning engineers. It will also give you leverage as you apply for jobs, especially if you have bolstered your studies with plenty of internships or apprenticeships.

Get started in machine learning today.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning are growing branches of computer and data science. Becoming a machine learning engineer requires years of experience and education, but you can start today.

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.

Standford University’s Machine Learning Specialisation is another great introduction to machine learning, in which you'll learn all you need to know about supervised and unsupervised learning.

Article sources


IBM. "Machine Learning, https://www.ibm.com/cloud/learn/machine-learning." Accessed June 5, 2024.

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