Artificial Intelligence AI Engineer Careers and Salary Outlook

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a common term these days. With advancements in technology from robotics to machine learning, the ability of machines to do some of their own “thinking” is becoming more of a reality all the time. A career in AI can span technology, cybersecurity and big data. This article will unpack more about jobs in AI, and how one might begin down that career path.

Data Scientist vs Machine Learning Engineer vs Software Engineer

Artificial intelligence, at its most basic definition, is an umbrella term that describes a machine’s ability to “act” and “think” more like a human. Often when we talk about artificial intelligence, we actually are talking about machine learning or the ability of a machine to observe many datasets and then find patterns or replicate certain actions or behaviors. Data scientists can play an important role in this process. Let’s take a look at the difference between AI and data science.

AI involves large amounts of data, and that’s where data scientists come in. These individuals map, analyze and interpret data to construct meaningful insights. They’re typically strong problem solvers, but they may not have strong programming skills.

When analyzing the difference between AI and software engineering, it may be helpful to understand how the two subjects are related. Software engineers use their programming background to create backend tools and platforms that enable AI data catchment. This leads to the ability to sort and process large data sets through databases and other repositories.

What’s the difference between AI and machine learning? These concepts work together. For example, a machine learning engineer creates the systems and processes to enable AI “learning.” The availability of technology to map and collect large amounts of data in the past several years has led to huge advancements in this kind of artificial intelligence. Because of their unique skill sets, machine learning engineers may be considered a hybrid between data scientists and software engineers.

What Does an AI Engineer Do?

Artificial intelligence engineers span a variety of core competencies, but generally rely on large sets of data to further a machine’s ability to think and process information. These individuals have a comprehensive understanding of math, statistics, computer science and technology. While some universities offer specific concentrations in AI degrees, many of these programs may be housed within the computer science and information technology departments.

Where does an AI engineer work? AI careers may be found in a variety of settings, from government agencies dealing with cybersecurity to technology companies looking to move the needle on how consumers use technology. Other AI jobs may exist in academia and in manufacturing where robotics has become a feature in modern days. If you’re interested in exploring the various career paths that lead to a job as an AI engineer, you might consider taking a short online course in a related field or a short online course in information technology.

What Career Paths Are Possible as an AI Engineer?

A variety of career paths exist for those interested in an AI job. While some careers in AI work more specifically on building software, others are more analytical in their nature. Below, you can explore the differences between each field of AI.

AI Researcher Jobs

AI researchers take on dual functions in both moving the needle on what’s capable with AI and the future of technology, and on helping to solve existing challenges. AI researchers use a variety of tools and skill sets to understand a problem, come up with a solution and visualize or model paths to achieving the solution. AI researchers may be hired by companies to map out complex AI challenges or work alongside engineers to map out the full complexity of an AI process. Oftentimes, there is a considerable amount of overlap between the job duties of an AI researcher and a data scientist.

AI Software Engineer Jobs

An AI software engineer develops different types of platforms specifically used to address questions of what a machine is capable of doing and learning as it relates to having output more similar to or closely resembling human intelligence. These individuals will often work with AI engineers and other researchers to map out complex software systems, and articulate how these systems can be used to collect data and information to move the needle on projects related to artificial intelligence. Some responsibilities of an AI software engineer might include API development, integration of various software and data products, running tests and more.

Big Data Engineer Jobs

Big data engineers look at huge data sets and build complex databases to be used as an input in software that uses algorithms to produce a desired output, often related to machine learning. These individuals have a background in data analytics, programming and statistics. Like AI researchers, big data engineer job duties often have considerable similarities with those of a data scientist, which is why the two (and various jobs within the field) are often conflated. Big data engineers may find jobs in a variety of settings within both the public and private sectors.

Machine Learning Jobs

Machine learning is a burgeoning field that looks generally at how to make machines act and respond more like humans. Instead of programming machines to perform specific tasks or functions, they develop programs that help enable machines to perform various tasks without direct input. It relies on data and algorithmic learning to monitor a large amount of inputs to predict outputs. In other words, machine learning jobs draw on a deep understanding of data, programming, concepts like neural networks and technology to help further the field and continue to push the boundaries of what tasks machines are capable of performing.

Deep Learning Engineer Jobs

Deep learning engineers apply processes of machine learning and computer science to create platforms that mimic the behavior, decisions and overall intelligence of the human brain as closely as possible. This speciality explores the various ways in which functions that happen within the human brain can be applied to technology platforms, and how this contribution to the world of artificial intelligence can move technology forward. It answers the question of whether machines can replicate or even replace humans in certain functions.

How Much Do AI Engineers Make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for AI engineers was $126,830 in May 2020. AI engineering pay varies among professionals; the lowest 10% earned less than $72,210 and the highest 10% of earners made over $194,430. The majority of these individuals worked in private companies on the development of software. They also worked in research and development for physical, engineering and life sciences companies. Other AI engineers worked on computer systems design, in the federal government or in private or public colleges. Most jobs are full-time, and some exceed 40 hours a week.

What Can Affect Artificial Intelligence Salary?

One factor that may affect an artificial intelligence engineer’s salary is education. Advanced degrees typically lead to higher AI salaries as more complex theories and problem solving skills can be applied directly to future-forward challenges. Some individuals might even have their own body of research done either as part of an advanced degree or out in the field. With such an emerging industry, education and practical experience can be a huge indicator of someone’s future salary.

Some basic skills that may be required in artificial intelligence include:

  • Computer programming, especially Python, R and Java.
  • Modelling or data visualization.
  • Mathematical skills: statistics and probability.

AI Jobs Outlook

Employment in the field of AI and related information technology research and science jobs is expected to grow 15% from 2019 to 2029, which is much faster than the average projected job growth expected for all occupations.

These individuals sit at the cutting-edge of technology. They may produce consumer-facing applications that drive innovations in how technology is used (like the smartphone), but they also might work on groundbreaking initiatives for government and private sector industries that revolutionize how work gets done and implications for online security.

Additionally, as the ability of technology to collect data grows, so will the need for individuals who can interpret data.

These individuals touch many aspects of the technology field, from creation of apps and platforms, to interpreting data, to rolling out new technologies to the general public. People with skills in artificial technology are projected to have high job growth.

Discover These Cities for Artificial Intelligence Jobs

These cities offer the highest published pay for artificial intelligence positions. The table below includes average salary and employment information.

Metropolitan AreaAnnual Mean WageEmploymentEmployment per Thousand Jobs
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA
Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR – WA
Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA
Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV

May 2020 computer and information research scientist wage and employment information from the BLS

Explore These States for Jobs in AI

Below are the five states with the highest published pay for AI jobs. The table includes employment and wage information.

StateEmploymentEmployment per Thousand JobsAnnual Mean Wage
New York

May 2020 computer and information research scientist wage and employment information from the BLS

Alternative Jobs to Artificial Intelligence

If a career in artificial intelligence doesn’t spark your interest, perhaps you might explore a related field. These adjacent careers offer work that’s at the intersection of technology and data:

  • Computer science: computer scientists explore the roots of information technology. They build on this understanding by learning different programming languages and how they relate to modern uses of technology.
  • Cybersecurity: cybersecurity practitioners utilize their fluency in computer programming to ward off cyber attacks and privacy violations. Their skills are in high-demand.
  • Data science: these individuals analyze large data sets and come up with meaningful interpretations that they share with companies or various stakeholders.

One way to gauge your interest in one of these alternative jobs in AI is to take a short online course in cybersecurity or data science.

Is a Career in AI Right for You?

Are you a natural systems thinker with an interest in technology? Do you enjoy solving complex problems and using critical thinking skills? If so, a career in data science could be right for you.

Here are a few questions you might ask yourself if you’re considering a career in artificial intelligence:

  • Do you think the future of technology is one of the most exciting things a person can study?
  • Do you have a background in mathematics, statistics or computer science?
  • Are you willing to seek out higher education or certification courses to advance your understanding of artificial intelligence and its required skills?

Some jobs in artificial intelligence may require advanced degrees (at least a master’s degree and sometimes a doctorate), and some may require a relevant portfolio of work. One place to start is to take a short online course or certification program to see what branch of artificial intelligence you might like to pursue. People who work in artificial intelligence are some of the most forward-thinking and technically skilled practitioners in the field of technology. If working on projects that have the capacity to change how technology is used in the future excites you, then a career in AI might be right for you.

Last updated April 2021