How to Become a Machine Learning Engineer
How to Become a Machine Learning Engineer

Your credit card company can almost instantly detect suspicious transactions. Your children’s Barbie talks back to them like a real friend. UberEats is able to accurately predict when it will deliver your takeout.

In today’s data-driven world, technological advances like these have become increasingly common. Computers are getting better at analyzing data on the fly and using that analysis to make predictions — thanks to specialized software engineers who are trained in machine learning.

Machine learning engineers use artificial intelligence techniques to design complex prediction models. Their work allows computers to detect patterns in data and use that information for predictive purposes, such as product recommendations or speech recognition. In the credit card scenario, a machine learning algorithm uses cardholder data to determine what typical spending patterns are and sends a warning or blocks the transaction when something diverges from that pattern.

“In conventional software development, you’re writing an algorithm — telling the computer step by step what to do,” explains Mike Friedman, lead software engineer at Salesforce. “In machine learning, you give the computer some kind of machine-learning technique, and it looks at the data and learns how to analyze the data by itself.” 

Program Overview

Instructor Dave DeBarr of the Certificate in Machine Learning discusses the skills and knowledge this program covers.

Duration: 01:32

machine learning jobs on the rise

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that jobs for computer and information scientists are continuing to grow apace, with employment expected to increase nationally by 16% by 2028 and by an impressive 48% in Washington state. And those with AI skills are particularly in demand: "artificial intelligence specialist" was the top job on LinkedIn's 2020 Emerging Jobs Report

Engineers with expertise in machine learning could keep a career edge for at least the next 10 years, according to Dave DeBarr, principal applied researcher at Microsoft.

“We’re talking about automation and improved customer experience across many different domains — everything from medicine to agriculture,” DeBarr says.

DeBarr and Friedman, both on the advisory board of the Certificate in Machine Learning offered by UW Professional & Continuing Education, say graduates are prepared to be high-value employees for any company that’s applying data science to solve business problems. 

    Projected Growth

Nationally: 16% 
Washington state: 48%

    Median Annual salary

Washington state: $142,180

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*NET

There’s ongoing proof of this hot job market among Seattle area employers. Companies like Amazon, Microsoft and Meta (Facebook) are all hiring machine learning engineers. These professionals are also in demand at Zillow, which launched a contest to improve its popular real-estate value algorithm. The prize? More than $1 million.

what machine learning engineers need to know

DeBarr said machine learning engineers need to know about five areas of data science: data collection, data management, metrics, modeling and experimentation.

“Machine learning is the modeling,” DeBarr says. “The most important knowledge is how to try out a number of models for a particular task and pick the best one.”

He said the UW Certificate in Machine Learning also covers state-of-the-art techniques in neural networks and deep learning, a subfield of artificial intelligence inspired by the workings of the human brain.

If you already work as a statistician or a software engineer — or if you’re entering the field with background in math and programming — DeBarr says you’ll be in a good position to learn more about the calculus, linear algebra, probability and statistics concepts you’ll need to work in machine learning.

“With the internet, we’re collecting so much data about users,” Friedman says. “The idea of machine learning is that you can somehow interpret that data and use it to give the user a better experience. In the evolution of software development, it’s the next stage.”

Get Started in Machine Learning

Interested in machine learning? Check out our UW Certificate in Machine Learning and other related programs:

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