Artificial intelligence or AI is a rapidly expanding area in computer science, which is swiftly rising to become one of the most essential skill sets for businesses. AI emphasises technological evolution and creating machines that are intelligent enough to function and act like real human beings. Computers utilising artificial intelligence have an extremely broad range of functions, including speech recognition, planning, learning, and problem-solving. As such, AI permeates almost every industry and has applications that are, to some extent, essential to all businesses.
AI is a hot skill set to have right now, and the business world is clamouring for the perfect Artificial Intelligence candidates. In the rapidly changing world of modern business, Artificial Intelligence is one set of skills that is only going to grow more important, making it an exceedingly good long-term career option.
As one of the high-tech professionals' fastest-growing sectors, the supply of perfect Artificial Intelligence candidates is far lower than the demand businesses have for them. Many Artificial Intelligence jobs are going unfilled due to a lack of suitably qualified candidates. While the supply/demand ratio is similar in all areas of software engineering, AI is the top niche in the industry, and it's even more evident here than elsewhere. This has positive advantages for those in the Artificial Intelligence field, as there are more jobs than candidates. It can be problematic, however, as companies are looking for very specific skills and qualifications. If you're not up to snuff, those jobs will remain unfilled. But what exactly does the perfect Artificial intelligence candidate look like?
Artificial Intelligence specialists are required in almost every field and every industry, but it's in particularly high demand in health care, advertising, transportation, and agriculture. More and more companies are seeking computers with the ability to learn, think, and adapt. Due to the broad range of applications Artificial intelligence has, candidates can have a wide variety of backgrounds, from software engineering to fields like physics, which are similarly data-heavy.
The perfect candidate can specialise in machine learning, or they might simply have a background that has naturally led them to machine learning from another career. As machine learning becomes an increasingly intrinsic element of so many industries, many people are falling into it as part of their existing careers, looking into it for existing jobs, falling in love with it, and pursuing it full-time.
Despite this flexibility for candidates, all experts in the Artificial Intelligence industry agree that a software engineering background is essential for any AI candidate. There is an assumption that a candidate will have excellent formal thinking abilities as well as the knowledge required to work with computers and code to a high level. That being said, the specific programming language a candidate works best with isn't usually an issue - many candidates know several, and fluency in one demonstrates a capability to learn more. When applying for a position, look into the main programming language of the project and ensure you are familiar with it, but don't be too concerned if you've worked with a different one more.
The research that is associated with AI positions is extremely technical and highly specialised. Core areas include the training of computers with specific functions, enabling them to perform specific tasks, including reasoning, knowledge, perception, problem-solving, and the ability to move and manipulate objects. Perhaps the most central area of study in AI is knowledge engineering, and instilling the power of problem-solving and reasoning into machines. Other key areas of AI are machine learning, robotics and machine perception. Experience in any of these areas will stand you in good stead.
Candidates with a few good open-source projects will often find themselves in a stronger position. They give the candidate the opportunity to show their chops, and the employer the chance to take a close look at their coding. If you're unsure which programming language will be required of you, it's helpful to have at least one open-source project in all coding types you are capable of working with. That way, you will always be in a position to demonstrate your skills in a company's preferred form of code.
In addition to technical skills, a strong AI candidate will demonstrate a keen ability for problem-solving, an inherent curiosity, and the innate drive to push the boundaries and seek further advancements. Companies are particularly looking for individuals with the kind of out-of-the-box thinking that enables them to look at an impossible problem and come up with a viable solution.
The perfect AI candidates are often viewed as being elite thinkers, the kind of people you can drop into a situation, step back, and watch as they work their magic, efficiently cutting through complex issues to the heart of a problem, and finding innovative and cutting-edge solutions.
The combination of a highly analytical mind and great creative flare is a must-have for AI candidates. This can be a tricky combination to find, as the majority of people lean in one direction or another. Logic, by definition, is formal and structured, while creativity is wild and free. If you can combine these two forms of thinking and demonstrate an ability to understand the complexities of big data, and the minutia of crafting algorithms, while simultaneously taking new and difficult problems in stride, and formulating totally unprecedented solutions, you will be well ahead of the game. Having experience in game development is an excellent way to demonstrate this coveted duel-thought process, as it gives a good indication of how you might handle potential problems.
Ensuring your knowledge remains at the cutting edge is absolutely essential in AI candidates. While the education background of a successful AI candidate ranges from PhDs to individuals with a Masters degree, and positions for lower levels of education, the ability to remain ahead of the game and be fully up to date with everything is vital. One excellent way to ensure you are doing this, and also demonstrate it in a tangible way, is to attend conferences. This will keep you bang up to date in your AI knowledge, which can be easier said than done in a field that is so rapidly evolving. Conferences are also an excellent place to find leads on new jobs, network, and meet the people you need to know in the industry to both place yourself well and stay abreast of new developments.
Become part of the conversation in the AI industry. Follow relevant blogs, websites, and researchers, read the best journals and provide peer feedback where appropriate. Get yourself known to others, and get to know them. This is not only great for your job prospects; it will also help you easily assess whether or not a particular role or company is a good fit for you.
Companies hiring AI specialists place a high value on candidates who hold PhDs. This is because a PhD demonstrates a depth of research capability, knowledge and education that is easily quantified and difficult to replicate elsewhere. The work a candidate produces as their doctoral thesis and as part of their doctoral programme is also an excellent barometer of their capabilities. Consequently, a lot of AI jobs will list PhD requirements. If you have a PhD, so much the better, but if you don't, don't allow yourself to be deterred by the fact.
Many businesses list their jobs as 'scientist' and/or 'researcher'. Posts of this nature tend to have stricter policies concerning PhDs, and you may find that holding one is a requirement. However, there may be additional roles available in engineering that aren't quite so stringent. Also bear in mind that the PhD requirements are likely to relax with time. AI technologies are currently so cutting-edge it's been difficult for candidates to demonstrate their expertise through experience alone; these positions simply haven't existed for long enough. As time goes on this will change, and candidates may find their experience carries as much (if not more) weight than a doctoral qualification, especially as most PhD candidates do not currently hold qualifications specific to AI industries - it is, again, too soon for a lot of them. Many individuals are now returning to education to gain formal PhD qualification in AI technologies, but there is likely to be a brief window during which time the majority of PhD candidates do not hold AI-specific qualifications, and candidates with really solid experience in AI-specific industries may just have the edge.
Managing Director of Endorsed Direct Hiring. Larissa has worked in the technology and recruitment sector for over 10 years and knows just about everything there is to know about what it takes to hire great people.