Many people who make a career change to the tech field do so because of the bigger paycheck
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Ginny Bartolone
Noodle Expert Member

August 03, 2022

From financial services to manufacturing, industries across the board need highly skilled AI experts. But is the AI salary increase worth the money, time, and effort you’ll need to invest to earn your AI master’s?

Tech jobs have quite the reputation for impressively high pay, with average salaries soaring into the six-figure range, even for mid-level positions. So, it should come as no surprise that most people who make a career change to the tech field do so because of the bigger paycheck.

But if you take a look at tech job salaries listed by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), computer and information research scientists sit comfortably at the top, making over $126,000 a year. Many of these research scientists work on today's cutting-edge technologies utilizing artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) tools.

Another perk of the field? AI jobs are not just for machine learning engineers and data scientists. You'll find job postings in marketing, sales, management, and project management, not to mention all the entry-level pathways in software development.

But what can you really expect to make with an AI skill set, and how much does an advanced degree affect your average annual salary? In this article, we'll go over:

  • Careers in artificial intelligence
  • Artificial intelligence career paths
  • Top artificial intelligence master’s programs

Careers in artificial intelligence

From an outside perspective, working in AI and ML might seem a bit niche to bank an entire degree or career on. But the International Data Corporation (IDC) predicted in 2020 that global spending on AI technologies will double in just four years—and with that comes a burgeoning AI job market.

The irony here is that many people feared that AI technology would replace human jobs—from factory workers to, well, online writers. And this concern is not unfounded. Many tech pros confirm that yes, robots will replace many of our current roles. But the resulting opportunities that arise should keep humans from having to do repetitive tedious tasks, and allow us to focus on more creative and strategic work. Additionally, all the positions required to monitor, maintain, and further develop AI will only continue to grow, as we discover new possibilities for this technology.

Which industries need artificial intelligence professionals?

Experts across the tech world seem to make predictions every year about when AI will touch every aspect of our lives. Back in 2014, a Pew Research poll predicted that this would happen by 2025. Others believe that computers will learn as quickly as humans by 2050. No matter the prediction, there's little doubt that AI will permeate most industries very, very soon.

As for current job opportunities, you have your pick from a long list, including:

Healthcare

With the help of an AI engineer, computers are identifying the early signs of disease, prescribing necessary tests, and suggesting treatment options much more quickly and accurately than humans. AI also is being used in healthcare with patient billing, communication among specialists, and the data science behind global health trends.

Manufacturing

Manufacturing still tops the charts when it comes to AI-related jobs. The industry has used automation for decades, helping with everything from warehouse organization to ensuring sustainable supply chain management.

Finance

You'll spot AI-related job titles across the financial field, including in cyber security, and "machine learning algorithms are used to detect fraud, automate trading activities, and provide financial advisory services to investors."

Education and Career

Students and job candidates utilize AI-powered online tools every day for advice on where to go to school and which career move to make next. Artificial intelligence engineers also have created teaching bots, such as language-learning apps and textbook generators.

What are the top artificial intelligence jobs in each field and how much do they pay?

Do a quick search for AI and machine learning jobs in your field and you'll notice something interesting. Many job titles and their descriptions are relatively interchangeable. Analytics India Magazine elaborated on this in a recent piece: "Many times, employers may voluntarily keep the titles more generic, given the multidisciplinary nature that involves the use of statistics, mathematics, software engineering, neural networks, analytics, and visualisation, among others." In other words, the AI field is still rapidly evolving, and job titles will become more specific as time goes on. As for now, you'll likely see these roles in the highest-paying positions.

  • Machine learning engineer: The average salary for a machine learning engineer before bonuses is $139,655, according toIndeed.
  • AI engineer: PayScale lists an AI engineer salary at $125,000 a year. You'll find a higher salary range for those with multiple years of experience, advanced degrees, and in certain areas of the country.
  • Business intelligence developer: Indeed states that these business-growth-focused professionals make an average of around $94,000, with a cash bonus of around $5,000.
  • _Data scientist:_ Programmers with extensive big data experience make an average of $112,242, according to PayScale, but will make higher amounts in metro areas like New York.

Artificial intelligence career paths

As ambiguous as some job titles can be, the roles and career paths themselves are highly specified once you’re in the field. You'll see this demonstrated both in an AI master's degree curriculum and job descriptions.

For example, some computer scientists will specialize in computer vision or natural language processing, while others specifically work as algorithm engineers. Like other engineering-focused fields, you need highly specific skills to ensure the product is a success.

Outside of engineering roles, you also can go in a marketing, business development, or project management direction. These professionals still need a background in computer science, but combine it with their business expertise in these other industries.

Artificial intelligence master’s degree

If you take a look back at that salary listed by the BLS, you'll notice that it specifically applies to professionals who hold a master's degree. But here's the thing, graduate and doctorate degrees are not necessary for all AI and ML jobs. Unlocking leadership roles, however, is a whole other story.

Each year, more and more top universities offer a Master of Science in Computer Science (MSCS) or PhD in computer science with a specialty in AI or ML. These programs offer students—both online and in person—the chance to build foundational knowledge, as well as gain hands-on experience in some of the most complex AI realms.

How long does it take to earn an artificial intelligence master’s?

An artificial intelligence master’s can take anywhere from two years to five years. Many universities offer part-time, online, or hybrid programs for busy professionals. You also can find one-year graduate certificate programs, but you should note that this is not the same as earning an MS.

Admission requirements/Prerequisites

In such a highly technical and developing field, universities want to make sure each prospective student is on the same page when the cohort first meets. While students will come from all different backgrounds and levels of experience, they will likely have a bachelor's in a related field, experience with programming languages, and industry experience.

For example, Southern Methodist University requires a bachelor's in topics related to math, computer science, or the quantitative sciences. You'll also need at least two professional references, a personal statement, and a resume.

Other schools require prerequisite courses such as linear algebra, Python training, and several semesters of calculus.

Curriculum

Artificial intelligence programs typically combine theoretical topics on AI with the hands-on study of technical applications. In most cases, the balance of these courses depends on two main factors: your chosen concentration and whether you choose to write a thesis.

For example, Steven Institute of Technology requires a mathematical foundation course, four core courses, three concentration-focused courses, and either two electives or one thesis project.

Specialization

Universities hone in on the many areas of AI and ML by encouraging students to choose a concentration. In some cases, you'll be asked to select a concentration by name with set courses. In others, you can build a custom specialization around your elective courses.

Johns Hopkins, for instance, asks that new students simply choose an applied track or a theoretical track for their core courses. Electives include topics like intelligent algorithms, cloud computing, robotics, and data visualization.

Top artificial intelligence master’s programs

Finding the right program for you is dependent on your professional goals. You could opt for a school with a famous research lab, such as Carnegie Mellon, and you could end up working on projects that attract employers after graduation. You also can choose a program geared toward part-time, online students to continue your career during your studies. Here are a few national favorites.

  • _Carnegie Mellon University:_ Often rated the top program in the United States by US News and World Report, CMU offers access to cutting-edge research and top experts in the field.
  • _Drexel University:_ Drexel lands on best-of lists in both the sciences and for online or master's programs. Students can build a custom program based on their industry focus and concentration.
  • _Stanford University:_ Not to be confused with the Stanford online graduate certificate, its master's degree falls within the engineering department. The courses cover areas like robotics, deep learning, and natural language processing.

Online/hybrid options

Two years of full-time, in-person study is not always feasible—or even the best option—for every student and learning style. The following programs offer flexible online master's degrees in AI:

  • _Southern Methodist University:_ Complete the degree in just two years with the school's robust hands-on online learning program. Electives include data mining, logic programming, and mobile applications for sensing and learning.
  • _Stevens Institute of Technology:_ Stevens' Applied Artificial Intelligence program is available both in-person or fully online. The school offers interdisciplinary concentration options and hands-on projects, even if you’re not taking classes on campus.
  • _Penn State University:_ Penn State's World Campus offers a fully online master's degree with 33 credits that culminate in a capstone project.

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