AI continues to create numerous exciting career opportunities, and I know that many of you aim to develop a career in the field. While taking online courses in technical topics is an important step, being an AI professional requires more than technical skills. Lately I’ve been thinking about how to do more to support all of you who are looking to build a career in AI.
Considering individuals at a variety of stages in their careers, what are some of the keys to success?
- Technical skills. When learning a new skill, taking an online course or reading a textbook — in which an expert presents important concepts into an easy-to-digest format — is one of the most efficient paths forward.
- Practical experience. After gaining a skill, it’s necessary to practice it — and learn tricks of the trade — by applying that skill to significant projects. Machine learning models that perform well in the lab can run into trouble in the real world. Practical project experience remains an important component in overcoming such problems.
- Project selection. Choosing projects to work on is one of the hardest skills in AI. We can only work on so many projects at a time, and scoping ones that are both feasible and valuable — so they have a good chance of achieving meaningful success — is an important step that has to be done repeatedly in the course of a career.
- Teamwork. When we tackle large projects, we succeed better by working in teams than individually. The ability to collaborate with, influence, and be influenced by others is critical. This includes both interpersonal and communication skills. (I used to be a pretty bad communicator, by the way.)
- Networking. I hate networking! As an introvert, having to go to a party to smile and shake as many hands as possible is an activity that borders on horrific. I’d much rather stay home and read a book. Nonetheless, I’m fortunate to have found many genuine friends in AI; people I would gladly go to bat for and who I count on as well. No person is an island, and having a strong professional network can help propel you forward in the moments when you need help or advice.
- Job search. Of all the steps in building a career, this one tends to receive the most attention. Unfortunately, I’ve found a lot of bad advice about this on the internet. (For example, many articles seem to urge taking an adversarial attitude toward potential employers, which I don’t think is helpful). Although it may seem like finding a job is the ultimate goal, it’s just one small step in the long journey of a career.
- Personal discipline. Few people will know if you spend your weekends learning or binge watching TV (unless you tell them on social media!), but they will notice the difference over time. Many successful people develop good habits in eating, exercise, sleep, personal relationships, work, learning, and self-care. Such habits help them move forward while staying healthy.
- Altruism. I find that individuals who aim to lift others during every step of their own journey often achieve better outcomes for themselves. How can we help others even as we build an exciting career for ourselves?
Each of these items is a complex subject worthy of an entire book. I will continue to think on how we can work collectively to support everyone’s career goals. Meanwhile, I would like to hear your thoughts as well. What am I missing? What can I or my teams do to support you in your career?