When you think of artificial intelligence (AI), what comes to mind? Self-driving cars? Human-like robots? How about pet robots? While the term “AI” might conjure up futuristic ideas, we’re actually already interacting with AI innovations on a daily basis. Think: chatbots and virtual travel booking agents.
And the AI space will only continue to grow — in fact, over the next six years, the global artificial intelligence market is expected to reach $641.3 billion. The good news? This means that there will be more and more jobs for AI Engineers with opportunities across industries. Engineers working in the AI space can work on a huge range of projects, from disease-mapping to gambling to cybersecurity to translation and linguistics.
The better news? Since AI Engineers work with some of the most cutting-edge technology and take on a lot of responsibility, they’re generally some of the highest-paid engineers. Of course, these salaries vary by a number of factors. Here’s a closer look at what influences an AI Engineer’s salary.
What factors affect an AI Engineer’s salary?
According to new data from ZipRecruiter, the average annual salary of an AI Engineer in the United States is $164,769. But the majority of the salaries collected for their research fell between $142,500 (25th percentile) to $173,000 (75th percentile). And the lowest annual salaries were $90,000, while the highest reached $304,500.
This range here is huge — over $200,000! But why? Factors like location, skills, the number of years you’ve been working, and who you work for can all influence how much you can earn as an AI Engineer.
Being able to work remotely has given professionals in almost every industry a lot of flexibility in terms of where they live and the roles they can apply for. And since AI engineering is a field that’s particularly well-suited for remote work, it’s very likely that you’ll be able to enjoy this flexibility too.
Even if you work remotely, location-based factors can still affect your salary. Generally, we see higher average salaries for professionals based in major cities versus small towns, but ZipRecruiter reports that Lakes, Alaska, which has a current population of 10,206, has the highest average salary — $197,897 per year — for AI Engineers in the United States. (FYI: ZipRecruiter also notes that the job market for AI Engineers in Lakes is “underperforming,” which means there aren’t that many job opportunities there.)
Following Lakes, San Francisco comes in at $195,425 per year, and Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. are two other major cities listed in the top 10 highest-paying U.S. cities for AI Engineer jobs. If you want to live on the coast, AI Engineers in Bridgeport, Connecticut make an average of $185,610 per year, which is the tenth highest-paying U.S. city.
As far as low-paying areas go, North Carolina and Missouri are the two lowest-paying states in the U.S. for AI Engineers, with average annual salaries of $120,364 and $129,278, respectively.
Education & skills
Artificial intelligence is a highly innovative field and a lot of concepts and work stems from academic research. Because of this, having a formal degree in a related field will likely impact not only your salary range but also your chances of landing a job in AI. But it’s definitely not out of the question for you to get an AI job if you don’t have or plan to get a college degree, especially with tech companies dropping degree requirements. Just know it could take longer to find the right fit.
In addition to a formal degree, you can also look into online courses and professional development that can help bump your salary into a higher bracket. Both of these options are great if you want to learn a new tool or expand on your skills to potentially give you more opportunities to work on different projects, while also boosting your earning potential.
The number of years you’ve been working in a field, as well as the total number of years you’ve been in the workforce, is one of the biggest factors that impact salary, no matter which field you work in. Generally speaking, the more years of experience you have, the higher your salary.
Entry-level AI Engineers, those with 0-1 years of experience, earn a median annual salary of $118,344, according to Glassdoor. Once you’ve been working in the field for a few years and have 4-6 years of experience, the median salary jumps to $126,669. And down the line, when you’ve been working for 15 years or more, the pay comes in at $150,672 annually.
Field & employer
With AI technology being adopted by businesses across a wide range of sectors, you’ll likely have the opportunity to pick a field to work in that aligns with your passions, expertise, and salary requirements.
One thing to keep in mind when you’re deciding which field to focus your job search in is that some fields are investing more in AI than others right now, which can certainly impact your salary. AI is particularly prevalent in the financial, healthcare, and life sciences sectors, and some leading companies in these sectors that are hiring include CVS Health, Pfizer, and Fidelity Investments, as well as many other major U.S.-based and international banks. But it’s also growing in the retail, sports, and manufacturing areas with companies like McDonalds, Meta, NFL, and John Deere investing in AI.
If you want to work in AI but you can’t find a role that has the specific title of AI Engineer, don’t let that stop you, because you actually still have a few other options. There are a number of closely related roles that you can consider, and one of these is a Machine Learning Engineer. Since machine learning is a subset of AI, your work as a Machine Learning Engineer can involve AI. Check out our post on what a Machine Learning Engineer does to learn more, and then read up on how much you can earn in this role.
Another area you can keep in mind is data science. Businesses hire Data Scientists to help them assess their AI products in the market and make data-driven decisions. While you might not help in the initial development of the AI technology, you can be involved in the overall project as a Data Scientist. Check out what a Data Scientist does and how much they can earn.
How to start your AI engineering career
If you’re ready to jump into a career in AI, a great place to start is by mastering a programming language that you’ll use on the job. Python is one of the top languages used by AI Engineers, and it’s also a top language used in machine learning. You can check out our beginner-friendly Learn Python course, and after that, you can take a look at our Building Chatbots with Python and learn how to build software that can have conversations like humans.
You can also check out our Data Scientist Career Path that introduces you to many of the skills you’ll need as an AI Engineer; and if you already know Python, then you can try our Learn the Basics of Machine Learning.
Once you’re ready to start applying for jobs in AI, check out our Career Center, which can support you during every step of the job-hunting process, particularly as you build your portfolio and prepare for the technical interview.