Machine Learning Engineer Salary: Compared to Data Science & Software Engineering

Updated on June 3, 2020
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The field of machine learning is certainly booming. Programmers working in artificial intelligence are paid very well and are in high demand. They can earn significantly more than a data scientist in certain roles.

Exactly how much money will you make as a machine learning engineer? The national average for 2019 for a Machine Learning Engineer was almost $115,000 according to Glassdoor data [1].

Read on to find out the variables that will affect your actual pay rate, qualifications for ML engineers, and more salary range details.

Learn about Machine Learning salaries.
Learn about Machine Learning salaries. | Source

What Is a Machine Learning Engineer?

These engineers usually start out as software engineers and specialize (through experience or education) in implementing machine learning algorithms. These algorithms are how computers can learn to do some really neat things like classify images, understand language, and perform complex predictions that are otherwise impossible.

This is a relatively new position. Although neural networks and machine learning algorithms have been used for a while, it’s only been widely applicable to business in the past few years.

Any company looking to take advantage of artificial intelligence needs to hire machine learning engineers and data scientists.

Since the difference machine learning can make to a company’s bottom line is enormous, they can demand a high pay rate.


What does it take to become a machine learning engineer? Since the intersection of artificial intelligence in business is growing rapidly, the path to becoming a machine learning engineer isn't the same for everyone. But most ML engineers will share these general qualifications.


Machine learning engineers usually have a Master’s in either Computer Science or Math. Their Bachelor’s might be in Computer Science or a related branch of engineering. More and more machine learning engineers begin as software engineers and take a few valuable machine learning online courses that let them get into new jobs.

Many ML engineers will have a PhD in their discipline. You’ll also find that employees with these qualification are called “scientists” as often as “engineers” due to their extensive education.

Work Experience

In addition to formal education, most qualified ML engineers have experience in working in a specific sub-field. These could be computer vision, natural language processing, robotics, or deep learning.

ML engineers usually use Python or R as their primary programming language. Each company has their own setup in terms of frameworks and languages that work best for their specific business needs. Machine learning engineers will need to be flexible and quickly pick up new frameworks and data networks.

Keeping Up

Since newer and better algorithms are being published all the time, it's expected that an ML engineer will put in a lot of time staying up with current technologies. This might include reading published papers and attending conferences.

Entry Level Salary

Even a beginner machine learning engineer will earn a high salary starting out. The average for new hires is $100,000 and it can range from $72k to $135k [1].

But these entry level jobs are hard to find. Most companies are looking for engineers that already have experience in artificial intelligence. Even with an advanced degree in Math or Computer Science you might need to work in the field for three to five years before earning the title Machine Learning Engineer.

Compare machine learning engineer salaries with data scientists and software engineers.
Compare machine learning engineer salaries with data scientists and software engineers. | Source

Machine Learning Engineer vs Software Engineer Salaries

You might be here to find out which pays more: a software engineering job or machine learning job?

You can think of machine learning as a specialization of software engineering. So it makes sense that the pay will be higher for machine learning.

The data agrees with this idea, here are some data points from Glassdoor:

  • Data Scientist Average Salary: $117,345

  • Machine Learning Engineer Average Salary: $114,826

  • Software Engineer Average Salary: $103,035

It’s not surprising that software engineer averages are a little lower because it only takes a four year B.S. in computer science. To work in machine learning and data science you usually need a masters or at least a lot of work experience, so the pay will be higher.

It’s interesting to note that there are only 128 salaries reported for machine learning engineers, which means the data might not be that reliable yet. As the field develops and new roles emerge the salary ranges might change.

More Information

As mentioned, these salary figures will vary quite a bit based on your experience and location. Checking Glassdoor can give you a more accurate assessment for your situation.


[1] (2019). Glassdoor - Salaries.

© 2019 Katy Medium


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