Launching a career in artificial intelligence

Mark Talmage-Rostron
21.12.2022·9 min read

Ask most people about artificial intelligence (AI) and its effect on the world and many minds will wonder to the Terminator movie where the machines became so cognitive that they broke the link with humans controlling them and started thinking for themselves. Cue disaster on an epic scale. Fortunately, this has not been the case and it is predicted that AI will have a positive effect on the world.

In fact, if you turn the lens on one industry alone, in this instance healthcare, it is thought that AI will improve the operations of healthcare facilities and medical organizations, reduce operating costs, and save money. So much for AI killing people. It will be saving them.

So, is AI a friend or foe? To debate that very fact and identify how people can forge a lucrative career in this rapidly emerging technological field,  Jennifer Bangoura, EdD, Nexford’s Director of Career Innovation, Amos Guni, Nethermind’s Global Technical Recruiter, Henry Onyango, Microsoft Software Engineer, and Supreme Oyewumi, Garment Care LTD’s Head of Projects and Development got together to talk about what employers are looking for in AI candidate, and how to nail that all-important job interview.

Going down the AI Career Path

Henry Onyango was quick to jump in and lend his perspective on AI as a career and how to get a start in it when he mentioned some of the key skills and knowledge areas that are important for success in this specialized vocation.

Henry says, “I guess it depends on what angle you see yourself getting into the field because there are two ways of looking at it. There are people who build the AI models themselves, and that requires a whole different skill set, and then there are people who build on top of the models.”

To explain what would for the layperson be quite a complex subject, Henry gave a less complex example saying if you’re on Twitter, there are a lot of avatar-generating tools that have been built on top of an open AI image processing model.

That said, he went on to say that it doesn’t necessarily mean that the person who built it needs to understand that person’s network software, even in processing, but they must consider a blackbox. Then you build on top of it. And if you’re one of those software engineers, who’s more interested in building on top of it, then basic software engineering is important, but a lot of creativity is also required as you may need to figure out what sort of problems can be solved by the already existing models.

He went on to say that if you’re someone who’s leaning more towards building the models themselves, then the skill set required will involve a lot of calculus, a lot of probability, and a lot of maths. So, it depends again, on what you want to get into. It could research where you try to figure out the best models that can be developed. It could be a data scientist, data engineer, or AI researcher. But overall, the commonality is, if you want to build the networks themselves, then there is a lot of maths involved.

Top tips on how to get into a career in artificial intelligence

We’ve all heard the expressions, ‘getting a foot in the door’ and ‘once you’re in, you’re in’ right? For many in highly competitive industries, the tough part is breaking in, but once you’ve done so, provided of course that you don’t make a mess of it, you have every opportunity to forge a long and lucrative career in AI.

So, what did the panel recommend that budding AI executives do to get started and really build their career in artificial intelligence?

Henry Onyango jumped in at this point and gave his expert input by saying that in all probability, the best point to start is to primarily have an interest in technology as a whole and a large degree of curiosity.

He said, “Before you even begin thinking about artificial intelligence, start by enjoying looking at computers and working with computers. And then, in my opinion, I think you need foundational knowledge around how computers work. Because again, all that AI is, is computers that don’t require explicit instructions on what to do. And so, understanding computers, and how they work is your first jumping off point.”

Henry continued to say that in his expert opinion before you get into AI, it’s important that you understand programming and how it works and then start diving a bit deeper into the calculus that has to do with programming and the maths that has to do with AI. From there you can move into looking at already existing models, and how to improve or build on them, or how to build on top of the platform that already exists.

That is the end goal, but what is the path of least resistance to help you get there? Henry maintains that in his opinion, the easiest route is to get a CS degree and then as you proceed, try to narrow in on artificial intelligence and machine learning. Then from there, you could do a master’s in AI itself and proceed to do a PhD if you want to.

Should you decide that what is mentioned above is the path of highest resistance, Henry makes mention that all is not lost. There is another route which is where you teach yourself. But that comes with a massive caveat when he said, “The route of self-instruction may seem easy to most, but don’t fool yourself. Like many things this option requires lots of patience, dedication, self-awareness, and determination for you to see it through.”

What do employers look for in candidates for AI-related positions?

Answering this million-dollar question as a person that is on a daily basis on the hunt for top AI candidates, Amos Guni was quick to step in on this all-important part of forging a lucrative career in AI where he stated that there are three main things that employers look for in candidates.

1. Relevant qualifications

Basic computer technology and maths support most AI programs. Entry-level positions require at least a BBA while supervision, leadership, or administrative roles often require master’s or doctoral degrees.

Typical coursework involves:

  • Various levels of maths, including probability, statistics, algebra, calculus, logic, and algorithms
  • Bayesian networking or graphical modeling, including neural nets
  • Physics, engineering, and robotics
  • Computer science, programming languages, and coding
  • Cognitive science theory

Candidates can find degree programs that offer specific majors in AI or pursue an AI specialization from within majors such as computer science, health informatics, graphic design, information technology or engineering.

2. Relevant experience

Here Amos talked about basic experiences from internships to independent projects done, to university projects, and all the way across to full-time employment where you have the necessary skills and hours under your belt to do the required job at hand.

For the latter, it’s all about whether you’ve developed something, tested it, and deployed it. That’s the litmus test.

3. Skills, knowledge, and expertize

Every good employer will be looking for candidates that have the right skills to not only do the job but also progress in it without too much additional training. And bear in mind that these can be non-technical skills as well, such as can the candidate communicate well, are they a good collaborator, willing to give and receive feedback, and work in teams, learn from their mistakes as well as their achievements. In recruitment this is what they call ‘hiring for potential,’ said Amos.

Amos also states the relevant things that most recruiters are looking for in a candidate is that they are on LinkedIn with a professional profile and relevant experience and that they ask probing questions both during and after the interview about the AI technology they are interviewing for. It gives him a sense that they are very reflective, thought-provoking, and above all, intelligent.

Nexford University’s AI program is a good place to start your career

Nothing shouts success more than a person who has developed their knowledge of AI, graduated with a degree in it, and then used that to build a phenomenally successful AI career. Supreme Oyewumi, one of Nexford University’s MBA alumni who chose to specialize in AI & the Future of Automation is just such a person.

He knew that he wanted to do an MBA and also harbored a desire to go into the field of artificial intelligence as he knew it was a hot career. However, he was not sure where he could go to be able to do both and not have to put his career on hold or expend many years of his life glued to textbooks. That was until he met someone who had learned at Nexford.

Supreme admits that he is not a very technical person, but what Nexford taught him was how to deploy AI in every field. He says, “We tend to overanalyze it and think, oh, you need to understand Python, you need to understand this. In as much as the first step in Python is in artificial intelligence, the technical part, the most important part comes when you want to deploy and use it. That is what I learned at Nexford. The fear of AI and if I was going to be able to get a handle on it left me the very moment I started my education there.”

He makes mention that the course he did at Nexford helped pave the way toward driving his organization towards cloud computing. And that he says helped him increase his salary by a sizeable proportion. In April he got a contract job in AI with a UK firm, and he can put that all down to what he learned at Nexford.

As far as Supreme’s advice for budding AI guru’s looking to follow in his footsteps goes, he agrees with Henry in that people obviously need to have an interest in it and a drive to get into the industry and find a place where they can gain the knowledge they need to do the job at hand.

Supreme is a firm believer that Nexford is just such a place. He says, “What I learned from my MBA at Nexford can’t be quantified or have a value put on it because the knowledge that I gained and how I have been able to apply it to my job is priceless. Plus, I really believe that what I learned in 12 months at Nexford would have taken me almost six years to acquire the same knowledge if I had not elected to enrol there.”

See the full webinar here.

Ready to take the next step and discover how a Nexford MBA could increase your salary as a working professional in South Africa? Download our brochure or book a call with our NEXFORD Application Specialists!

About the Author

Mark Talmage-Rostron

Mark is a college graduate with Honours in Copywriting. He is the Content Marketing Manager at Nexford, creating engaging, thought-provoking, and action-oriented content.

Join our newsletter and be the first to receive news about our programs, events and articles.