AI Trends Weekly Brief: Salaries in AI


Does AI pay well? Are there jobs open? 

U.S. employers will spend more than $650 million on annual salaries for 10,000 jobs in AI in 2017, according to a study from career and hiring data firm Paysa.

“Tech Giants are Paying Huge Salaries for Scarce AI Talent,” was the headline on a New York Times piece published Oct. 22, 2017. The Times talked to nine people who work for major tech companies, finding salary and company stock worth $300,000 to $500,000 being paid to AI specialists, including Ph.D.s just out of school and those with less education and a few years of experience.

Some AI specialists have contracts worth millions, like professional athletes. Some would like to see a salary cap on AI experts, a variation on National Football League-style team salary caps.
“That would make things easier,” said Christopher Fernandez, a Microsoft hiring manager, to the Times. “A lot easier.”

Talent is hard to come by. Element AI, an independent lab in Montreal, estimates fewer than 10,000 people in the world have the skills necessary to carry on serious AI research.

That is driving up prices. Last year, staff costs for DeepMind, the AI lab in London, were $138 million for 400 employees, a $345,000 average, according to financial accounts filed in Britain researched by the Times.

“It is hard to compete with that, especially if you are one of the smaller companies,” Jessica Cataneo, an executive recruiter at CyberCoders, told the Times.

The search for AI talent leads to raids on academia. Uber hired 40 people from Carnegie Mellon’s AI program in 2015, to work on its self-driving car project. Many academics take leave or share time between school and company.

Some smaller companies look for talent outside the US. Chris Nicholson, the CEO and cofounder of Skymind, a San Francisco startup, has hired engineers in eight countries. “I offer very attractive salaries in countries that undervalue engineering talent,” he told the Times.

Using AI to Study AI Job Trends

Paysa uses AI to deliver personalized job and salary recommendations. It was founded by Chris Bolte, Zachary Poley, Nikhil Raj and Patrick Harrington — all formerly of Walmart Labs and Walmart’s engineering and product teams.

The firm uses data points such as job openings, resumes, and compensation to determine the market value of individual skills. For this study, Paysa looked at the market value of skills and education listed as requirements for each of these jobs and generated a projected salary.

Large companies account for 40% of open AI positions. The list includes Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Huawei and IBM.

Paysa’s report also found that 35% percent of the AI positions require a Ph.D and another 26% specify that candidates should have a master’s degree.

“As you get higher into up into these positions that require very specific skills like neural networks and deep learning, where a Ph.D. is required or preferred, that’s when you start seeing schools having their top scientists and academics poached by private companies,” said Paysa CEO and co-founder Chris Bolte to Fortune in a piece published in May.

Paysa’s website in October 2017 listed the top 10 highest paying companies across all locations for tech talent, with Netflix number one with an average salary of $312,000. Next was Lyft at $300,000, followed by Dropbox, $299,000; Uber, $279,000, Facebook, $275,000; Microsoft was ranked eighth with an average salary of $269,000.

The site offers comparisons, such as Facebook at $275,000 average versus Google at $223,000; and Lyft at $300,000 versus Uber at $279,000.

The average salary for AI engineers Paysa lists as $143,000, including annual bonus, equity and a signing bonus. Top locations for hiring were New York, San Francisco, Mountain View and Seattle. Technical skills sought include AI, software engineering, software development, Java, C++, Python and Linux

In gender composition for AI engineers in Paysa’s database, males are 86%, females 4% and 11% were undisclosed. For degrees, 20% of the AI engineers hold Ph.D.s, 46% have master’s degrees and 80%, Bachelor’s degrees. In ethnic makeup, 13% were Asian, 4% Hispanic, 51% white and 33% undisclosed.

In years of experience, 39% reported up to two; 20%, between two and five; 18%, between five and 10; and 23% more than 10 years of experience.

The top 20 employers looking to hire AI talent were planning to invest $33,292,647, according to a press release Paysa issued in April on its AI tech talent market study. Amazon was allocating nearly 600% more than the average and Google, 300% more than the average.

Companies are looking for talent with skills in deep learning, machine learning, computer vision, neural networks, reinforcement learning skills, and artificial intelligence.

By US region, the highest salaries are being offered in the West, the average being $157,335; followed by the Northeast, with an average salary of $116,008.

“From powering the self-driving car to guiding the way we shop, manage our finances and doing routine tasks, AI technology plays an increasing role in every aspect of life, so it’s no surprise that investment in this area is growing at a rapid pace and companies are having a hard time keeping up,” stated Paysa CEO Bolte in the press release. “This latest research reveals that AI and machine learning skills are in such high demand that companies across the country at every funding stage are weighing the skills and track records of individuals even more heavily than years of experience or their degree, as they staff up their development teams.”

He added, “The explosion of AI talent needs is a critical event happening right now nationwide – engineers with the right skills can land a great job at a top tier company in any region of the US.”

Paysa in June released a list of the 100 highest-ranking companies for success in hiring and retaining top technical and engineering talent from April 2016 to April 2017. Paysa used a machine learning algorithm that aggregates and analyzes resumes, job posting and social activity. It looked at nearly eight million points of data, across nearly 200,000 companies over the past 15+ years. The companies analyzed had 100 employees or more.

Some highlights: the top 5 companies whose rank saw the highest percentage one-year increase were: Slack, Inc., No. 21; Twitch, No. 20; Spotify, No. 22; Magic Leap, No. 68; and Jet, No 100.

Paysa summarizes what companies are attracting talent, and what companies are losing talent. “It gives you the first indicators of which companies offer the greatest opportunity for career advancement,” said CEO Bolte. “Money always follows talent.”

Self-Driving Car Engineers At the Top

The rush to develop self-driving cars is fueling lucrative deals such as GMs $581 million purchase of Cruise, Uber’s $680 million acquisition of Otto, and Ford’s $1 billion Argo Ai project It is also leading to lucrative salaries for self-driving car engineers.

Salaries in the Bay area, including annual bonuses and equity, are averaging $295,000 annually for top self-driving car engineers; the range is from $232,000 to $405,000, based on data from Paysa quoted in an account in Fortune published in March.

Salaries are high because the pool of talent is small, Paysa’s Bolte told Fortune. “We see this type of engineer as one of the hottest engineers out there. The competition for these people, it’s pretty outstanding, which is why you see such big salaries.”

In the vortex of this activity is Sebastian Thrun, a research professor at Stanford University, the first leader of Google’s self-driving car project, which began in 2009, and the founder of Udacity, an online educational service that offers “nanodegrees” in a range of technologies. Commenting on the demand for self-driving car engineers, Thrun told Forbes, “It’s not just the physical car, but area like navigation, LiDAR and cameras are all growing so the need for talent, both in hardware and software, is huge.”

Udacity started a self-driving car nanodegree program in September 2016; as of May, Udacity had received 25,000 applications and had more than 5,000 students enrolled. “There is some very good talent out there but right now it’s more of a talent grab at companies,” Thrun said. “We are attempting to fill this talent gap and have people (get) the right skills.”

Data Scientists Also in Demand

Salaries for data scientists are also healthy. The average data scientist salary in the US is $128,549, based on 2,300 salaries as of October 2017, posted on Glassdoor, the job and recruiting site. The range is $92,000 to $168,000.

Among the leaders, Facebook is paying $132,279; Microsoft is paying $123,556; and IBM is paying $109,413.

Top data scientist salaries are reported by Glassdoor to be paid by Inzopa, a private financial data network, with a range of $230,000 to $250,000; LinkedIn, range of $227,00 to $243,000. And Switchfly, offering technology services for the travel industry, with a range of $216,000 to $234,000.

Many Machine Learning, Deep Learning Jobs Open

The average machine learning scientist salary in the US is $128,549, according to Glassdoor. Among the leaders, Amazon is paying $132,374; Amazon is offering $7,125 monthly to a machine learning scientist intern; health technology company Theranos is offering a range of $94,000 to $136,000; John Hopkins Hospital is offering a machine learning scientist internship at $24 to $26 per hour; General Electric is offering $126,000 to $137,000 to a machine learning scientist.

Consulting company Elevano of Irvine, Calif., posted a deep learning engineer position at between $150,000 and $180,000 at, the job search site.

The company with the most listings for deep learning engineers on Indeed was Amazon Web Services, 340 positions open; Microsoft, 186 positions open; NVIDIA, 172 positions open; Apple, 130 positions open; and IBM, 104 positions open as of October 2017.

The rush to train and supplement education with AI knowledge will help to close the gap. Nevertheless it takes years to train a Ph.D. and demand for AI talent will outstrip the supply for the foreseeable future.

  • Written by compiled by John P. Desmond, AI Trends editor