Elon Musk Tweeted last year that his company is looking for AI developers and said that it does not really matter if applicants have any real degree, all they have to do is pass a “hardcore coding test”. While the SpaceX and Tesla CEO’s Tweet might have been bizarre for some people, it wasn’t entirely surprising. Over the past few years, there has been a growing consensus in the AI tech community that college degrees, especially engineering degrees, might be increasingly irrelevant for those looking to apply for jobs in the Artificial Intelligence space. Why is this happening and how is it possible to enter the world of AI without an engineering background?

A career in AI is mainly characterised by the use of sophisticated computer software and programs, automation, and robotics. And while all these three areas of study do converge in a conventional engineering degree, it is equally possible to acquire these skills outside a university. Those working AI opine that if an individual has a strong hold of math and statistics that is coupled with coding skills and knowledge of programming languages such as Python and R,and a good understanding of AI and it’s ability, then there is nothing stopping them from working in the field. Google and Apple have acknowledged that formal college degrees are no longer a prerequisite for applicants. This is mainly because companies that drive innovation understand that the value of people who are passionate self-starters and are willing to learn on the job.

Having said this, there will always be those who are worried about not having the backing of a formal engineering degree in order to get noticed by potential employers and recruiters. While this may be a valid concern, there are many ways to work around this problem of lack of experience or a formal degree. Personal projects that showcase basic machine learning skills and meet proper coding standardsare one way of doing this. More often than not, recruiters are always on the lookout for candidates who are self-starters and a personal project involving problem-solving is a great way of showcasing a proactive attitude. In addition to this, participating in Hackathons, coding challenges, and working on open source projects are a few other ways in which candidates can strengthen their recruitment potential even without an engineering background.

Many of the leading recruiters in the AI space give a great deal more priority to skillset than the nature of degree a candidate has. The key for them is to identify those who have excellent problem-solving skills in ,a real passion for technology, teamwork and dedication to work towards long term goals. In short, the problem-solver and hard worker is the real engineer even if he does not have a degree. A distinctive mark of such companies is often their interview process that focusses on foundations, coding skills and potential of the candidate to contribute to their overall business objectives. Forward-looking companies handpick their team of passionate tech enthusiasts and put them under the guidance of team leaders working on quality projects in multiple business sectors. That inevitably enables informal learning and building of AI skills and consequently enrich their career portfolio.

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AI is destined to affect every industry in the near future, making it one of the most sought-after areas to build a career in. According to a Forbes Magazine article that recently sourced data from LinkedIn about hiring in the field of AI: artificial intelligence specialty hiring has increased by 74 percent in the past four years and these figures are only set to increase. There is also appreciation that what is taught in a generic college programme may be just a fraction of the specialized knowledge, awareness and skill that an AI professional will gather on the job. Although an engineering degree is viewed by AI talent hunters as a foundation for good technical education, the real challenge for them is how to nurture the degree holder and turn him into an AI technologist. Hence, it really is the best juncture to step into this field, and not having a formal engineering background is not an impediment to having a thriving career in AI.