How do you break into a career in machine learning?

By Charles Sutton on February 1, 2020

I got a question the other day about how to start a career in machine learning. I gave the best answer that I could, but I’m not sure that my best was very good. Can you help? If so, join the discussion on social media, or send me a note privately:

The question was:

I am currently studying for a master’s at [a good university outside the United States -cas] while working part-time as an NLP research engineer. I would like to ask you for some advice if that was possible.

My question is: without having outstanding grades or publications in top AI journals, how could I find my way towards a top Ph.D. program or at least research internship, is there any possibility? I am currently working on deep learning (paid job) and have some Ph.D. offers. Still, I feel that internships at companies like Google or Ph.D. positions at top research centers are impossible without previous experience in a similar place, which is like a snake biting its tail. Except for students with massive GPA scores, which is not my case.

I am happy with my current job, but so far, I have just been able to grasp the opportunities that I found, so I am thinking about trying to go abroad. Everything I have found is very applied, and I would like to study more abstract or generic (even exotic) topics, instead of applying existing neural architectures to specific domains.

I wrote:

Lots and lots of applicants to computer science PhD programs want to do machine learning, so admissions is very competitive. I don’t think it’s necessary to have publications to get into a PhD program, although it does help, and the higher you go in the rankings, the more that you need any help that you can get.

I’m not sure that I have better advice than to learn as much as you can, do good work, network with others, and work your way up the prestige ladder. It’s true that going to a very highly ranked school gives you an advantage, but I know very good researchers who did not have very good grades in undergrad, and even if you do your PhD at a lower ranked place, if your work is good, it still can stand out.

And now, a question for my readers (all three of them), what do you think?