A new kind of AI job is emerging—and it pays six-figure salaries and doesn’t require a degree in computer engineering, or even advanced coding skills.
With the rise in generative artificial intelligence, a host of companies are now looking to hire “prompt engineers” who are tasked with training the emerging crop of AI tools to deliver more accurate and relevant responses to the questions real people are likely to pose.
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Some of these jobs can even pay up to $335,000 a year.
READ MORE: The A to Z of Artificial Intelligence
What does a prompt engineer do?
Anna Bernstein, a 29-year-old prompt engineer at generative AI firm Copy.ai in New York, is one of the few people already working in this new field. Her role involves writing text-based prompts that she feeds into the back end of AI tools so they can do things such as generate a blog post or sales email with the proper tone and accurate information. She doesn’t need to write any technical code to do this; instead, she types instructions to the AI model to help refine responses.
“There aren’t many of us prompt engineers, and for a long time it really felt like it was just me,” Bernstein says. She joined Copy.ai in September 2021, about a year before OpenAI’s ChatGPT went viral for its uncanny ability to generate elegant writing and answer almost any question. “At the time, the term ‘prompt engineer’ didn’t exist, and they were unsure whether it was even a role that could exist.”
Bernstein, who studied English in college, was a copywriter and historical research assistant before becoming a prompt engineer. “I had no tech background whatsoever,” she says. “But to have a humanities background in this field seems to me like a triumph, especially since part of the point of developing AI is to imitate human thought.”
A surge in AI jobs
Prompt engineering is now considered one of the hottest tech jobs as companies look for ways to help train and adapt AI tools to get the most out of new large language models, which can provide results that are not always correct or appropriate.
It’s part of a dramatic increase in demand for workers who understand and can work with AI tools. According to LinkedIn data shared with TIME, the number of posts referring to “generative AI” has increased 36-fold in comparison to last year, and the number of job postings containing “GPT” rose by 51% between 2021 and 2022. Some of these job postings are being targeted to anyone, even those without a background in computer science or tech.
It’s too soon to tell how big prompt engineering will become, but a range of companies and industries are beginning to recruit for these positions. Anthropic, a Google-backed AI startup, is advertising salaries up to $335,000 for a “Prompt Engineer and Librarian” in San Francisco. Applicants must “have a creative hacker spirit and love solving puzzles,” the listing states. Automated document reviewer Klarity is offering as much as $230,000 for a machine learning engineer who can “prompt and understand how to produce the best output” from AI tools.
Outside of the tech world, Boston Children’s Hospital and consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton recently advertised for prompt engineering jobs, with the latter paying up to $212,000 for applicants with more than three years of experience implementing machine learning models. Actor Donald Glover is even looking to hire a prompt engineer and prompt animator at his new creative studio.
But despite the engineering moniker in the job title, Bernstein says she doesn’t fully consider herself an engineer. “When I first started, we tried to get the term prompt specialists going,” she says. “Then the term prompt engineer as a noun emerged.”
How to become a prompt engineer
Rob Lennon, an expert in prompt engineering, began teaching paid online courses through Kajabi in December designed to help the average person learn the skills needed for a job in the field. His two courses, which around 2,000 students have already taken, demonstrate how to format and structure prompts for different types of tasks and domains. “People are clamoring for this knowledge,” Lennon says. “It’s kind of like first mover’s advantage.” The courses start at $150 and can cost up to $3,970 for custom training and course certification.
But on the other side, some experts believe that the prompt engineering hype will burn out once AI becomes more powerful and capable of generating its own prompts. Ethan Mollick, an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, cautions that those looking to become prompt engineers should consider that much is unknown about the future of the industry.
“It’s not clear that prompt engineering is going to matter long-term because AI programs are getting better at anticipating what users need and generating prompts,” he says. “We also don’t know if there’s a special skill involved for prompt engineering or if it just requires a lot of time spent with chatbots.”
And the high salaries currently being offered may not last. “These are jobs that probably only 500 people could do right now, so there are these insane salaries,” Lennon says. “But in six months, 50,000 people will be able to do that job. The value of this knowledge is greater today than it will be tomorrow.”
Mollick notes that those interested in exploring this field should try experimenting with large language models like GPT+ and Bard to learn their own approach to developing prompts, rather than taking an online course. That’s because AI systems are changing so quickly and the prompts that work today may not work in the future. “What I worry about is people thinking that there is a magical secret to prompting,” he says.
Given the high interest in AI jobs, Karin Kimbrough, chief economist at LinkedIn, says employers may quickly find that they need to compete with one another to hire talent to fill these emerging open roles, particularly if they continue to focus on hiring applicants with specific degrees or past job titles. “Given how late-breaking all of this is, it’s important to approach these newly developed roles with a skills-first mindset, by focusing on the actual skills required to do the job,” she says.
Some may find it suspicious that tech companies are willing to dole out this kind of cash at a time of massive layoffs across the industry. But tech entrepreneurs who champion the power of artificial intelligence believe prompt engineering has the chance to take off and shape the future of automation. “The hottest new programming language is English,” Andrej Karpathy, Tesla’s former chief of AI, wrote on Twitter.
Even so, not everyone agrees that prompt engineering will catch on at the six-figure salary levels with few educational requirements currently being offered. The trend has also raised questions about why people with a humanities background are compensated at the same rate as those with a tech background, Bernstein says. Her response: “Why not? If they’re contributing as much to the product.”
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