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What Does a Machine Learning Engineer Do? Role Overview & Skill Expectations

Written By April Bohnert | June 5, 2023

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Machine learning has witnessed remarkable advancements in recent years. And as this technology has become more accessible and pervasive, it has quickly become a driving force behind many of the technological advancements we see today. From image and speech recognition to autonomous vehicles and healthcare diagnostics, this powerful subset of artificial intelligence is no longer just a thing of the future but a key player in the current tech landscape.

This rapid adoption of machine learning has also led to an explosion of career opportunities for machine learning engineers. Tech professionals with this unique skill set are in high demand, yet only 12 percent of businesses say the supply of people with these skills is adequate. As more and more engineers look to make the shift into this field — and more and more companies look to hire these talented professionals — it’s important to understand what the role of a machine learning engineer entails and what skills and expertise are needed to thrive.

By gaining a deeper understanding of the role of a machine learning engineer, hiring managers and tech professionals alike can better navigate the rapidly evolving tech landscape and take advantage of the endless opportunities machine learning offers. Whether you are looking to hire top talent or embark on a career in machine learning, this article will provide valuable insights and guidance to help you thrive in this exciting field.

What is Machine Learning?

Before we delve into the specifics of the machine learning engineer role, let’s start by defining what machine learning is and how it differs from other branches of artificial intelligence. At its core, machine learning is a subset of AI that focuses on enabling computers to learn and improve from data without being explicitly programmed.

Machine learning algorithms learn patterns and relationships from vast amounts of data, allowing systems to make predictions, identify trends, and solve complex problems. This ability to learn from data is what sets machine learning apart from traditional rule-based programming approaches.

It’s important to note that machine learning encompasses various techniques, and one prominent subset is deep learning. Deep learning, a specialization within machine learning, utilizes neural networks to simulate human decision-making. These networks consist of interconnected nodes or artificial neurons arranged in layers. They process data, extract features, and make predictions or classifications based on the patterns they learn.

The field of machine learning encompasses a wide range of algorithms and methodologies, including supervised learning, unsupervised learning, and reinforcement learning. Each approach has its own set of applications and techniques, catering to different types of problems and data.

The Role of a Machine Learning Engineer

Machine learning engineers are the driving force behind the development and implementation of machine learning models and algorithms. Their expertise lies in designing, training, and deploying these models to solve complex problems and extract insights from vast datasets. Let’s delve into the specific responsibilities and tasks that machine learning engineers undertake.

Data Preparation

One of the foundational tasks of a machine learning engineer is data preparation. This involves gathering, cleaning, and organizing large amounts of data in a way that is suitable for training machine learning models. Machine learning algorithms rely heavily on high-quality data, and the process of data preprocessing ensures that the data is in a usable format. This may involve tasks such as handling missing values, normalizing data, and transforming features.

Algorithm Design and Selection

Machine learning engineers are responsible for selecting or designing the most appropriate algorithms for the task at hand. They analyze the problem domain, the available data, and the desired outcomes to determine the best approach. This involves choosing the right type of algorithm, such as decision trees, support vector machines, or deep neural networks. Additionally, they must consider hyperparameter tuning, selecting appropriate loss functions, and optimization algorithms to train the models effectively.

Model Training and Evaluation

Once the algorithm is selected or designed, machine learning engineers train the models using the prepared data. They iterate through training cycles, adjusting the model’s parameters and hyperparameters to optimize its performance. They evaluate the model‘s performance using various metrics, such as accuracy, precision, recall, or F1 score. This evaluation helps assess the model’s effectiveness and guides further improvements or iterations.

Deployment and Integration

The final step in the machine learning engineer’s workflow is deploying the trained model in a production environment. This involves integrating the model into larger systems or applications, ensuring its compatibility and scalability. Machine learning engineers must address considerations such as real-time processing, efficient data storage, and handling new incoming data. They work closely with software engineers and DevOps teams to ensure smooth deployment and monitor the model’s performance in real-world scenarios.

Key Machine Learning Engineer Skills

To excel as a machine learning engineer, one must possess a combination of technical skills and domain knowledge. Let’s explore the essential skills and areas of expertise that contribute to success in this field.


A strong foundation in applied mathematics is crucial for understanding the underlying concepts of machine learning. Linear algebra, calculus, and probability theory are fundamental mathematical frameworks used in developing and analyzing machine learning algorithms. Knowledge of linear algebra helps in understanding matrix operations, while calculus is essential for optimization algorithms. Probability theory enables machine learning engineers to work with probabilistic models and make statistical inferences from data.


Proficiency in programming languages is a must-have skill for machine learning engineers. Python is a popular choice due to its rich ecosystem of libraries and frameworks specifically designed for machine learning tasks. Java and C++ are also used in certain contexts. Machine learning engineers should be comfortable writing clean, efficient, and scalable code. They should understand key concepts like object-oriented programming, data structures, and algorithms.

Data Handling and Visualization

Machine learning engineers work extensively with data sets of varying sizes and complexity. They need to be skilled in data handling, including data preprocessing, data augmentation, and feature engineering. Proficiency in data visualization tools, such as Power BI, Tableau, or Alteryx, is valuable for gaining insights from data and communicating findings effectively.

Deep Understanding of Neural Networks

Machine learning engineers should have a strong understanding of neural networks and their architectures. This includes knowledge of different types of neural networks like feedforward networks, convolutional neural networks, recurrent neural networks, and multilayer perceptrons. They need to understand activation functions, backpropagation, and regularization techniques. Deep learning frameworks like TensorFlow, PyTorch, and Keras are essential tools for implementing and training neural network models.

Problem Solving and Critical Thinking

Machine learning engineers must possess excellent problem-solving and critical-thinking abilities. They need to decompose complex problems into smaller, manageable components and develop creative solutions for each component. They must be able to analyze and interpret results, make informed decisions, and iterate on their approaches based on feedback and performance evaluations.

Learn More About Machine Learning Engineers

Discover the key skills behind this role

Industries Hiring Machine Learning Engineers

The demand for machine learning engineers has skyrocketed as organizations across various industries recognize the immense value that machine learning can bring to their operations. In HackerRank’s latest Developer Skills Report, machine learning dominated the list of most in-demand skills, second only to problem solving. Hiring for machine learning engineers is only expected to accelerate in 2023. Let’s explore some of the notable industries actively seeking machine learning engineers:

Technology Companies

Techn companies of all sizes and domains are investing heavily in machine learning. These companies utilize machine learning engineers to develop algorithms for image and speech recognition, natural language processing, recommendation systems, and intelligent chatbots. Technology giants like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft are at the forefront of machine learning innovation, but startups and smaller companies are also harnessing the power of machine learning to differentiate their products and services.

Finance and Banking

The finance and banking sector is leveraging machine learning to gain insights from vast amounts of financial data, detect fraudulent activities, and improve risk assessment models. Machine learning engineers in this industry develop predictive models for credit risk analysis, fraud detection, algorithmic trading, and personalized financial recommendations. The ability to analyze complex financial data and build robust predictive models is highly valued in this sector.

Healthcare and Life Sciences

The healthcare and life sciences industry is witnessing a revolution powered by machine learning. Machine learning engineers contribute to developing models for disease diagnosis, drug discovery, personalized medicine, and patient monitoring. They work with medical imaging data, genomics data, electronic health records, and clinical trial data to unlock valuable insights and improve patient outcomes. Machine learning is transforming healthcare by enabling more accurate diagnoses, efficient drug development, and precision medicine.

Transportation and Autonomous Systems

Transportation companies are embracing machine learning to develop self-driving vehicles and enhance transportation systems. Machine learning engineers in this industry work on algorithms for object detection, path planning, traffic prediction, and intelligent decision-making. They utilize real-time sensor data, such as lidar and radar, to enable autonomous vehicles to perceive their environment and make informed decisions. The transportation sector offers exciting opportunities for machine learning engineers to shape the future of mobility.

Other Industries

These industries represent just a fraction of the diverse sectors seeking machine learning engineers. Others, such as retail, e-commerce, manufacturing, energy, and entertainment, are also actively integrating machine learning into their operations to gain a competitive edge and unlock new possibilities.

It’s worth noting that machine learning engineers can also find opportunities in consulting firms and research institutions, where they contribute to cutting-edge projects, collaborate with domain experts, and drive innovation across various industries.

Key Takeaways

Machine learning engineers play a pivotal role in shaping the future of technology and innovation. Their expertise in designing, training, and deploying machine learning models allows organizations to extract insights from vast amounts of data, make accurate predictions, and automate complex tasks. As the demand for machine learning solutions continues to rise across industries, the role of machine learning engineers becomes increasingly vital.

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