8 min read

“..what we want is a machine that can learn from experience..” ~Alan Turing, 1947

Thanks to artificial intelligence, Turing’s vision is coming true. Machines are learning, from others’ experience (using training datasets) and from their own as well.  Machines can now play chess, Go, and other games, they can help predict cancer, manage your day, summarize today’s news for you, edit your essays, identify your face, and even mimic dance moves and facial expressions.

Come to think of it, every job role and career demands that you learn from experience, improve over time and explore new ways to do things.  Yes, machines are very effective at the former two, but humans still have an edge when it comes to innovative thinking. Imagine what you could achieve if you put together your mind with that of an efficient learning algorithm!

You might think that artificial intelligence and machine learning are a dense and impenetrable field limited to research labs and textbooks. Does that mean only software engineers and researchers can dream of making it into this fascinating field?

Not quite. We’ll unpick machine learning in the following sections and present our case for why it makes sense for everyone to understand this field better.

Machine learning is, potentially, a first-class ticket to an exciting career, whether you are starting off fresh from college or are considering a career switch.

Beyond the artificial intelligence and machine learning hype

Artificial intelligence is simply an area of computing that solves complex real-world problems. Yes, research still happens in universities, and yes, data scientists are still exploring the limits of artificial intelligence in forward-thinking businesses, but it’s much more than that.

AI is so pervasive – and mysterious – that its applications hide in plain sight. Look around you carefully. From Netflix recommending personalized content to its 130 million viewers, to Youtube’s video search and automatic captions in videos, to Amazon’s shopping recommendations, to Instagram hashtags, Snapchat filters, spam filters on your Gmail and virtual assistants like Siri on our smartphones, artificial intelligence, and machine learning techniques are in action everywhere.

This means as a user you are at some level already impacted by algorithms every day. The question then is should you be the person who’s career is limited by algorithms or the one whose career is propelled by algorithms.

Why get into artificial intelligence development as a non-programmer?

Artificial Intelligence is a perfect blend of knowledge, high salary, and some really great opportunities. Your non-programming field does not have to deter your growth in the AI field. In fact, your background can give you an edge over the traditional software developers and data scientists in terms of domain awareness and better understanding what the system should do, what it should look for, and make the users feel.

Below are some reasons proving why you should make the jump in AI.

Machine learning can help you be better at your current job

How? You may ask. Take a news reporter or editor’s job for example. They must possess a blend of research/analysis centric capabilities, a creative set of skills and speed to come up with timely, quality articles on topics of interest to their readers.

A data journalist or a writer with machine learning experience could quickly find great topics to write on with the help of machine learning based web scraping apps. Also, they could let the data lead them to unique stories that are emerging before traditional news reporters find their way to them. They could further also get a quick summary of multiple perspectives on a given topic using custom-built news feed algorithms. Then could they also find further research resources by tweaking their search parameters, even adding quality filters on top to only allow for high-quality citations. This kind of writer has cut down on the time they spent finding and understanding topics – which means more time to actually write compelling pieces and to connect with real sources for further insight. Algorithms can also find and correct language issues in writing now. This means editors can spend more time improving the content quality from a scope perspective.

You can quickly start to see how artificial intelligence can complement the work you do and help you grow in your career. Yes, all this sounds lovely in theory, but is it really happening in practice?

There are others like you who are successfully exploring machine learning

Don’t believe me? Mason Fish, a software Engineer at Docker, Inc was earlier a musician. He had done his bachelor’s and masters from two different music conservatories. After graduating, he worked for five years as a professional musician. But, today he helps build and maintain services for Docker, a tool used by software engineers all over the world! This was just one case of a non-programmer diving into the computer science world. When musicians can learn to code and get core developer jobs in cutting-edge tech companies, it is not far fetched to say they can also learn to build machine learning models.

Below are some examples of non-programmers of varied experience levels who are exploring the Machine Learning world.

Per Harald Borgen, an economics graduate was able to boost the sales at his workplace Xeneta using machine learning algorithms, an accomplishment that helped accelerate his career. You can read his blog to see how he transformed from a machine learning newbie to a seasoned practitioner. Another example is a 14-year-old Tanmay Bakshi, who started a youtube channel at just 7 years of age where he teaches coding, algorithms, AI and machine learning concepts. Similarly, Sean Le Van created an AI chatbot when he was 14 years old using ML algorithms.  

Rosebud Anwuri is another great example as she switched from chemical engineering to Data science. “My first exposure to Data Science was from a book that had nothing to do with Data Science,” writes Anwuri on her blog. She created her first Data Science learning path from an answer on Quora, last year. Fast forward to this year, she has been invited to speak at Stanford’s Women in Data Science Conference in Nigeria and has facilitated a workshop at The Women in Machine Learning and Data Science among others. She also writes on Machine Learning and Data Science on her blog.  

Like Anwuri, Sce Pike dreamed of being an artist or singer in college and did her major in fine arts and anthropology. Pike went from art to web design to “human factors design,” which involves human-machine interactions, for the telecommunications giant Qualcomm. In addition to that, Pike started her own company IOTAS, that offers smart-home services to renters and homeowners.

“I have had to approach my work with logic, research, and great design. Looking back, I’m amazed where I am now,” says Sce Pike.

Read also: Data science for non-techies: How I got started (Part 1)

Adapt or perish in the oncoming job automation wave of the fourth industrial revolution

Ok, so maybe you’re happy with how you are growing anyway in your career. Be warned though, your job may not look the same even in the next few years.

Automation is expected to replace up to 30% of jobs in the next 10 years, so upskilling to machine learning is a wise choice. Last month, Bank of England’s Chief Economist warned that 15 million jobs in Britain could be at stake because of artificial intelligence. Machine learning as a skill could help you stay relevant in the future and prepare for what’s being called, “the third machine age”.

You can develop machine learning apps with no to minimal coding experience

Thanks to great advancements by big tech companies and open source projects, machine learning today is accessible to people with varying degrees of programming experience – from new developers and even those who have never written a line of code in their life. So, whether you’re a curious web/UX designer, a news reporter, an artist, a school student, a filmmaker or an NGO worker, you will find good use of machine learning in your field. There are tools for machine learning for users with varying levels of experience.

In fact, there are certain Machine Learning Applications that you can build even today. Some examples are Image and text classification with Neural Network, Facial recognition, Gaming bots, music generation, object detection, etc.

Machine learning skills are highly rewarded

Machine learning is a nascent field where demand far outweighs supply. According to research done by Indeed.com, the number one job requirement in AI is that of a Machine Learning Engineer, with data scientist jobs taking the second spot. In fact, AI researchers can earn more than 1 million dollar per year and the AI geniuses at Elon Musk’s OpenAI are a living proof for this. OpenAI paid its top AI researcher, Ilya Sutskever, more than  $1.9 million, back in 2016. Another leading researcher, Ian Goodfellow, in OpenAI was paid more than $800,000.

Machine Learning is not hard to learn. It might seem intimidating at first, but once you get the basics right, the rest of the ML journey becomes easier. If you’re convinced that ML is for you, but are confused about how to get started then don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. To help you get started, here is a non-programmer’s guide to learning Machine Learning.

So, yes, it doesn’t matter if you’re a non-programmer, musician, a librarian, or a student, the future is AI-driven so don’t be afraid to make that dive into Machine Learning. As Robert Frost said, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference”.

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Tech writer at the Packt Hub. Dreamer, book nerd, lover of scented candles, karaoke, and Gilmore Girls.