Everybody is talking about the artificial intelligence behind ChatGPT. Less noticed is a jobs market mushrooming around the technology, where these newly created roles can pay upwards of $335,000 a year.
And for many a computer engineering degree is optional.
They’re called “prompt engineers,” people who spend their day coaxing the AI to produce better results and help companies train their workforce to harness the tools.
Over a dozen artificial intelligence language systems called large language models, or LLMs, have been created by companies like Google parent Alphabet Inc., OpenAI and Meta Platforms Inc.. The technology has moved rapidly from experiments to practical use, with firms like Microsoft Corp. integrating ChatGPT into its Bing search engine and GitHub software development tool.
As the technology proliferates, many companies are finding they need someone to add rigor to their results.
“It’s like an AI whisperer,” says Albert Phelps, a prompt engineer at Mudano, part of consultancy firm Accenture in Leytonstone, England. “You’ll often find prompt engineers come from a history, philosophy, or English language background, because it’s wordplay. You're trying to distill the essence or meaning of something into a limited number of words.”
Phelps, 29, studied history at the University of Warwick near Birmingham, England, before starting his career as a consultant for banks like Clydesdale Bank and Barclays Plc, helping them solve problems around risk and regulations. A talk from the Alan Turing Institute, a UK-government funded institute for artificial intelligence, inspired him to research AI, leading to his role at Accenture.
He and colleagues spend most of the day writing messages or “prompts” for tools like OpenAI’s ChatGPT, which can be saved as presets within OpenAI’s playground for clients and others to use later. A typical day in the life of a prompt engineer involves writing five different prompts, with about 50 interactions with ChatGPT, says Phelps.
It’s too soon to know how widespread prompt engineering is or will become. The paradigm emerged in 2017 when AI researchers created “pre-trained” LLMs, which could be adapted to a wide range of tasks with the addition of a human text input. In the last year, LLMs like ChatGPT have attracted millions of users, who are all engaging in a form of prompt engineering whenever they tweak their prompts.
Companies like Anthropic, a Google-backed startup, are advertising salaries up to $335,000 for a “Prompt Engineer and Librarian” in San Francisco. Automated document reviewer Klarity also in California 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 London law firm Mishcon de Reya recently advertised for prompt engineer jobs.
It’s now even possible to buy and sell text prompts via the PromptBase marketplace, which also helps people hire prompt engineers to create individual prompts for a fee.
The best-paying roles often go to people who have PhDs in machine learning or ethics, or those who have founded AI companies. Recruiters and others say these are among the critical skills needed to be successful.
“It’s probably the fastest-moving IT market I’ve worked in for 25 years,” says Mark Standen, who runs the staffing business for artificial intelligence, machine learning and automation at Hays in the UK and Ireland. “Salaries start at £40,000, but we’ve got candidates on our database looking for £200,000 to £300,000 a year. Expert prompt engineers can name their price.”
Google, TikTok and Netflix Inc. have been driving salaries higher, but the role is becoming mainstream among bigger companies thanks to the excitement around the launch of OpenAI’s ChatGPT-4, Google Bard and Microsoft’s Bing AI chatbot.
Outside of the tech world, companies in the financial, legal and insurance world are all experimenting with AI tools, which is also driving demand.
Mishcon de Reya recently advertised for a GPT Legal Prompt Engineer to help the firm understand how large language models could be applied to legal problems. The role is about finding out “how good are these models now? And how likely are they to meet any of the use cases?,” says Nick West, a partner and chief strategy officer at the firm. “I want to get on to the front edge of technology and play around with it.”
He cautions that paralegals looking for a step up in income might be disappointed. “We don’t need a £300,000 expert, that’s ludicrous money,” says West.
The industry’s warp-speed growth is already drawing comparisons to blockhain, Non-Fungible Tokens and crypto, which saw a jobs boom in 2021 with many firms offering hefty salaries and bonuses. Tech companies are now adding “AI” to their pitch decks to lure talent who have left or been forced out by jobs cuts in the crypto world. The jobs market may even be getting ahead of the technology.
“That might be a sign of froth,” says Tom Hewitson, founder at labworks.io, a conversation design studio which makes voice-controlled skills for Amazon Alexa in London. “The people best suited to doing this are product designers or business analysts comfortable working with AI who tend to earn £100,000 to £150,000.”
So anyone interested better move fast.
Prompts “are the main way people are interacting with these tools, and therefore being good at that is of high value,” says Adrian Weller, a director of research in machine learning at the University of Cambridge in Cambridge, England. “I wouldn’t be so sure that it will continue for a long time. Don’t dwell too much on the current state of prompt engineering. It’s starting to evolve quite quickly.”
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