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VR, machine learning drive tech job market

Ann Bednarz | Aug. 26, 2016
Demand for virtual reality experts and machine learning engineers is on the rise

Free catered lunch and a dog-friendly office are two of the perks offered by an educational technology company in Palo Alto, Calif., that’s looking to hire a machine learning engineer. The position, posted on Dice, will pay between $140,000 and $160,000 to the right candidate who’s skilled in machine learning platforms as well as data mining, statistical modeling, and natural language processing.

Job-seekers who possess those skills typically could expect multiple job offers, says Matt Leighton, director of recruitment at Mondo, which specializes in digital marketing and technology staffing. The job titles vary from company to company; some might post positions in search of a data scientist or machine learning engineer, others might be after a natural language processing (NLP) programmer or cognitive computing engineer.

But hiring companies are seeking the same talent: "They're people who create algorithms through code that allow computers to self-learn,” Leighton says. "That's the future. That's artificial intelligence, that's [IBM] Watson, that's everything that is predictive analysis, forecasting, analytics. That's what we get requests for all the time."

Companies are paying top dollar for people with these skills. "A good data scientist who can do predictive analytics using the language R to help computers self-learn, so to speak – those people can get $120 or $130 an hour, or $200,000 a year,” he says. But they’re hard to find and typically wind up with multiple suitors. "There’s not enough supply out there to meet the demand. Any candidate that has this skill set will be interviewing for five or six or seven different positions.”

Another area that’s driving demand for skilled talent is virtual reality. Companies are seeking virtual reality engineers who have experience with platforms and tools such as Unity and OpenGL. 

"Unity engineers are going for over $100,000 now. When I first started seeing the requests come in, they were more like $70,000 or $75,000,” Leighton says. “Developers are smart; they know they have something niche, and they know they can start charging more."

Demand for machine learning experts and virtual reality pros is spiking as enterprise adoption of these technologies grows.

While the concepts of machine learning aren’t new, adoption among businesses is becoming more pervasive. Consumers are accustomed to shopping recommendation engines that anticipate probable purchases, and they’re growing more dependent on driving optimization tools that use sensor data to suggest less congested traffic routes.

Companies that are making the transition to digital businesses aim to make better use of all the data they’ve been gathering and analyzing – creating new business opportunities and new ways to reach customers. Research firm IDC forecasts global spending on cognitive systems will reach nearly $31.3 billion in 2019 with a five year compound annual growth rate of 55%.


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