AI Jobs Salary Guide – AI Engineer, Developer, Prompt Engineer, Programmer, Researcher, & More

Written by Scott Wilson

ai salary

When you want to know what the next big thing will be in computer science, you just have to look at where the money is going.

Right now, it’s running like a river into the field of artificial intelligence.

OpenAI, the collection of minds behind the phenomenal GPT-4, received a ten billion dump of dollars from Microsoft in 2023. That was on top of prior investments rumored to range to more than $13 billion overall. Anthropic, a competitor, trails only slightly with around $7 billion in estimated investments in 2023, topped off by a $4 billion fuel-up from Amazon.

All told, according to Stanford University’s AI Index Report for 2023, over $90 billion of private investment in AI was made in 2023 alone. And that doesn’t even count other funds flowing in, from internal and M&A (mergers and acquisitions) activity, which more than double the total to almost $190 billion in global corporate investments.

How Much of that $190 billion will end up boosting salaries for AI engineers?

One of the big questions for people considering a career in artificial intelligence is just how much of that nearly $200 billion bankroll is going to end up in their paycheck?

Of course, it’s a field where the intangibles are off the charts. Most people working in AI today are there because they are fascinated by machine intelligence. They’re eager to be part of a development that is going to change the course of human history. They are powered by the excitement of discovery or the urge to help create responsible and equitable alignments.

But no one is disappointed that the money also happens to be pretty good.

It’s true that most big AI models today require a substantial investment in infrastructure or outsourced computation for training. A technical overview of GPT-3 cited by Forbes estimated that each training run costs around $5 million worth of processing time. CEO Sam Altman claimed that training costs were over $100 million in 2023, and Multiverse CTO Sam Mugel estimated that training costs would surpass $1 billion in the coming years.

But that isn’t a big chunk of $190 billion. And it discounts revenues from selling those models or their services. There’s enough left that OpenAI’s salary rates for AI engineers were bumped up to over $800,000 per year as reported by Business Insider.

Suffice it to say, paychecks in the AI world aren’t going to start bouncing anytime soon.

The Complexity of Determining Salary Rates for AI Engineers, Developers, Programmers, Researchers, and More

determining salary ratesOpenAI and other cutting-edge research firms are a special case, however. They must have the top talent in the field and pay top dollar to get it.

Aside from a few rumors, though, and a lot of people who know a guy who knows a guy who makes big bucks, there’s not a lot of substantial data out in the wild yet about AI job salary rates. The industry is too new, and the most reliable source of salary information for American industry and careers hasn’t caught up yet.

That’s the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which keeps track of regional, industry, and job categories across the nation to find all kinds of salary and employment data.

BLS is thorough, which means they are absolutely collecting the information from payrolls on all those high-flying AI salaries. But they have not yet separated out AI scientists, engineers, or other roles from regular computer scientists, programmers, and software engineers. The big money gets lost in the shuffle of averages.

Do AI engineers make a lot of money? Read on for the answer.

However, with a little detective work and a few reliable third-party sources, we have put together the best look possible today at AI specialist salary levels across a range of up-and-coming job titles.

How Much Do AI Engineers and Other AI Professionals Make?

Many critical positions in the emerging AI industry aren’t standardized. Different companies are combining responsibilities in different ways.

But if you look at job roles when defined by tasks, a dozen or so positions emerge. Each has different kinds of training and knowledge requirements. They may be weighted toward tracks in AI education and career paths. And each comes with different potential salary levels.

AI Engineers Salary and Those of Other Professionals Are Influenced by Career Tracks

woman rising arrowsWhile it isn’t possible in this guide to tease them all out, there are real differences in almost every AI career depending on the track that it lines up with in the industry. While these tracks aren’t official or set in stone, you’ll notice that many positions and degrees in the field tend to lean toward one or the other.

Computer science-focused degrees and positions are aimed at pure research and theoretical development.

Business-oriented degrees and jobs look to adapt pure AI science into useful tools and products in the real world.

AI in highly specialized professional fields with unique demands and purposes must connect AI to other complex tasks.

In some cases, the job itself defines the track. AI researchers and scientists almost always fall into the first path, for instance. In other cases, there are jobs to be found in each path for some job categories; all of them require AI architects and AI project managers, for example.

Naturally, salary levels will tend to reflect where the money is flowing. These days, research-oriented positions and those in specialized professional roles are probably the highest paying for any given position. But they are naturally influenced by the other factors discussed here as well.

Starting with the core BLS data available for the larger categories they fall into, we can give you a sneak peek at what various AI professions are likely to pay on average in the market today.

Reflecting the high experience and education requirements, as well as increased skill levels and demand, where we cite BLS salary data below it will be for the top ten percent unless otherwise noted. And even that figure represents the absolute baseline, with salaries coming in at that rate or higher.

In places, to hit numbers and categories that BLS doesn’t go into, we add to that data with a pair of 2023 salary surveys from executive talent recruiting firm Burtch Works. Between their Data Engineering Professionals Salary Report and the Data Science & AI Professionals Salary Report, we draw in some new salary details for various roles.

AI Engineer Salary/AI Software Engineer Salary Levels

AI engineering salary levels reflect the linchpin role these individuals play in taking the latest theories and concepts in AI and turning them into reality.

Engineer roles in AI are most likely to fall into one of three existing BLS categories:

Burtch Works doesn’t have an exact match in AI engineering, but their data engineer professionals are increasingly working in AI and have a set of tasks and responsibilities that line up pretty closely. For an entry level ai engineer salary, in the lowest 25 percent, the 2023 salary was reported at $100,000.

For those with more than three years experience, the AI engineer’s average salary rises to $130,000. And for those in the top tier of experience and responsibility, the median was $145,100, while the top ten percent pulled in $170,000 per year or more.

Computer Vision Engineer Salary Levels

robot head with nodesComputer vision engineers are a role that is already seeing high employment levels across industries. Everything from self-driving cars to medical imaging diagnostics AI depends on their critical skillset.

Part of what makes that skillset so valuable and unique is that it straddles a couple of different areas of expertise. Working with both the camera and physical systems of image capture, and the interpretive machine learning algorithms, you can make a case that computer vision engineers fall into two different BLS categories:

That puts them pretty close to what AI engineers are earning, which makes sense; computer vision engineering can be considered a highly specialized subset of those jobs, with its own special education and skill requirements that command top dollar in a variety of industries.

AI Developer Salary/AI Programmer Salary Levels

Coders who are putting together existing or new applications with backend AI systems are also in high demand. AI developers and programmers don’t have the same level of responsibility or the need to get into the gritty details of AI buildouts, however, so their careers are pretty well covered by two existing BLS categories:

female developerYou’ll notice that those are the same categories referenced for AI engineers. But programmers in this category don’t require the same depth of expertise or education. On the other hand, they need more than most coders who aren’t working with AI yet.

So for the programmer category, we’re giving you the top 25 percent, and the median value for software developers, separate from QA and testing positions.

AI Architect Salary Levels

AI architects are really just senior and specialized developers. With higher educational and experience requirements, they really are in the top ten percent of their profession. They live in the same BLS categories as other programmers and as AI engineers, and they can expect to make similar money to engineering professionals:

Because they are taking on leadership roles in designing new systems, they may also fall into low-level management positions. Burtch Works shows the median entry-level management salary at $170,000 for AI professionals.

AI Data Scientist Salary

Data scientists have their own dedicated BLS category, so they make for an easy match with official data. That came in at $174,790 for 2022.

Burtch Works also provides a dedicated set of categories for data science professionals. Because they cover all data scientists, not just those working in AI, we take the top 25 percent values for their survey at different levels of professional experience and responsibility.

AI Prompt Engineering Salary Levels

engineer using aiPrompt engineering is so new and so different from almost any other kind of technology role that it’s particularly hard to pin down data for. The closest match in BLS is that of software developers, quality assurance analysts, and testers… particularly in the QA and testing roles.

Fortunately, BLS does break those out separately from developers, showing the top ten percent in the field earning $159,740 in 2022.

Prompt engineering exists along a spectrum, though—with lower qualifications and working closer to the end user, you may find salaries closer to those in the top 25 percent, which was $127,660 for 2022.

AI Researcher Salary Levels

AI research scientist salary data also falls almost entirely into a single BLS category, that of computer information and research scientists. In 2022, the top ranks in that area earned $232,010.

Burtch Works may also capture AI researcher salary data within their AI professionals group. Researchers can be expected to blow the doors off averages even within that profession. So the top 25 percent numbers are more representative:

It’s also the case that most researchers must put in their time earning experience as doctoral students, so they aren’t coming in at the 0–3-year level that Burtch uses as their entry-level shelf.

AI Product Manager Salary Levels

Product managers in AI represent another tough niche to pin down. In concept, they are somewhat related to AI architects. However, they don’t usually need the in-depth technical expertise of an AI architect. Instead, they are more on the marketing, UX, and management side.

BLS doesn’t have a product manager category, but they do track management positions more generally. The median salary for those positions weighs in at $107,360. That may be a sort of floor, assuming employment in industries outside of high technology. Product managers may come on to AI projects without a great deal of training or experience specific to AI and not necessarily enjoy that general bonus.

For well-qualified product managers, assuming a higher level of expertise required of anyone working in the AI industry today, we can look at the upper quarter of those numbers and find a reasonable 2022 ballpark of $163,710.

AI Project Manager Salary Levels

task planningProject management specialists do have their own BLS category, although it may have a particularly good overlap with the role as it occurs in artificial intelligence. The top ten percent of the project management specialist category earn more than $159,150.

Since PMs in AI may work across a wide range of industries, and in projects ranging from advanced scientific development to routine chatbot integration, looking at the industry of employment may offer a better guide to salaries in this role. As with product managers, those working outside the AI industry specifically may tend toward the upper quarter of such positions, which earned $126,660 in 2022.

AI Consultant Salary Levels / AI Analyst Salary Levels

You can look at these positions as basically being a mirror, with one group working internally for AI companies and the other coming in from the outside. In both cases, the tasks and responsibilities are so similar that the Bureau of Labor Statistics puts both groups into the category of management analysts. Their earnings for 2022 came in at $167,650.

For consultants, however, there is a broad use of the term that may cover individuals who have expertise under almost any of the other job categories listed here. For example, AI engineers and AI architects might both work in a consulting capacity. For the purposes of looking at compensation, it’s probably better to consider them in the upper echelons of those roles rather than as separate AI consultants.

AI Trainer Salary Levels

Like prompt engineer, trainer is an entirely new category of work that has been invented to deal with the needs of the artificial intelligence industry. And like prompt engineer, there are no real clear alignments to either other roles in AI or with BLS job data.

However, these posts are most similar to the QA and testing roles in software development, just as prompt engineering is. So the same $159,740 that you could look for as a prompt engineer applies here as well. Trainers working in the lower levels of expertise, such as those simply involved in evaluating and correcting AI answers, are likely to make less, more toward the $127,660 earned in the upper quarter of QA/test positions

How Does Your Education Level Effect Your AI Degree Salary?

happy grad with diplomaYou can expect the economic payoff for more advanced (and more costly) degrees will be higher than for college degrees that are easier to achieve. But when you get down to the details, it’s not usually quite that simple.

Education is baked into some of the salary levels for different job titles. For example, it’s all but impossible to become an AI research scientist without a doctoral degree to your name. Even entry level positions will, at a minimum, require a master’s degree. So effectively, that entire category of jobs treats graduate studies as an entry-level requirement.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics hints at this in their occupational category listings. While they don’t parse out salary by level of educational attainment, they do note the typical entry-level education expected in each role. Those are:

Just as there is salary inflation associated with the artificial intelligence versions of all related roles, there is also educational inflation.

As a rule of thumb, you can add about one bump up the degree ladder for any AI-affiliated role in any of those categories.

Burtch Works does look at connections between salary and education. Although they don’t cover all the various AI jobs salaries we’re looking at, they do have three categories of interest:

  • Bachelor’s $88,300 – $150,000
  • Master’s $100,000 – $158,000
  • PhD $119,000 – $160,000
  • Bachelor’s $95,100 – $160,000
  • Master’s $115,100 – $160,200
  • PhD $117,650 – $175,000
  • Bachelor’s $110,000 – $135,050
  • Master’s $110,000 – $145,100
  • PhD $150,000 – $167,500

Each of those represent the range from entry-level median salaries at that level of education, to senior grade roles. As you can see, AI PhD salary levels get a healthy jump on other degrees, while master’s graduates get their payoff primarily at later stages of their careers.

Some Industries Naturally Pay More Than Others for Artificial Intelligence Jobs

robot development professionalsIt’s not exactly headline news at this point that jobs in the tech industry come with out-of-this-world salary and benefits packages. Someone working a tech job in, say, the healthcare industry, however, even if it’s substantially similar to the first role, isn’t going to pull down quite as much pay for an honest day on the job.

Because artificial intelligence is a massive technology shift, it’s going to play out in just about every industry at some point in time. And just as is true today, it will pay better in some than others.

But it’s no guarantee that those differences will mirror the kind of divides among tech professionals today. AI will naturally have more value in some industries than others.

It’s tough to see this split just yet in the BLS data, precisely because all those traditional tech roles are most of what they are measuring. For example, here are some current industry median salaries for several of the categories we’ve looked at:

  • Computer Systems Design and Related Services – $156,870
  • Software Publishers – $201,300
  • Finance and Insurance – $118,020
  • Federal, State, and Local Government – $115,330
  • Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation
  • Manufacturing – $176,920
  • Architectural, Engineering, and Related Services – $141,230
  • Computer Systems Design and Related Services – $100,780
  • Software Publishers – $108,580
  • Finance and Insurance – $107,500
  • Federal, State, and Local Government – $91,840
  • Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation – $95,940
  • Manufacturing – $104,640
  • Legal Services – $91,840
  • Computer Systems Design and Related Services – $115,820
  • Software Publishers – $135,470
  • Finance and Insurance – $124,880
  • Federal, State, and Local Government – $89,020
  • Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation – $107,950

Not all positions have a role in every industry, of course. These are also the median numbers, so they are lower than the rates AI professionals are likely to earn. But you can see the relative relationships.

Burtch Works, once again, comes to the rescue with a more detailed breakdown of industry averages for certain types of AI professionals. For mid-career professionals, these are the survey results they found for 2023:

  • Advertising/Marketing – $120,000
  • Consulting – $133,052
  • Financial Services – $129,923
  • Healthcare/Pharma – $130,864
  • Retail & CPG – $131,000
  • Tech/Telecom – $136,942
  • Advertising/Marketing – $129,167
  • Consulting – $147,447
  • Financial Services – $142,476
  • Healthcare/Pharma – $148,510
  • Retail & CPG – $140,815
  • Tech/Telecom – $151,192

Of course, the industry categories are not aligned with BLS standards. But you can see, for example, how the healthcare sector is already valuing AI professionals nearly as much as the tech sector.

Real World Locations Have an Impact Even in the Virtual Space of AI Jobs

3d data structuresAlthough the promise of AI extends deeply into the virtual realm, accessible from anywhere the internet goes, the old-fashioned real world continues to have a significant impact on salary levels.

The heavy lifting of AI algorithms may be happening in innocuous data centers scattered in remote areas with plenty of electricity and cooling systems. But those algorithms are being designed, debated, analyzed, and used in a few hotbeds of artificial intelligence development around the country.

You can see that playing out in the Burtch Works data showing the median salary levels for intermediate career professionals in these areas:

  • Midwest – $130,000
  • Mountain – $140,000
  • Northeast – $150,000
  • Southeast – $145,000
  • West Coast – $145,000
  • Midwest – $130,000
  • Mountain – $130,000
  • Northeast – $135,000
  • Southeast – $130,000
  • West Coast – $140,000

Those are broad strokes, however, putting places like Butte in with hot AI development cities like Austin. The reality is that certain cities have a clear technology industry center, and salaries tend to rise to reflect that local demand for expertise.

Salaries vary by location for reasons including cost-of-living and industry concentration.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics offers a narrower view of that reality. Although, again, these positions are not entirely occupied by AI-industry professionals, the presence of tech centers where salaries are high is often also accompanied by booming AI startups and research jobs.

  • New York, NY: $128,570
  • Dallas, TX: $144,940
  • Los Angeles, CA: $246,750
  • Miami, FL: $142,570
  • Seattle, WA: $198,610
  • Pittsburgh, PA: $163,770
  • Saint Louis, MO: $100,620
  • Atlanta, GA: $104,010
  • Chicago, IL: $117,760
ny city skyline
  • New York, NY: $120,580
  • Dallas, TX: $96,230
  • Los Angeles, CA: $108,960
  • Miami, FL: $119,650
  • Seattle, WA: $133,750
  • Pittsburgh, PA: $92,630
  • Saint Louis, MO: $81,280
  • Atlanta, GA: $97,870
  • Chicago, IL: $90,570
  • New York, NY: $142,830
  • Dallas, TX: $120,520
  • Los Angeles, CA: $149,410
  • Miami, FL: $114,460
  • Seattle, WA: $155,680
  • Pittsburgh, PA: $108,270
  • Saint Louis, MO: $106,070
  • Atlanta, GA: $122,630
  • Chicago, IL: $123,830
  • New York, NY: $121,500
  • Dallas, TX: $97,410
  • Los Angeles, CA: $112,930
  • Miami, FL: $89,390
  • Seattle, WA: $114,370
  • Pittsburgh, PA: $86,750
  • Saint Louis, MO: $79,880
  • Atlanta, GA: $101,710
  • Chicago, IL: $99,010

These numbers are again median levels, and don’t reflect the likely higher ranges for AI professionals. But they do show the relative rates that are likely to be found in various cities across the country.

Reaping the Real Rewards in Artificial Intelligence Jobs with Bonuses and Benefits

All this talk about average salaries and experience levels in artificial intelligence salaries is leaving out the elephant in the room. Like the tech industry that it is born of, AI is a field that is awash in bonuses and benefits.

From stock options to performance incentives, much of the total compensation in AI jobs can be found outside of base salary levels.

Total compensation is really the best metric for evaluating AI jobs. A Google AI engineer salary might not look completely eye-popping at first glance. But when you factor in stock grants, access to onsite wellness centers, student loan reimbursement options, free financial coaching access, meals and snacks, and incentive bonuses, it’s easy to see why total take-home might be a lot more than just the base salary.

BLS doesn’t look into bonus or incentive pay, but one of the Burtch Works reports looked at percentages for AI professionals.

The median bonus for individual contributors across the career span ranged from 13 to 15 percent. The absolute bottom level received at least ten percent, while those in the upper quarter of all staff ranged from 17 to 21 percent.

The most senior managers in AI professionals could earn as much as 50% of their base salary in bonuses alone.

It’s also a good idea to take various benefits into account. Vacation time, health insurance options, and other perks can play a big role in how attractive some AI jobs can be. There’s also the intangible benefit of positions at industry leaders; when you have a big name like OpenAI on your resume, every other job you may apply for in the industry is going to be easier to land. Promotions are more likely, and you’ll make more friends at parties.

Where to Look for the Best AI Salary Bonus Potential

apple headquartersMajor companies like Google, Apple, Amazon, and IBM have deep pockets and a lot of incentive programs for employees working on artificial intelligence projects. Other corporations outside the technology field might not have quite the same resources. But in areas where AI is expected to be a genuine competitive advantage, you can bet that employers will dig deep to get top talent in the door early enough to beat the competition.

The many startups that are starting to flood into the AI field are also looking to sweeten the pot. Although some, backed by major venture capital, can compete on salary, for others, the payoff is down the road. Like the big guys, startups commonly award stock options and grants to key employees. Unlike the big guys, those options are pretty much worthless… unless you hit it big.

At that point, owning a sizable percentage of a hot IPO can blow the doors off any standard big-tech compensation package. But you run the risks of being beat to the finish line or coming up dry along the way.

But there’s a hole card that every AI professional holds today. The skills and knowledge you take away from any job in any industry with AI in the mix are sure to be valuable for decades to come. AI is the next big thing—and it’s likely to be big for a long time.

2022 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary and employment figures for Computer and Information Research Scientists, Computer Hardware Engineers, Computer Systems Analysts, Data Scientists, Computer Programmers, Management Occupations, Project Management Specialists, Management Analysts, and Software Developers, Quality Assurance Analysts, and Testers reflect national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed December 2023.