We live in an age where remote and freelance work is prevalent in the job market, but not every industry has a full range of work flexibility. However, with a competitive and high-demand job market in the tech space, expanding your career ambitions to a full-time freelancer could be beneficial.

For example, is it possible to be a freelance machine learning engineer?

All signs point to a big “yes!”

The Success Formula for a Freelance ML Engineer

Just this year, an article on Medium.com pointed out you can make over $133,000 a year as a freelance machine learning engineer.

In fact, it points to a Stanford University study that said freelancers with specialized skills like machine learning can earn up to 80% more than those without those skills.

A Toptal survey showed that freelancers who diversify their skills tend to earn, on average, 35% more than those who specialize in only one area.

It recommends that having a solid portfolio and networking is crucial for success. Citing a study by the Freelancers Union:

82% of freelancers say a strong portfolio has a positive impact

78% of freelancers say actively networking with others can lead to increased job opportunities

The AI Connection to Freelance Machine Learning Engineers

Masato Hagiwara is a Senior AI Researcher at the Earth Species Project and author of the book Real-World Natural Language Processing. A year after leaving his job to become what he calls a “freelance AI engineer,” he shared a blog about how everything had worked out so far.

He said being a freelancer isn’t for everyone and shared specifics on how to be a successful NLP/ML engineer. Some of his insight includes:

• Clients expect freelancers to be highly skilled problem solvers, emphasizing expertise over integration into their team.

• Opt for hourly rates – it’s more suitable for the complexity of AI projects.

• Negotiate your scope of work if clients find rates too high.

• Find clients through networking, conferences, and direct applications.

• Balance work commitments with family time.

• Manage your time efficiently (through techniques like the Pomodoro method).

• Consider establishing a single-member LLC to legitimize your work, but be aware of potential challenges navigating the U.S. health insurance system.

• Develop a plan to pay taxes.

Overall, Masato's experience underscores that freelancing in AI can be a rewarding career path for those prepared to take it on.

Finding a Freelance Machine Learning Engineer Job

Obviously, you want to have a presence in places where employers search for freelance machine learning engineers.

Developers For Hire shared a list of their top 13 websites to find freelance machine learning engineers.

They include Toptal, MLConf Job Board, Kaggle, Scaleable Path, and Gigster.
Remember that freelancing can come with its own set of challenges, such as irregular income, client management, and finding a consistent flow of projects.

However, with dedication, a strong skill set, and good business practices, it's entirely possible to build a successful career as a freelance machine learning engineer.

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