Whatever your personal thoughts or feelings about the rise of artificial intelligence (AI), it’s impossible to deny that it’s impacting many industries at the moment, especially in creative sectors. Find out how to become a freelance AI prompt engineer and take advantage of demand for those skills, which don’t require you to learn programming or code.
Generative Large Language Models (LLMs) have been made available to the public over the last 12 months, allowing anyone to use them to create text, images, and even video. And while we share the concerns of many freelancers around how they’re created, used by clients, and the results they produce, the entrepreneurial nature of working for yourself means understanding when you may need to adapt or change your career.
- What does a freelance AI prompt engineer actually do?
- What skills or qualifications do you need to become a prompt engineer?
- How much can you earn as a freelance AI prompt engineer?
- Is there a long-term future for freelance AI prompt engineers?
- Finding clients and projects as a prompt engineer
- More resources and support to become a freelance AI prompt engineer
New AI services are popping up all the time, with well-known examples including ChatGPT, Midjourney, Stable Diffusion, Jasper, Dall E and more. All of them will produce responses based on set criteria, which are usually defined by user prompts. And those can range from the relatively simple, for example ‘draw a cat,’ to extremely lengthy and complex prompts. These can include artistic and stylistic techniques, formats, and more.
Prompt engineers are also responsible for structuring the input data used for training AI models and optimising it for quality and efficiency. The software has no consciousness or way to tell whether it’s using the right inputs and outputs to deliver the desired results, so both need to be refined by specialists who understand how to communicate with AI chatbots in the right way.
This can provide an opportunity for freelancers with experience in creative fields, who can use language model architecture to translate and utilise existing techniques (for example focal lengths in photography), turn ambiguous problems into clear requests and multi-step processes. The input process also means an understanding of any data bias or inaccuracies inherent in your industry to avoid inaccurate results or potentially harmful misinformation.
As an extremely new field, the responsibilities of a freelance AI prompt engineer are likely to change and evolve over time, and between projects. It’s possible to use artificial intelligence to create entire software extensions or applications, and it’s being utilised in healthcare, financial and legal industries where specialist knowledge will be incredibly important in ensuring companies don’t breach any laws or regulations, or put anyone in potential harm as a result of using AI.
With such a new field, there are no specific qualifications for prompt engineers, but a combination of technical and creative knowledge will be useful depending on which areas you intend to work in. Some of the general skills that will help you include:
- Problem solving skills: Including analytical reasoning and critical thinking
- Adaptability: Especially with new and constantly changing technology, and evolving client requirements.
- Constant curiosity and learning: Without established rules and procedures, you’ll need to constantly experiment, test, and learn the best ways to achieve results for your clients in the most effective and efficient ways
- Clear language and communication skills: You’ll need to understand information and express it with clarity, particularly when communicating with AI chatbots.
- Technical skills: You don’t have to be an expert to use generative AI, but the more you understand, the more it will help.
There are a range of specific technical skills and qualifications which can help you demonstrate your abilities to potential clients. And these may be required for more complex projects within AI companies, or simply help you become more effective at delivering results.
Some roles will require a Bachelors or Masters degree in Computer Science, Engineering or a related field.
Technical AI prompt engineer skills include:
- Data analysis techniques
- Big Data tools and technology: For example, Hadoop and Apache Spark
- Programming languages: You don’t have to know Java, C++, Python or Scala, but it allows you to understand and modify Ai models
- Natural language processing (NLP): This is how the interaction is achieved between human and computer languages, allowing the AI service to ‘understand’ what is required.
- Data structures and algorithms: Not essential, but the more you understand, the deeper your involvement in developing AI services and applications can progress.
Prompt engineers may come from a creative background, with no existing technical knowledge, or come to the field with a deep understanding of programming and code. Typically, the more lucrative and senior roles will tend to require more education and knowledge.
Courses have started to appear specialising in training for prompt engineers. It’s important to research any training program to understand what’s included, who it’s offered by, and whether it’s likely to be valued by potential clients.
The income from any freelance occupation will vary a lot depending on your skills and experience, location, client negotiations and other factors. And as a very new career option, there’s limited public data available to offer average rates or salaries for freelance AI prompt engineers.
Full-time roles can start from around £40,000 per year, but more senior and complex positions offer six figure annual incomes. At the time of writing, there are adverts for prompt engineers in the UK offering wages starting around £60,000, with some examples much lower or higher.
But you’ll also have freelance roles offering much less, so it’s important to consider whether those are useful opportunities, or you’re better spending the time working on your own projects or developing the skills needed to be compensated at a more suitable rate.
As the role potentially becomes more established, we’ll update this section with any newly available data.
There is a lot of hype around the new opportunities available for freelance AI prompt engineers, describing them as ‘Ai whisperers’ and promoting examples of high earning roles.
The current surge in demand is likely to continue in the short-term, as an increasing number of businesses and clients look to utilise AI in some way. And with AI chatbots and services still evolving, the need for trainers isn’t likely to fall any time soon.
In the long-term, the two issues will be whether AI can progress to understand natural human language more effectively in the coming years, or whether prompt engineering simply becomes a normal part of working life for the majority of people.
Both are possibilities which mean the quantity of roles available for freelance AI prompt engineers might drop over the coming years, but this is likely to take several years. Looking at how typical user behaviour has changed for search engines such as Google and Bing, most people aren’t going to have the time and resources to become expert AI wranglers overnight, and there’s still a long way to go before AI services can correctly interpret normal human language without any help.
If you’re aiming to develop a career as a prompt engineer for decades, then your focus should probably be on developing your technical skills to secure internal roles training and developing the services themselves, rather than as an intermediary for end users.
Many general freelance job sites are now listing projects for prompt engineers, so it’s not hard to find potential opportunities for work.
As with any self-employed role, the key issue is ensuring that you’re the best candidate for a specific task. Relevant qualifications and training can help, but the alternative is to work on your own AI projects, sharing the learnings and results of your efforts.
Not only can that help you to demonstrate practical experience in a relatively new field, it also offers you a chance to earn an income from your personal projects, whether that’s selling prompts via a variety of marketplaces including PromptBase, creating your own software products via AI, or even establishing a workflow to power a range of your own businesses.
These all have the potential to develop into successful self-employed businesses alongside client projects, or as a standalone career.
Researching other freelance careers? Why not check out our other guides:
- How to become a freelance SEO consultant
- How to become a freelance web designer
- How to become a freelance writer
- How to become a freelance Virtual Assistant (VA)
- How to become a freelance photographer
- How to become a freelance business analyst
- How to become a freelance event planner or organiser
- How to become a freelance coach
- How to become a freelance proofreader
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