It’s a safe bet that possessing skills related to artificial intelligence (AI) will present career opportunities for people today, especially in industries that are building AI capabilities into their products or looking to leverage the technology to increase automation and efficiency.

AI has become a focal point for many corporate IT departments and lines of business, and the market for products and services reflects that. A February 2021 report by consulting firm International Data Corp. (IDC) says worldwide revenues for the AI market, including software, hardware, and services, is forecast to reach $327.5 billion this year, up 16 percent from 2020.

By 2024, the market is expected to break the $500 billion mark, IDC says, with a five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 18 percent. AI is becoming ubiquitous across all the functional areas of business, the report says, with advancements in machine learning, conversational AI, and computer vision AI.

Along with the rise of AI technologies comes a growing need for professionals who have AI-related skills. Professional networking site LinkedIn, in its 2020 Emerging Jobs Report, says AI continues to make a strong showing on the site’s jobs lists.

One of the positions that could play a key part in AI strategies at organizations is AI engineer. Professionals in this role are responsible for developing, programming, and training the complex networks of algorithms that make up AI, so that they can function like a human brain, according to job site Indeed. The role requires combined expertise in software development, programming, data science, and data engineering, the site says.

AI engineers are mainly responsible for using various programming algorithms in order to build, test, and deploy AI models. Indeed says other duties commonly found in an AI engineer job description include coordinating with other team members; creating and managing the AI development process; conducting statistical analysis and interpreting the results so that they can guide the organization’s decision-making process; and automating important infrastructure for the data science team.

Additional responsibilities include developing infrastructures for data transformation and ingestion; explaining the usefulness of the AI models they create to a range of individuals within the organization, including stakeholders and product managers; and transforming machine learning models into application programming interfaces (APIs) that other applications can interact with.

AI engineers are important, the site says, because AI and machine learning are developing specialties that can have a large impact on the overall success of organizations. Advanced machine learning models can provide valuable recommendations and insights into future issues or decisions.

Among the skills AI engineers need to have are a clear understanding of popular programming languages such as C++, Java, R, and Python; an understanding of statistics, probability, and linear algebra; and analytical skills. They also need to possess a number of soft skills including strong business acumen, good communications and collaboration, and critical thinking.

What does it take to become an AI engineer? To find out, we spoke with Mike Harasimowicz, principal AI engineer at aerospace, defense, and advanced technologies company Lockheed Martin.

Education/early life

Harasimowicz attended Syracuse University and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering in 1989. During his time in college he studied in the Engineering Abroad Program at the City University in London. While working toward a master’s degree in computer science at Syracuse University, he was forced to quit when called to active duty in the US Air Force in 1991 as a second lieutenant.

Over the years, Harasimowicz realized other academic achievements, including a master’s degree in strategic intelligence from the Joint Military Intelligence College in 1995; a master’s degree in airpower studies from the Air Command and Staff College in 2003; a master’s degree in strategy developments from the School of Advanced Air and Space Studies in 2004; and a master’s degree in national security strategy from the National War College in 2009.

From a young age Harasimowicz was interested in technology, beginning with Atari 2600 videogames and the earliest PC text-based computer games. “I wanted to be a computer wizard, and I remember my first coding experience creating ways to track friends across the US, and the always popular animated, but highly pixelated greeting card,” he says.

Job history

Prior to commissioning into active duty, Harasimowicz served as a computer engineer with the Rome Air Development Center, now called Air Force Research Lab, in Rome, NY. Among other work, he assisted in early AI application development using natural language processing (NLP) on highly structured US Message Text Format (USMTF) for faster analytic consumption.

“I used my Air Force assignment form, affectionately known as the dreamsheet, to basically plea to remain at Griffiss [Air Force Base] and continue to serve as a computer engineer,” Harasimowicz says. “However, the Air Force determined I would best serve this country as an intelligence officer.”

He served as a squadron intelligence officer until 1994, designing concepts for the first-ever use of the F-16 as a suppression of enemy air defenses capability by coordinating the data movement within the airborne intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance networks.

Also while in the Air Force, Harasimowicz served as a flight commander for intelligence missions systems and intelligence analysis, based in Germany. In this position, he helped architect the first theater-wide Air Operations Center for accelerated command and control of air and space assets for ballistic missile defense, conventional operations, and humanitarian operations.

Other Air Force posts included senior intelligence officer; director of operations, cyber warfare tactics officer; squadron commander, 33 Information Operations Squadron; and squadron commander, 91 Info Ops Squadron.

In 2009, Harasimowicz went to work for the White House, where he served as director of homeland defense within the National Security Council. He advised the President and the national security advisor on US homeland defense policy, cyber security issues, resilient infrastructure, and military veteran policy. He was the primary liaison for White House Situation Room communications upgrades, and co-chaired the National Security Council’s Cybersecurity and Communications Policy Coordination Committee.

Later he served as vice commander, 70th Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing, where he was a liaison between Cyber Command and the National Security Agency; and commander, 688th Cyberspace Wing, where he managed all operational Air Force infrastructure, cyber engineering, development, testing, training, and Cyber Protection Team planning and execution.

Harasimowicz, by then a colonel, decided to retire from the Air Force in 2015 for personal reasons and was immediately recruited by financial services firm JP Morgan to help with its digital transformation and big data/AI efforts. As managing director and head of data and analytics at the firm, he was responsible for a variety of efforts related to AI, decision science, and data optimization.

While at the firm, he led a team of 110 data scientists, big data engineers, and application developers to integrate AI and security techniques into retail, investment, and commercial banking.

In early 2019, Harasimowicz left JP Morgan to work as an executive consultant in the areas of software development for security and analytics services. Among the projects he worked on were the Department of Defense’s new Joint Artificial Intelligence Center.

The following year Harasimowicz took on his current position with Lockheed Martin, where he has been instrumental in building a centralized AI organization called the Lockheed Martin AI Center. Among his tasks were delivering machine learning solutions for sensor optimization, and modeling for predictive maintenance and cyber response.

Memorable moment

In 2006, as commander of the Air Force Computer Emergency Response Team (AFCERT), Harasimowicz had to break down data sharing barriers when cyber attacks transformed from isolated incidents to nation state sponsored attacks. “I had to stand up against the default practice of using law enforcement caveats that now began to isolate and suffocate key data elements required to identify advanced persistent threats,” he says. “This new thinking led to the successful identification of cyber attacks against our nascent F-22 fleet.”

Ongoing training, skills and certifications

“If you stop learning you pass quickly into irrelevancy, so continuing education is essential,” Harasimowicz says. “Fortunately, digital learning resources are nearly ubiquitous, with such examples as Coursera, Udemy, and Pluralsight, packaged in conferences as continuing education units (CEU), and even gamified like Sololearn. Cloud proficiency certification/training for me was essential to get ahead of the new vocabulary of AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud. We have training at our fingertips, so we must take advantage of it and practice our trade.”

Harasimowicz has earned certifications in areas such as cloud computing, AWS, Python, Ruby, C++, and SQL, and is working on a certification in CISSP.

Biggest inspirations

Because Harasimowicz spent much of his youth around Niagara Falls, NY, he was fascinated and inspired by Nikola Tesla, who designed the first hydro-electric power plant at the falls. “The landscape all around me was power lines,” he says. “His vision and perseverance are legendary, and his impact will be felt for many more generations. I related to his Eastern European genealogy as a fellow Slavic person. His struggles in his later years serve as a cautionary reminder that our moments of achievement are but moments.”

 

Best career advice received

“Never stop learning or challenging yourself,” Harasimowicz. “I applied for every academic opportunity and difficult job while I was in the Air Force. My father was my biggest fan and instilled in me the thirst for learning. I finished with four masters’ degrees and credentials from the most difficult training environments such as Air Force’s version of Top Gun, The Weapons School, SV-8* Survival School, and Intelligence Officer School, and graduated with distinction in each case. Also, approach life with ardor. This means be passionate, intense, enthusiastic, and devoted. Ardor is an action-packed word and promises a life of authentic moments and deep relationships.”

 

Short-term and long-term goals

After creating an AI center at JP Morgan and within the Department of Defense’s Joint AI Center (JAIC), Harasimowicz is committed to bringing all of his experiences as an engineer, intelligence officer, air and space strategist, and cyber space operator into Lockheed Martin and helping to lead a new AI center called LAIC. “The LAIC will be dedicated to revolutionizing command and control concepts and capabilities across all warfighting domains by accelerating AI adoption,” he says.

 

Advice for others seeking a similar path

“Passion, intensity, enthusiasm, and devotion. Enjoy the twists and turns that you didn’t expect. Be joyful in all circumstances.”