Since ChatGPT burst onto the scene, prompt engineering has become the hot new skill employers are looking for. Consider that on LinkedIn, the number of job postings that mention “generative AI” has risen 36-fold in 2023 over 2022. Or that the 2023 World Economic Forum Future of Jobs Report predicts that the artificial intelligence and machine learning fields will add over 1 million jobs.
You may think it’s challenging to become a prompt engineer without the right degree or that you need experience in coding and software engineering. While those skills may be useful, understanding language and being concise in your communication are far more valuable in the growing field of prompt engineering.
What Is Prompt Engineering?
A prompt describes what you want artificial intelligence (AI) to do. For example, asking AI to write your resume or cover letter is a type of prompt. However, as our experiments with ChatGPT prompt engineering have shown, simply asking the bot to do X isn’t enough. A basic prompt results in a basic output.
This is where prompt engineering comes in. It’s the writing, rewriting, and refining of prompts to teach the AI what “good” outputs look like. In prompt engineering, the engineer is essentially “engineering” the prompts to be as specific as possible so the AI creates a near-perfect response.
What Does a Prompt Engineer Do?
Farooq Zafar, prompt engineer at Scale AI, explains that a prompt engineer “plays a crucial role in the development and fine-tuning of AI models by crafting, analyzing, and refining prompts.”
When a prompt engineer inputs a prompt, they are training the AI to produce X or Y output. Refining the prompts helps the AI “learn” what is and isn’t appropriate. This “fine-tuning” plays a critical role in the training. A common concern about AI outputs is that, at times, the bot hallucinates. Prompt engineering helps reduce the frequency of hallucinations.
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Zafar says that prompt engineers spend most of their time:
- Crafting prompts. Prompt engineers design clear and concise prompts to guide the AI’s response. To help ensure the AI produces the desired output, the prompt engineer needs to understand what the target audience is looking for.
- Testing and analyzing responses. Prompt engineers experiment with different prompts and analyze the response to ensure the expected output is produced.
- Refining and iterating. Even if the first prompt produces the desired output, that doesn’t mean the engineer’s work is done. A prompt engineer continually refines and iterates prompts to improve the AI’s performance and reduce bias.
- Considering ethics. Prompt engineers need to craft their prompts carefully and remain aware of any potential biases, ethical dilemmas, and cultural sensitivities. This helps create responsible AI models.
What Skills Do You Need to Be a Prompt Engineer?
To be a successful prompt engineer, you’ll need skills you may not normally associate with the AI or tech field.
Whether you’re a linguist, a marketer, a writer, or even an artist with a flair for words, you could find a home in prompt engineering.
— Farooq Zafar, prompt engineer at Scale AI
Written Communication Skills
For starters, you need excellent writing skills. A big part of prompt engineering is writing prompts that are clear and precise. Without that kind of prompt, you’ll get an output that’s vague or possibly wrong. As Zafar explains, “Prompt engineers must craft questions that make AI understand exactly what’s needed. They need to ‘speak the AI’s language.'”
Because an engineer’s first prompt (or second or third or fifth!) may not elicit the desired response, prompt engineers need to figure out what is and is not working with the prompt. This requires critical thinking skills.
“It’s not about throwing questions at the AI,” Zafar says. “It’s about understanding why certain questions work and others don’t. This requires dissecting problems and building logical solutions.”
In some respects, teaching and training an AI model is science. Enter an input, check the output, try again. However, creative thinking is another essential prompt engineering skill.
When the output isn’t what you expect, you have to approach the problem from a different direction. That’s where your creativity comes in. Maybe you need to compliment the bot more. Or you may decide you need to be more explicit in your prompts. Whatever the solution, a creative mind will help you figure it out.
Attention to Detail
As Zafar notes, “A small change can make a big difference in the output,” which is why a prompt engineer needs to pay attention to the details. Something as simple as a typo can drastically change the output. “Being meticulous and detail-oriented ensures the effectiveness of the prompts,” says Zafar.
Though being a prompt engineer isn’t the same as being a project manager, many project management skills overlap with prompt engineering. You’ll be expected to manage tasks, timelines, and expectations, so the ability to stay on top of and ahead of everything will help you find success in the role.
Though a fair portion of prompt engineering is solo work — writing and inputting prompts, analyzing the output, and rewriting and refining the prompt — you’ll spend a lot of time collaborating with others.
“You’re never working alone,” says Zafar. You’ll often collaborate with programmers, data scientists, and project managers, among others.
Finally, though it’s not exactly a skill, Zafar says that ethical awareness is critical for prompt engineers. Because this is such a new field, there are concerns about the ethical principles underpinning AI and what guardrails may or may not be in place now and in the future.
“Being a prompt engineer isn’t just about making AI work. It’s about making it work right,” says Zafar. “Understanding the ethical side means avoiding mistakes that could harm people’s feelings or privacy.”
Do Prompt Engineers Need to Know Coding?
Zafar says that while understanding coding concepts like machine learning, statistics, and Python will help your prompt engineering, it’s not “the heart and soul of prompt engineering.”
“I think a liberal arts background might actually be a force multiplier for the linguistics-heavy art and science of natural language processing,” he explains. “The core of prompt engineering revolves around language. If you can write clearly, you’re already on the right track. From crafting questions to fine-tuning the language, prompt engineering is more about communicating than coding.”
Becoming a Prompt Engineer
Since prompt engineering is a cutting-edge field, now might be the best time to start a prompt engineering career. But what do you need to become one?
“Breaking into prompt engineering doesn’t hinge on a specific degree or following a set route,” says Zafar. He suggests the following:
- Curiosity. You should be fascinated with how language and technology connect.
- Education. While a traditional degree can help, you can gain many foundational skills through workshops or online platforms.
- Hands-on experience. Building a portfolio of your personal projects, collaborations, and contributions will help demonstrate your skills in prompt engineering.
- Networking and engagement. In addition to traditional networking, joining online communities like AI Twitter or a subreddit like r/ChatGPT allow you to meet with other AI enthusiasts, ask questions, and learn from others.
- Ongoing education. AI moves quickly. If you don’t commit to continuing education and stay up to date on trends in the field, you’ll likely get left behind.
Want to try your hand at prompt engineering? Learn how to prompt ChatGPT into writing your resume and cover letter:
- How to Use ChatGPT to Write an Accountant Cover Letter
- 5 Simple-ish Steps for Using ChatGPT to Write Your Accountant Resume
- How to Use ChatGPT to Write a Software Engineer Resume in 5-ish Steps
- How to Use ChatGPT to Write a Software Engineer Cover Letter
- How to Use ChatGPT to Write a Financial Analyst Resume
- How to Use ChatGPT to Write a Financial Analyst Cover Letter
Frequently Asked Questions
It’s not hard, but it is challenging! Being a successful prompt engineer means a willingness to learn from your mistakes and iterate, as well as possessing a deep understanding of how language and technology connect.
Absolutely! Anyone willing to dig into the details, and who is curious and passionate about prompt engineering, can learn it.
Technically, there are two “types” of prompt engineering, but both work toward the same goal: to teach and train the AI model to produce better outputs.
The first kind of prompt engineer is someone who works on the backend of the AI. The second type of prompt engineer is when a user (like you) inputs a prompt into an AI. Depending on what you do next (tell the bot it’s right or it’s wrong, ask the bot to try again), you’re acting as a prompt engineer, training and teaching the model while you ask it to perform a task.
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