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I’m about to enter my ultimate year of a physics BSc at a top university in the UK, and have done a computational physics internship with a research group at the university and am currently doing an internship at Harvard that requires strong machine learning skills. I was hoping this would be enough qualification to justify being able to get an entry level job in ML or AI and use that to one day lead myself into a job working with DeepMind, OpenAI, IBM Watson - places like these. I also have some fantasies about working in game design randomly, although I think that needs less a graduate degree and more a portfolio of coded games perhaps.

However, with those ML and AI jobs I was citing, does it behoove me to get a graduate degree if I want to one day get hired by them? I personally am quite drained from exam stresses and don’t think academia suits me as much as I used to think it does, but if it’s necessary for my goals in industry it might be worth considering.

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It depends, I think, on what sort of job you want. For people in the trenches, even at IBM/Watson, an undergraduate degree is probably enough to get hired. You would likely be a team member building things at the direction of a manager. Creativity would be in the "how to do this" rather than in the "what do we need to build" area.

However, at the level of doing research at IBM, and I assume others, the requirements look a lot like they would for an academic position. Lots of the people there have doctorates, actually. I don't know that a PhD is necessary to get hired, but the more education you have, the better your chances.

I know people at both these sorts of levels at IBM and at Oracle.

It used to be that at IBM the trench types could get a doctorate paid for at the company, but that option has disappeared for a while now. They might be a bit flexible about giving you some time-slack to do it, depending on the manager, but funding is unlikely.

At smaller companies and especially at startups it is probably much more flexible, but also risky. I also know people doing interesting things at such small software shops who have a more basic formal education though they are good at learning on their own and staying at the forefront.

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You're asking in the wrong forum - the place to find the answers to these questions are with the employers themselves.

To work at DeepMind see their website. They don't have formal degree requirements but they will perform an aptitude test. As long as you know how to do your stuff, you're fine.

To work at OpenAI, again see their website. Like DeepMind they don't have formal degree requirements but they do require published papers or 2+ years of ML experience.

And the same goes for IBM and whatever employer you're interested in.

Good luck.

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