Top-down learning path: Machine Learning for Software Engineers

This is my multi-month study plan for going from mobile developer (self-taught, no CS degree) to machine learning engineer.

My main goal was to find an approach to studying Machine Learning that is mainly hands-on and abstracts most of the math for the beginner. This approach is unconventional because it’s the top-down and results-first approach designed for software engineers.


I’m following this plan to prepare for my near-future job: Machine learning engineer. I’ve been building native mobile applications (Android/iOS/Blackberry) since 2011. I have a Software Engineering degree, not a Computer Science degree. I have an itty-bitty amount of basic knowledge about: Calculus, Linear Algebra, Discrete Mathematics, Probability & Statistics from university. Think about my interest in machine learning:

You can, but it is far more difficult than when I got into the field.

I’m hiring machine learning experts for my team and your MOOC will not get you the job (there is better news below). In fact, many people with a master’s in machine learning will not get the job because they (and most who have taken MOOCs) do not have a deep understanding that will help me solve my problems

First, you need to have a decent CS/Math background. ML is an advanced topic so most textbooks assume that you have that background. Second, machine learning is a very general topic with many sub specialties requiring unique skills. You may want to browse the curriculum of an MS program in Machine Learning to see the course, curriculum and textbook.

Statistics, Probability, distributed computing, and Statistics.

I find myself in times of trouble.

AFAIK, There are two sides to machine learning:

  • Practical Machine Learning: This is about queries databases, cleaning data, writing scripts to transform data and gluing algorithm and libraries together and writing custom code to squeeze reliable answers from data to satisfy difficult and ill defined questions. It’s the mess of reality.
  • Theoretical Machine Learning: This is about math and abstraction and idealized scenarios and limits and beauty and informing what is possible. It is a whole lot neater and cleaner and removed from the mess of reality.

I think the best way for practice-focused methodology is something like ‘practice — learning — practice’, that means where students first come with some existing projects with problems and solutions (practice) to get familiar with traditional methods in the area and perhaps also with their methodology. After practicing with some elementary experiences, they can go into the books and study the underlying theory, which serves to guide their future advanced practice and will enhance their toolbox of solving practical problems. Studying theory also further improves their understanding on the elementary experiences, and will help them acquire advanced experiences more quickly.

It’s a long plan. It’s going to take me years. If you are familiar with a lot of this already it will take you a lot less time.

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