Can a data scientist survive on Kaggle Prizes?

Danijel Kivaranovic, a PhD in statistics from the University of Vienna, has won a US$20,000 prize in a machine learning competition to predict the time of the next earthquake in the laboratory from real-time seismic data. real. He is now the Kaggle Grandmaster with the 41st rank in the world.

In August, IGNOU students won the top prize in the Smart India Hackathon by claiming a prize of INR 1 lakh from the Ministry of Education. Another hackathon hosted by CoinDCX, UNFOLD 2022, awarded $3,500 to winners.

In 2021, MachineHack and GenPact’s The Dare in Reality hackathon offered $7,000 as the top prize. Additionally, with a total of 1,937 participants, the Wipro Sustainability Machine Learning Challenge – Hiring Hackathon offered INR 3.5 lakh in prizes.

These are just a few examples of how much money developers can earn by participating in hackathons. Now, supposedly, a seasoned data scientist, who works occasionally but with great skill, is stripped of everything. Can he make a lot of money or just survive winning prizes at hackathons?

Living off of competitions may appeal to someone who might be an excellent machine learning enthusiast. But is it worth the risk for an average engineer to go to a community where 1% of participants end up making 99% of the money?

Kaggle is a community that organizes competitions for machine learning and usually attracts thousands of specialists and engineers to come up with cutting-edge solutions to existing problems. Kaggle also has a great database for new engineers to jump-start their machine learning career.

Is it difficult?

A Reddit user points out that most of the time the winning teams are sponsored by big, almost exclusively Chinese companies. Solo Engineers can take on teams with significantly more resources, which almost prevents them from winning. However, many ML engineers attend to rank in the top five percent and get a good score on their resume.

A winner of one of the Kaggle xView3 contests, says that sometimes solo engineers can also win prizes, although entry-level tasks can be demanding with large amounts of data. Another example of a solo entrant winning the prize is Selim Seferbekov, who won the Kaggle Deep Fake Challenge against teams from major corporations.

Most of Kaggle’s top students have a doctorate or master’s degree. This proves that an average beginner in machine learning would find themselves up against professionals with much more experience and expertise. For people living in areas where ML-based jobs are scarce, Kaggle could be an interesting platform to get started, given the career boosts it advertises.

Qingchen, an interviewer of Kaggle winners, said the contest organizers have in-house experts like data scientists or ML engineers who design the contest’s problem statement and are capable enough of solving the problem themselves but decide to put it up for competition on Kaggle as they have the task of maintaining the pipelines and other issues to resolve.

Is it a reliable source of income?

A typical Kaggle contest lasts three months and offers a prize of $25,000 to $100,000. Danijel Kivaranovic, after winning the Kaggle competition, founded his own AI-based software company called DEXT.AI GmbH.

The salary of an Indian ML engineer ranges from INR 3.5 lakh to INR 21.6 lakh per year and a national average annual salary of INR 9.2 lakh (USD 11,500), which is significantly lower than that of engineers Americans. Engineers from developing countries like India, Argentina, Turkey, etc. low-income earners can live a decent life in their country by winning these contests.

In the same Reddit thread, a user claims that engineers may rather apply for remote jobs than enter these competitions with a very high chance of losing. This way engineers would have a stable income instead of relying on learning heavy machine learning tasks and competing against top league engineers. Competitions like Kaggle could inspire people to pursue them as careers with their possible rewards.

Compared to international prizes like Kaggle, the Indian hackathon prizes alone might not be enough for an engineer to survive in India, although they can offer great value in their portfolio and advance their careers.

In total, hackathons and competitions like Kaggle could offer the equivalent of a year’s salary of an average American engineer in one go, which could be beneficial for someone living in India. But only a small fraction of participants receive any monetary return from competitions, making the stakes of living a life outside of these competitions riskier.

Sean N. Ayres