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ML Engineer vs Data Scientist: What's the difference?

ML Engineer, Data Scientist, Careers,
Person just out of shot resting their hands on a table looking at code on a laptop screen. Photo by Fatos Bytyqi on Unsplash

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The landscape of machine learning and artificial intelligence is evolving rapidly, and as a result, we see a variety of roles emerging in the field. Two prominent roles are ML Engineers and Data Scientists. While these roles share some similarities, they also have important differences that set them apart. In this article, we’ll explore the distinctions between ML Engineer vs Data Scientist, and discuss how each of these professionals contributes to the machine learning ecosystem.

What is a Data Scientist?

A Data Scientist is an expert in extracting valuable insights from large volumes of data. With a strong background in mathematics, statistics, and programming, Data Scientists analyze and interpret data to solve complex problems and support better decision-making within an organization. They work closely with business stakeholders to understand their objectives and develop machine learning models to help achieve those goals.

Key responsibilities of a Data Scientist include:

What is an ML Engineer?

An ML Engineer, or Machine Learning Engineer, is a professional who designs, develops, and implements machine learning models. They work closely with data scientists to translate prototypes into efficient and scalable code, as well as to optimise algorithms for better performance.

Key responsibilities of an ML Engineer include:

  1. Developing and implementing machine learning models and algorithms
  2. Collaborating with data scientists to fine-tune and optimise models
  3. Integrating ML models into existing software systems or creating new applications
  4. Staying up-to-date with the latest trends and advancements in machine learning research

In essence, ML Engineers are responsible for the development and implementation of machine learning models that can solve complex problems and provide valuable insights.

ML Engineer vs Data Scientist: Key Differences

While there is some overlap between the roles of ML Engineer and Data Scientist, the main differences are in their areas of focus and expertise.

  1. Focus: Data Scientists primarily work on developing and refining machine learning models, while ML Engineers concentrate on the engineering side of building, deploying, and maintaining those models.
  2. Expertise: Data Scientists possess strong analytical and mathematical skills, along with knowledge of machine learning algorithms and techniques. ML Engineers, in contrast, have a deeper understanding of software engineering principles, cloud services, and infrastructure.
  3. Collaboration: Both roles require excellent communication and collaboration skills, but ML Engineers often work more closely with software engineers, DevOps teams, and IT professionals to ensure the seamless integration of machine learning models into an organization’s infrastructure.
  4. Model lifecycle: Data Scientists are involved in the early stages of the machine learning model lifecycle, from data collection and preprocessing to model development and evaluation. ML Engineers, however, are responsible for the later stages, including model deployment, monitoring, and maintenance.


Recognizing the differences between ML Engineer vs Data Scientist is essential for organizations aiming to build a successful machine learning team. Each role contributes significantly to the success of AI and ML projects but has unique skill sets and areas of focus. By understanding and appreciating these distinctions, organizations can more effectively allocate resources, encourage collaboration, and drive innovation in their machine learning initiatives.

If you’re looking to become an ML Engineer check out our article about the 5 skills you need to be successful.

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Unlock your future in MLOps with Navigating MLOps: A Beginner's Blueprint.

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