Hire from these 9 AI-vy League companies, not Ivy League schools

Published on Jan 31, 2024

Hire from these 9 AI-vy League companies, not Ivy League schools

A Harvard diploma, a PhD, or stint at Google are no longer the best signifiers of the top minds in artificial intelligence. Instead, hirers should look for engineers and researchers with applied AI experience at a group of nine startups that our data shows have the highest concentration of AI talent.

The past seven years have seen a de-credentialization of the AI hiring space as demand for engineering talent in the field explodes. The percentage of AI hires that come from top schools or have PhDs has dropped significantly from a peak in 2015, according to data from SignalFire’s own Beacon AI data platform

It’s becoming increasingly common for top AI companies to hire talent with applied AI experience instead of focusing on theoretical experience in academia. To find this talent, those hiring AI engineers should expand their focus beyond the Ivy League schools like Harvard, Princeton, and Yale, or even “West Coast Ivies” like Stanford and CalTech. 

Employers should source AI talent from what SignalFire calls the AI-vy League—a set of top AI startups that Beacon shows have the highest engineering quality: OpenAI, Anthropic, MosaicML (now part of DataBricks), Cohere, AI21 Labs, Hugging Face, Stability AI, Midjourney, and Inflection.

We calculated the top AI/ML talent based on a combination of Beacon AI’s proprietary talent rank that we’ve been building and refining for the past decade, plus individuals whose research has been published in the top AI publication venues such as NeurIPS, ICML, and AAAI that are tracked by aggregator DBLP. SignalFire's Beacon AI ranks more than 80 million companies, 600 million people, and millions of open-source projects to help our portfolio companies recruit and our investment teams find opportunities. The decline in PhDs and top schools as a percentage of hires is relative to all engineers at top-tier AI companies.

We’re already seeing tech giants desperately trying to poach talent from the AI-vy League, in part offsetting the mass migration of talent from the giants to fast-rising AI-focused companies.

Recruiting from AI-vy League companies instead of elite universities could also decrease historic biases in hiring. Those who get into Ivy League schools may benefit from legacy status, an ability to pay tuition outright instead of relying on scholarships, covering the cost of test prep and tutoring, and family donations to the university. And while graduating from these schools can certainly help people with getting jobs at top startups, engineers still have to pass rigorous technical interviews and prove themselves on the job to stay employed there. It’s also worth noting that the de-credentialization is in part due to necessity—the tech world needs so much AI talent that demand may outstrip supply from top universities. 

‎We love helping our portfolio companies recruit the best AI talent through our Beacon AI data platform, built by SignalFire’s engineering team. It powers an elite talent search engine that ranks people in the tech ecosystem on skill and hireability so our companies can find the best engineers, go-to-market specialists, and nontechnical talent. We also offer our in-house talent team to recruit on behalf of our companies for their most important roles.

What’s so exciting about the findings of this study is that AI is creating a massive opportunity for engineers and researchers from all backgrounds and schools to make a name for themselves. With so much education available on the internet—including via recorded classes from Ivy League schools—plus the chance to build a reputation on GitHub and in open-source communities, the future of AI belongs to those who can build, not just those with fancy degrees.

Thanks to Adam Vogel for his help with our research.

*Portfolio company founders listed above have not received any compensation for this feedback and did not invest in a SignalFire fund. Please refer to our disclosures page for additional disclosures.

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